Osseo School District Testifies to Fully Fund Special Education
A bill to fully fund special education is making progress at the state Capitol.
During a House Education Finance Committee hearing, Osseo Area Schools testified in support of HF 18 on Tuesday.
Osseo officials say they have taken roughly $28 million from general classroom funds to pay for mandated special education expenses.
“We’re very fortunate in our district because our voters have approved local operating levies that help sustain us,” testified John Morstad, executive director of finance and operations at Osseo Area Schools. “The intent of those levies when they were approved was to provide new innovation and improve educational opportunities for our students. However, today, the vast majority of those funds go to pay for cross subsidies.”
Morstad says Osseo is spending $0.87 per every dollar generated from operating levies to cover special ed and English Language Learning funding deficits, also known as “cross subsidies.”
The bill’s chief author, Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, described the situation as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
“Minnesota has never fully funded this mandate,” said Wolgamott.
Wolgamott also explained that the federal government has not kept its promises to cover 40 percent of special ed funding. He says that underfunding has gone for more than 50 years.
“We definitely need to urge them to step up to their comittment,” said Wolgamott.
“Meanwhile, we get billions from the federal government for objective boondoggles like Southwest Light Rail. That is an unmitigated disaster,” added Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, who also sits on the committee.
Special Education Shortfall Projected to Reach Nearly $1 Billion
The shortfall for special education funding across school districts statewide is expected to reach $751.8 million in the 2024 fiscal year. By 2027, the deficit is projected to reach $984.8 million.
Morstad says the mental health needs of students “are much more complicated” than they’ve ever been, leading to greater expenses. He also says revenues are not keeping up with inflation.
Osseo officials say the district is running a $15 million deficit this year and will need to make cuts to maintain current levels if no new funding is available.
“Because of mandates like these, many districts throughout the state are regularly having to make cuts just to maintain current levels,” said Morstad.
The special education funding bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a later education finance bill.
Also See: School Spotlight: Osseo Early Childhood Special Education Program