A group of Minnesota state senators said Thursday that mounting paperwork requirements are pushing special education teachers out of the profession — and that it’s time for the Legislature to ease their burden.
Speaking Thursday at a news conference at the State Capitol, lawmakers said they intend to introduce seven separate bills that would modify and reorganize the way schools handle some meetings and paperwork for special education students. Some would drop state requirements that exceed the rules set by the federal government.
Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said the bills were compiled after months of consultation with special education teachers and school administrators from around the state. In legislative hearings and in private conversations, he said senators heard the same concern: Mountains of paperwork are hurting both teachers and the students they serve.
“All the policies with special education were done with the best of intentions,” he said. “But the process has become so complex that we’re taking away valuable teacher time from that student.”
The lawmakers have not yet released the full versions of the bills they plan to introduce. But summaries provided Thursday show that some are aimed at requirements in the process that sets up an individualized education program — or IEP — for each special education student. One bill would narrow the scope of what teachers would have to report about a student’s performance. Another would simplify the process for when parents request changes to their student’s plan.
Lawmakers said they expect many of the changes would save teachers several hours of time for each student they serve — time they could spend instead working directly with those students.
Sen. Greg Clausen, D-Apple Valley, a former school administrator, said he’s seen firsthand how paperwork requirements can drive teachers away. He shared a story of a young special education teacher whom he expected would eventually run a special education department but instead quit after six years on the job.
“She said ‘I am spending as much time on paperwork as I spend in the classroom with direct service to students, and most of that time at home,’ ” he recalled.
The topic is not a new one for state lawmakers, who have wrestled with growing special education costs, staffing shortages and complicated policies for years. During the 2018 session, a provision that would have set up a new legislative working group focused on special education was included in a broader policy and budget bill that was vetoed by former Gov. Mark Dayton.
But lawmakers said they’ve continued to seek input from school districts and relied heavily on input from groups like the Minnesota School Boards Association and the New Ulm school district, which was one of the first to offer ideas.
Jeff Bertrang, the district’s superintendent, said his staff members report spending between 30 and 60 hours each year on paperwork they see as unnecessary. They offered suggestions they think will cut down those hours and make it easier for both teachers and parents to understand the process and requirements of special education plans.
“Our recommendation isn’t to take anything away from students, but to make an impact immediately by reducing the paperwork burden,” he said.