Monday, July 10, 2017

Minnesotas Adequate Education Laws--Special Education

What is an Adequate Education under Minnesota Law (Part II)
Special Education

In the first post of this series, I explained that there are two litigations pending in the appellate courts in which plaintiffs are trying to use Minnesota's Constitutional Education Clause to force urban school districts to improve public education for disadvantaged students.   One litigation, Cruz-Guzman argues that public education provided in racially isolated schools is not adequate for many students.   The second litigation, Forslund, argues that our tenure and seniority system subjects disadvantaged students disproportionately to incompetent teachers.  For some reason, the State of Minnesota defended these litigations, in part, by contending that the legislature, not the courts, must define what an adequate education is.  

As I said in the last post, this defense seems to JvonKorff on Education to be passing strange, especially coming from Governor Dayton and Commissioner Cassellius, because Minnesota has a robust and demanding definition of educational adequacy.  Of course it is the legislature's primary responsibility to define an adequate education, but the legislature has done exactly that, already.  Neither of the plaintiffs in these two cases needed the Courts to concoct a definition of adequate education: its right there in law already. 

This, then,  is the second in a series of posts examining each of the laws  that prescribe Minnesota's school districts educational responsibilities.  In the previous post, we looked at the World's Best Workforce Law.  This time, we look at Minnesota's special education law, which sets minimum standards impacting between 10 and 20 percent of students in most Minnesota school districts.

The Federal special education law requires Minnesota public school districts to provide  a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to all students who have a disability (that meets federal or state disability standards) in conformance with an individual education plan (IEP) in the least restrictive appropriate setting.  It is common for legislators to assert that special education is only a federal mandate, but actually the federal special education mandate applies only because the Minnesota legislature has passed laws implementing and accepting the federal special education requirement.     Moreover, Minnesota's special education laws are in a number of respects more demanding that the federal laws.   Legally, special education is an integral part of the state legislature's definition of the minimum adequate education that must be provided by local school districts.

Special education must be provided to resident students whether they attend public or non-public schools, at the cost of the public school district.  The special education student attending a non-public school receives the special education component at the district's expense, but must pay the non-public school's applicable rate of tuition.

Since the purpose of this series of posts is to rebut the contention that Minnesota lacks a legislative standard for "adequate education," we insert here at this juncture the central statutory legislative requirement, Minnesota Statutes Section 125.03:

(a) As defined in paragraph (b), every district must provide special instruction and services, either within the district or in another district, for all children with a disability, including providing required services under Code of Federal Regulations, title 34, section 300.121, paragraph (d), to those children suspended or expelled from school for more than ten school days in that school year, who are residents of the district and who are disabled as set forth in section 125A.02. For purposes of state and federal special education laws, the phrase "special instruction and services" in the state Education Code means a free and appropriate public education provided to an eligible child with disabilities. "Free appropriate public education" means special education and related services that:

(1) are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;

(2) meet the standards of the state, including the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B or C;

(3) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education; and

(4) are provided to children ages three through 21 in conformity with an individualized education program that meets the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, subpart A, sections 300.320 to 300.324, and provided to infants and toddlers in conformity with an individualized family service plan that meets the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, subpart A, sections 303.300 to 303.346
This special education mandate has substantive and procedural components.  It is designed around three basic principles.  The first is that students with disabilities have individual needs, and therefore require individual accommodations to assure that they can reach their maximum potential.   The second is that the reasonable accommodation should be provided in the least restrictive alternative and where reasonably appropriate in the regular classroom of the students' peers.  The third is that provision of special education services should be wrapped in a set of procedural protections that grant the student and the parent rights to participate in major decisions, and provide certain protections when the student violates disciplinary rules.  

The special education mandate has staffing implications:  in most school districts, the special education staffing teacher-to-student ratio is higher than for other students, and the teaching staff must have appropriate licensure and training to deliver services.   The mandate has implications for the delivery of instruction, because the classroom teacher must provide individualized accommodations, sometimes with assistance, to meet the student's needs.   And, it has financial implications, because the sum of state and federal financial support for provision of those services is roughtly 700 million dollars per year less than the statewide cost of providing those services. In addition, as we shall see in a subsequent post, the State monitors and critiques districts when their students fail to meet standards of proficiency. 

A full treatment of special education, like the World's Best Workforce topic in the past post,  is beyond our intended scope.

Part I in this Series:  World's Best Workforce

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