Anderson, Hoffman Push Special Education Reform
Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, and John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, are working on special education reforms that they hope puts the focus back on students. One of the reforms involves reducing the amount of paperwork that special education teachers are required to do. The lawmakers say they have been surprised about what they’ve learned so far.
“Fifty percent of the time he sets paperwork aside because he has to deal with crisis all the time,” said Hoffman, as he told one special education teacher’s story. “That’s what we heard in committee and that’s why we are committed. Let’s get this done.”
The proposals to reduce paperwork are expected to save special education teachers up to 52 hours of paperwork per student every year, or up to 19 weeks for a class of 15 students.
“This is an area we can step up and reduce paperwork and bureaucracy, and get the teachers to spend time with students like they should,” said Anderson.
The bipartisan proposals will also help curtail rising costs that are eating into funding for other school programs, since special education is one of the fastest-growing areas of school districts’ budgets.
Special Education Teachers strive for balance
Many special education teachers, like Hailey Curry at Neill Elementary, feel like their job is a calling.
“It’s what I’m meant to do,” says Curry. “I love my kids. They always have some dynamic story that makes them sometimes a little more challenging to work with, but I love working through that to experience the success with them. That success always feels so much sweeter.”
She doesn’t question the paperwork required for her job and says it’s important. However, sometimes Curry faces a tough choice of paperwork or prepping for students.
“Do I do this paperwork that has a legal timeline to it, or do I put in the time to have a powerful, exciting lesson for my kids,” says Curry. “At the end of the day, it does take away from our time with students and that’s really hard.”
The paperwork involves what’s called an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that is legally required for each student. The plan involves teachers, staff, and parents and can be very detailed and time consuming.
“The paperwork is critical, because it is the pathway to support that student along their needs,” says Marti Voight, director of pupil services for Robbinsdale Area Schools. “Our ultimate goal for every student is graduation.”
Voight has seen the legal requirements for the paperwork increase during her 20-plus years with the district. She thinks the IEP is very important, but there should be a way to simplify some of the processes.
“We need to think of the reduction of paperwork and what we are asking people to do because I think we can still get the results,” says Voight.