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Star Tribune.

State pads special-ed numbers, report concludes
December 11, 2002

By Norman Draper

About 12,000 of Minnesota's 114,000 special education students shouldn't be getting special education services, according to a report released today.

In a review of U.S. special education programs, the Manhattan Institute of New York said it has concluded that Minnesota is one of several states that pad special education numbers to get more funding.

But an official with the state Department of Children, Families and Learning termed the study's Minnesota findings "baloney."

According to the report, much of the growth in special education nationwide has been the result of financial considerations. As a result, it said, there are 400,000 more children in nationwide special education programs than there should be -- representing $2 billion a year in extra expenses.

In Minnesota, according to study co-author Greg Forster, those 12,000 extra students represent more than $73 million in extra funding a year.

Forster said states that pad special education numbers dole out funding one of three ways: by paying districts for each pupil in the programs, by paying them for increases in special education staff or by reimbursing districts for increases in overall special education expenses. Those methods of funding, he said, influence districts to puff up their special education numbers. Minnesota school districts are reimbursed on the basis of what they spend on special education, Forster said.

By contrast, 16 states pay their districts for special education based on a set percentage of students determined to need the services. That way, Forster said, there's no incentive for districts to put more kids into special education programs, because they won't get more money for them.

But Tom Lombard, assistant commissioner for special education at Children, Families, and Learning, said the study is way off base.

"Nah, that's baloney," he said. "Our funding systems are not creating overplacement."

He said it is well known that in states where the money follows the special education student, there's a greater incentive to make placements. But, he asked, why would anyone raise special education expenses just to get reimbursed for them? Plus, noted Lombard, districts that increase their special education budgets have a lag time of two years before reimbursement money comes through.

Also, he said, checks of school district records indicate that 98 percent of special education placements are accurate, and criteria for placement in special education programs have been tightened.

The Manhattan Institute does policy research in such areas as crime, the economy and education. It bills its mission as helping to "foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility."

-- Norman Draper is at ndraper@startribune.com.

©2002 Star Tribune

 

 


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