Audit: Room for Improvement in Mpls. Special Education Programs

Updated: 06/25/2014 12:06 PM By: Beth McDonough

A newly released report gives an inside look at spending for Special Education students in Minneapolis from an outside auditor based in Boston.

It reveals concerns about literacy, staffing and low student expectations. The findings were shared with district leaders and families at Tuesday's Minneapolis School Board Meeting.

The report shows the Minneapolis School District spends more on special education services than other districts of similar size. A budget of $780 million was approved this month, 21 percent of that is dedicated to Special Ed. 

The report indicates Minneapolis' approach to special education is costly, given that the results could be better.

Bill English's grandson is a special needs student. "He has significant developmental issues." He's been in Special Ed classes in Minneapolis most of his life. 

They've helped English's grandson progress to the point of graduation, but English believes there's room for improvement so other struggling students don't fall behind.

"Rigorous education and higher levels, putting the best teacher in front of those kids," he said.

District Management Council agrees. 

The out-of-state firm did a top to bottom review of the program. "We recognize that every time we serve a child better, it teaches us how to serve all children better," said Susanne Griffin, the Chief Academic Officer for Minneapolis.

There are 6,100 Special Ed students in Minneapolis, which is about 20 percent of enrollment, according to the district.

The report focused on reforming five areas: matching staff numbers to enrollment, increasing general ed teaching time, raising student expectations, creating a large scale literacy program at the secondary level and setting aside more reading time for elementary students from 45-minutes to 2-plus hours a day. 

The report shows only one in five Special Ed elementary students reads at their grade level. "If a student can read their future is pretty good, if a student struggles to read that's not the case, reading really is the gateway to academic success," said Nate Levenson with District Management Council.

English said he is impressed, "if they are willing to take the audit, then put a plan around fixing it there's a commitment to Special Ed kids."

The district points out some of the updates are already underway. It could take five to eight years to fully implement all the improvements. 

The audit cost $300,000.

Statewide, there are nearly 127,000 Special Ed students.The Minnestoa Department of Education budgets more than $1 billion for programs. On average, it costs about $50,000 a year to school a Special Ed student.

See the district's Special Education presentation here.