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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Dennis Carlson & Mary Clarkson Interview of

Chronic underfunding of general education harms districts more than high special education costs

Anoka-Hennepin School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson and district Director of Special Education Mary Clarkson make the point repeatedly in the discussion that the real problem in funding is not the cost to the district of special education, but the chronic underfunding of general education. According to Carlson, $100 million of the district's $400 million budget goes to special education. About 12 percent of the district's 39,000 students receive special education services. In order to supplement funding from the state and federal governments, the district must draw $31 million a year from its general education fund to pay the full costs of special education. If the state and local governments would cover that cross subsidy, Anoka-Hennepin could hire 500 more teachers, which would cut class sizes and serve all students better. Carlson points out that serving special education students often costs far more than the revenue the students bring into the district. Clarkson reports that currently there are more students receiving services for autism than for learning disabilities, a turnaround from seven years ago. She says that school districts now bear the responsibility of educating students with intense needs, who might have been institutionalized in the past. She would reduce paperwork in special education by reducing the number of individualized education plans (IEPs) by 70 to 80 percent, focusing rather on program growth for all students. Carlson concludes by saying that school districts are in the business of "tough love," trying to balance underfunding with the expectations of parents.

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary:  Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Carlson and Clarkson. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Increase aid to school districts. (7.0 average response) To fully finance mandates to support pupils identified as needing special education, federal and state governments should increase aid to local school districts.

2. Bad policy to divert funding. (8.2 average response) It's poor public policy to force school districts to divert general funds to special education because of shortfalls in federal and state aid.

3. Maintain commitment to special education. (6.3 average response) Nevertheless, school districts need to maintain their commitments to special education, even at the expense of diverting budgeted funds from the rest of their enrollment.

4. Reduce special education. paperwork. (8.7 average response) The burden on local school districts should be eased by reducing bureaucratic paper work required on behalf of special education pupils.

5. More pre-K, less special education. (6.4 average response) More emphasis on early childhood learning could reduce the need for special education services later in a student's life. 

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Increase aid to school districts.







2. Bad policy to divert funding.







3. Maintain commitment to special ed.







4. Reduce special ed. paperwork.







5. More pre-K, less special education







Individual Responses:

RC Angevine  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (5)  (7.5)

1. Increase aid to school districts. Most definitely this should be done.  Handing out requirements without providing the resources is politics at its worst.

2. Bad policy to divert funding. Again the resources need to be provided by those making the requirements.

3. Maintain commitment to special education. Perhaps the way to have adequate resources provided for special education is to not punish the average and above average students.  The current process merely relieves the responsibility from those defining the requirements.

Chris Brazelton  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

3. Maintain commitment to special education. We all seem to be playing a "shell" game with funding.  The funds that used to pay for institutionalizing children with special education requirements needs to be redirected to schools.  It seems we cut funding in one area assuming that the funds won't be needed in the redirected plan.  We also must invest extra money in researching autism to find the cause for the increase in diagnoses.  Are there more children with autism or better diagnostic tools?  Studies I have read link autism to overuse of antibiotics (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) and poor timing of immunizations (during periods of immune system compromise).  If this is the cause, prevention may require legislation in other areas, including agriculture policy.

Don Anderson  (7.5)  (7.5)  (5)  (10)  (10)

Anonymous   (0)  (10)  (0)  (10)  (0)

1. Increase aid to school districts. This after our record tax increase.  I knew it.

Pat Barnum  (5)  (5)  (5)  (7.5)  (2.5)

1. Increase aid to school districts. Money should follow the child. I am not sure what is meant by this question. Unfunded mandates are the issue; either reexamine the mandates, or fund them. Increasing general funding is not the proper solution.

2. Bad policy to divert funding. Again, the issues seem to be combined in this question. Increasing general aid funding is a poor Band-Aid. What we need is increase special education funding to match the mandates and needs of the specific children.

3. Maintain commitment to special education. They need to maintain the commitments by law. This is not a choice under current law. Again, a question being asked that reveals nothing of substance.

4. Reduce special education. paperwork. I have two special needs kids. I know what nonsense the current paperwork system is. Yet, without goals and identified support strategies parents could be left just hoping that schools are doing the best they can. There has to be some accountability measures.

5. More pre-K, less special education. I don't disagree that providing additional interventions for some kids may keep them from getting so far behind that they look like special education candidates - but those aren't special needs kids as defined properly. The real issue is catching these unimpaired, and yet underperforming kids early. I am not convinced we have to add 2.5 years of additional publicly funded school to the 12.5 years we provide now in order to do this. Head Start is a great example of wasting time and money on ECL that has little to no net gains for kids.

