Special Education Case Loads Task Force — October 15, 2013

Special Education Case Loads Task Force — October 15, 2013

The Special Education Case Loads Task Force held their second meeting on Tuesday, October 15. The task force selected Don McNeil and Todd Travis as the co-chairs. 

In the first part of the meeting, we heard from Tom Melcher (Director of the Program Finance Division at the Minnesota Department of Education) about the special education funding changes that will be taking place in the next 3 years. One of those changes is that districts will be moving from a cost reimbursement method to a cross-subsidy reduction aid model. The two key methods of funding under this new model include census-based and weighted-student funding components. Funding generated under the new components, in theory, will help reduce the overall cross-subsidy for all special education services. Adding the new cross-subsidy reduction aid increases state funding for special education by $43 million over the biennium. The new formula will also reform the excess cost aid component and the special education tuition billing process. Even with all of these changes, which could cause an aid swing for districts, the new legislation guarantees that school districts will receive as much special education aid under the new formula for FY 2016 as they would have received under the old formula. It is also important to note that the very real $636 million statewide cross-subsidy stares every public school district in the face, even with a proposed increase in special education aid.

Barb Troolin, MDE’s Director of Special Education, and George Hold, MDE’s Special Education Funding Supervisor, provided the work group with a presentation on child count reporting and federal instructional settings. In the state of Minnesota, Specific Learning Disabilities, Speech or Language Impairment, and Other Health Disabilities remain the three largest identified groups with the Autism Spectrum Disorders category demonstrating the largest growth since 2003. 

The task force also heard a presentation on the history of the case load rule and the 2004 Workload Manual. It is important to differentiate “case load” from “workload” as the task force progresses. The Workload Manual provides “recommended” workload sizes for districts. The “case load” is the number of students for whom the teacher is the IEP manager. The “workload” refers to all of the activities required of a special education teacher. Generally, a larger case load will result in a larger workload as well. However, it is also important to understand that school districts use different instructional models for the identified special education students, which would likely influence the workload of a special education teacher. 

The last phase of the afternoon included a review of the inconsistent special education laws and rules. This specific issue — alignment of rules and laws — has been reviewed by legislatively created work groups at least twice within the last decade, but little, if any, progress is made on this issue. Even Minnesota’s Legislative Auditor recommended in the 2013 review of K-12 special education that the MDE should update its special education rules for consistency with Minnesota statutes.

It is terribly difficult to separate policy from funding issues. On the surface, case load size discussion seems like a fairly benign item, but the financial implications and how districts manage their employees will certainly be impacted by efforts to determine the appropriate size of a case load.

Some important questions for school leaders to consider:

1.  Who is in the best position to make decisions about the appropriate number of employees to serve our public school students?  Should state law dictate the number of teachers hired?  Or, should principals and superintendents have the authority to make such a decision?

2.  What are the additional costs that school districts may see if a case load limit is enacted into state law?

3.  Will the new special education funding formula change the behavior of school leaders?  If so, how? 

The Special Education Case Loads Task Force is scheduled to next meet Tuesday, November 5 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Minnesota Department of Education. 

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Kirk Schneidawind at kschneidawind@mnmsba.org

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