Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Legislation Affecting School Accommodations

Yesterday, I received the following e-mail "alert" from the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM):
Representative King Banaian (HD 15B-St. Cloud) has introduced HF 1642, which eliminates numerous special education laws and rules that have served our children well in the State of Minnesota. Among those slated for elimination are the Minnesota Pupil Fair Dismissal Act (121A.43), requirements for assistive technology, and rules that create parent advisory councils (or Special Education Advisory Council).
This is a bit misleading (big shock in politics). First, the Minnesota legislative website lists House Files only through 1633 -- there cannot be an official filing HF 1642. I explain this more below. Second, Dr. Banaian voted against the Republican budget (one of two GOP members to do so) because it cut education too much. According to MinnPost.com:
Banaian was one of two Republicans who voted against the Republican cutting plan.
"The higher-ed piece was the worst for me," said Banaian. "It [higher ed] is going to get cut, but I thought this was disproportionate on higher ed. I'm in a district with two [higher ed] institutions. I said to the leaders, 'This is a terrible spot to put me in.' "
The regular legislative session for 2011-12 ends in May. Any bill has to be introduced 31 days before a vote is scheduled. April 29 was the last day to introduce anything. No new legislation, other than the 2012 budget resolution and redistricting plans, are going to be considered. The Minnesota legislature is restricted by the constitution as follows: "...the Legislature may not meet in regular session after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May of any year." There's no time for anything beyond HF 1633. Legally, HF 1642 "doesn't exist" according to the legislative clerk.

No one I've contacted can explain the discrepancy between the AuSM "alert" and the legislative calendar. Maybe someone at AuSM can explain this. It is possible that Dr. Banaian's office drafted a filing that did not meet the deadline, but it would not be assigned a filing number until it was filed with the legislative clerk.

For a good overview of the actual changes to the Minnesota Pupil Fair Dismissal Act (121A.43), I recommend the website of Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney (lawyers specializing in these matters for families of disabled students): http://www.ratwiklaw.com/pub_se_rlcise.php

Specifically, the legislature brought Minnesota law closer to federal mandates.
The legislature revised the PFDA so that it is now consistent with IDEA and provides that the district, relevant members of the IEP team, and the child's parent are responsible for conducting the manifestation determination review. Minn. Stat. § 121A.43(d). Minnesota law no longer contains additional requirements beyond those contained in IDEA as to when a manifestation determination meeting must be held.
Yes, the new laws reduce Minnesota requirements. However, they still exceed IDEA requirements in a number of other areas (other than pupil dismissal) and still supplement IDEA spending beyond what most states do. Based on what I can find online and via the legislative analyst's office, Dr. Banaian has suggested some cuts, but they are far less draconian than cuts proposed by other legislators (of both political parties). Let us at least be fair when we encourage people to protest legislation affecting education.

I'm not thrilled, as an educator and program coordinator at a university. Instinctively, I oppose cuts to education. The problem is, when I review the state budget I don't see many places to cut. The largest expenses in Minnesota and most other states are education and public assistance programs. We already underfund our schools and colleges, resulting in school closures and rising tuitions.

Minnesota has serious problems with infrastructure, too. Our roads are crumbling, bridges collapsing, and even the Metrodome deflated. This is a state in ruins. I also know my property taxes in Minnesota are slightly more than ten times what my parents pay in California. There is a limit to what people can afford. I don't have a good solution. If anything, every practical solution is going to hurt someone. My wife and I are leaving the state, in part because of the cost of living and ever-rising taxes.

I'm wondering if an activist at AuSM was simply trying to pre-emptively argue against cuts before other advocacy groups serving other constituencies did the same. I anticipate this occurring in most states and at the federal level: "Don't cut our program X. Cut program Y, first!" Sadly, groups are going to be pitted against each other more dramatically than at any time in recent memory.

Note: For those outside Minnesota, some important background: Dr. Banaian is an economist. Not just any economist in this state, either. He is professor and chairman of the Economics Department at St. Cloud State University. He is also director of the Center for Economic Education in Midstate Minnesota. I should disclose that I have met Dr. Banaian once and have followed his public statements on the economy for several years. I don't always agree with him, but he definitely knows how lousy the budget situation is.

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