Dave Broden  (5)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (7.5)

1. Increase aid to school districts. I came away from this session with more confusion than expanded understanding. While i strongly support well-funded special education, more clarity of the situation and the path forward must be established and shared. I also feel that the education community was asking to fill the tank not to solve the problem whatever the problem is.

2. Bad policy to divert funding. A valid criterion for special education funding must be established and applied uniformly.

3. Maintain commitment to special education. Special education needs to be reviewed. Is the growth real or is it growing by changes in the criteria? When does a child exit special education, etc.? Seems like a monster growing without real criteria and assessment.

4. Reduce special education. paperwork. Paper work does very little; we need to make each piece of paper have value.

5. More pre-K, less special education. This statement again asks the question do we have the right criteria for what special education is? Should there be several levels of special education, etc.?

Paul and Ruth Hauge   (6)  (7)  (8)  (8)  (9)

Al Quie   (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Chuck Lutz   (10)  (9)  (9)  (10)  (8)

Lyall Schwarzkopf   (8)  (8)  (6)  (9)  (5)

Carolyn Ring   (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (7)

Districts have no way of planning from year to year how many special education children they will have and the extent of the needs of each.  Between a mobile society and open enrollment and Government mandates it is almost impossible for school districts to plan in advance.

Tom Spitznagle   (3)  (5)  (4)  (5)  (2)

Why are there so many students currently being classified as learning disabled? What has changed over the years?  As a parent of a learning disabled child, I have observed that public schools have moved from one disability to another – almost like the “disability du jour” has become a major driver.  It was ADD, then ADHD, then autism – all applied in an evolving pattern of diagnoses for learning disabled students starting back in the 80’s.  It seems that understanding the problem would be a priority before asking government for more funding to deal with the symptoms.

It is noted that 80% of school costs are personnel and that automatic contract increases of 2.5% are in place along with the notorious “steps and lanes” salary bumps available to teachers.  Seems that this is also a very significant financial problem for public schools.  This arrangement for compensation is out-of-step with the majority of the employment market and will drain too many financial resources from public schools as long as it continues.  Schools and unions can’t expect governments (i.e. – taxpayers) to pour more money into schools in support of overly generous compensation contracts – especially when economic realities do not justify these types of increases in compensation.

The universal message from public schools for any problem that they have to deal with is “we are underfunded and need more money”.  But despite the huge amount of funding schools receive from all sources, the problems continue to surface and the effectiveness of the public schools doesn’t seem to improve.  Minneapolis is a prime example – a budget of over $800 million and what appears to be a district failing on some very key measures.

It seems quite apparent that Minnesota public schools in general could benefit from a major redesign of their operations.  Maintaining the status quo is clearly not achieving the necessary results.  It does not appear that the public schools and the union are able to operate effectively with the significant resources available to them.

Tom Swain   (8)  (10)  (6)  (10)  (5)

Kevin Edberg  (10)  (10)  (5)  (10)  (8)

Having spent 20 years as a school board member in what was, at the time, the 13th largest school district in the state, I completely concur with the realities presented by the speakers. The cross-subsidy issue drives budgets in profound, but often not publicly recognized, ways.  Individuals who decry the investment in K-12 education and some of the costs/student almost never take into account the impact of special education funding in their interpretations of data.

Wayne Jennings   (10)  (10)  (8)  (10)  (8)

This interview illustrates the classic problem of trying to fund a fundamentally flawed schooling model. There just isn't enough money in the world to successfully educate all students following a traditional system of schooling. Adding $31 million will not do it nor would increasing the total budget by 50% or 100%. Despite their good intentions, hard work and honed skills, educators need different paradigms.

Bert LeMunyon (0) (2.5) (7.5) (7.5) (5)

1. Increase aid to school districts. The local school district needs to re-evaluate their priorities. If providing an education in the core academics for all students is the first priority, then funds should be diverted from lesser programs like sports, fine arts, etc. where their are other opportunities outside of school for the students to participate in these activities.

2. Bad policy to divert funding. This should not be necessary. See 1 above.

3. Maintain commitment to special education. School Districts don't have a choice.

4. Reduce special ed. paperwork. The school district should always strive to reduce paperwork for all of its activities.

5. More pre-K, less special education. I don't know if it this has been demonstrated to be true.


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   David Broden,  Janis Clay,  Bill Frenzel,  Paul Gilje,   Jan Hively,  Dan Loritz (Chair),  Marina Lyon,  Joe Mansky, 
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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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