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Committee considers changes to special education services

Complex and burdensome paperwork requirements are standing in the way of delivering special education services, the House Education Policy Committee heard Monday.

Minnesota has more than 100 rules and regulations regarding special education services that exceed federal requirements. During the meeting, the committee reviewed several bills that aim to create more federal and state alignment, reduce paperwork requirements and streamline the delivery of services.

One of them, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea), is HF1517. It would, as amended, remove the requirement that a student’s individual education program include a statement of short-term objectives and benchmarks.

“Students will still have their short-term objectives, the teachers just won’t be required to document those,” Bennett explained. She sees this change as a way to empower teachers and parents at the local level to make decisions around how many, or if, objectives are necessary.

“And it frees teachers up to do what we want them to do, and that is to teach,” she said.  

The bill was held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF159, awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) is the sponsor.

Laura Pingry-Kile, director of specialized education services for Eastern Carver County Schools, explained all the paperwork is negatively impacting teacher recruitment and retention, and leading to a special educator shortage in Minnesota.  Applauding the proposal, as well as the other bills, she said it gets the ball rolling toward meaningful reform.

“We know there is no correlation between paperwork and achievement, but we do know that our teachers matter,” she said. “This bill is an example of how we can reduce paperwork by aligning Minnesota with federal law without impacting student instruction.”

Opponents, including Don McNeil, a parent of a child with disabilities, said that outlining these short-term goals help parents stay informed. He encouraged the committee to avoid removing any existing rules or regulations, explaining that federal regulations don’t do enough to keep parents abreast of their children’s specialized programs.

“I continue to hear about federal alignment, we call it federal minimum,” he said. “We think in Minnesota we’re doing it right. We strongly oppose this particular bill because it removes short-term objectives that make a difference for us on a day-to-day basis.”

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