Adequately Fund Special Education

Special Education: Adequately fund it to continue to stabilize & grow programs in local school districts

October 31, 2018

I would like to comment on the question posed to Minnesota State Representative candidates at the Lakeville, Minn., forum on October 3, 2018, regarding state funding for special education. District 20A candidates Bob Vogel and Barbara Droher Kline were both in attendance at the forum.

Current House Representative Bob Vogel spoke to how local entities should “get creative” with how to grow the support for special education in the local school districts. As a social worker in a Level IV special education district for the past 11 years I can tell you that the “creativity” necessary to operate at that level of education for students is coming directly from the administrators, and even more from the licensed staff and paraprofessionals working in the classrooms. The programs are struggling to keep staff and students safe in regards to numbers of staff per students ratios, physical space in which to operate and keep appropriate numbers of students adequately supplied with materials and equipment, and to safely transport students from districts that require commutes of more than an hour each way, to name a few of the issues. Staff injury and burnout are inevitable when these things are being managed under crisis circumstances every single day. Student and staff time being spent on managing behavior and crises means that meaningful learning is being marginalized.

It frustrates and frankly breaks an educator’s heart to know that there could be so much more to the learning day “if only” we had staff, space, safe access and equipment throughout the buildings and in the classrooms.

Bob Vogel’s answer to this question did not indicate to me that he has any idea what it takes to meet student needs in special education. He mentioned needing to be careful about taking money from one place to put into another so as to “not hurt what we’ve got going.” What we’ve got going in special education IS hurting students, parents, families and our communities. If we cannot operate special education settings in a safe, productive, meaningful way we are not preparing these students to move through their education years and into society at a level to be 1. safe, 2. prepared, 3. productive. My work with Vocational Rehabilitation services from the state of Minnesota indicates clearly to me that the bridge from special education into supportive work force is inadequate at best, further debilitating to persons with disabilities, at worst.

Barbara Droher Kline responded to this question with a concrete story about how important it is to Norway to support persons with disabilities to be safe and productive. She was specific as to what special education programs are dealing with on a daily basis regarding students physical needs, medication needs, and provider needs. What she was told about Norway’s programs for persons with disabilities was: “”we train them well, we have good technology, we have good support systems.” She understands that in this country “we hold people back and we don’t support them early on when they need it.” Unfortunately this is the truth and continuing to limit, even take away and put the responsibility on local efforts to create efficiency will do nothing meaningful to provide for these students and their families going forward, which not only does nothing for Minnesota, but in fact creates a detriment on so many levels in our society.

Bob Vogel stated that he is “a realist” however, it is clear that Barbara Droher Kline is the one with a REAL grasp of the issues in special education, as well as a REALISTIC understanding of what it will take to support students to launch them in all districts around the state of Minnesota to make positive impacts on all levels of their participation in our communities. The responsibility should not fall back on school districts to simply “get creative.” It should be on the state of Minnesota supporting all school districts to equally provide for students with special needs, and the families who struggle to support them. These students, their families, and the special educators who know them and dedicate their careers to educating them, deserve the support necessary to provide for their safety and their greatest quality of life as these students grow up and out of our special education system. If special education is not adequately funded to continue to stabilize and grow those programs in our local districts the state of Minnesota loses out on all levels.

Barbara Droher Kline understands that. That’s why I am placing my vote to put her where she can work for me, my own children, and the students and families I work for, and care about.

Most sincerely,
Ana Dean Podratz
New Prague, Minn.

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