Guest Post: You don’t really want a Special Education Task Force and here’s why…

(Noting my post lamenting that the Special Education Task Force proposed by Senate Bill 3 lacks the inclusion of parents, my wife, Mrs. PP made a point to explain to me why I’m mistaken, and offered a guest post on why instead of including parents in the proposed legislation, the entire concept proposed by Senate Bill 3 should be scrapped.)

You don’t really want a Special Education Task Force and here’s why…
by Dr. Michelle Powers

For those of you who know me, you understand why I’ve written this post for SDWC. I do happen to be married to PP, but that’s about as far as my direct involvement with his work and mine interact. But, since he decided to start writing about education, and in particular special education, it seems like the time was right.

Just so you know I do have a base to operate from for this commentary. Here is a little about me…I have a degree in Elementary and Special Education, a MA in Special Education, an Ed.S in Pre K-12 principal and a doctorate in educational leadership. I worked as the assistant state director of special education for the state of SD when the Extraordinary Cost Fund (ECF) was first put into place, led the Extraordinary Cost Fun panel for several years, finished my career in state government as the state director of special education, moved to Brookings School District where I worked until 2016 as the director of special education.

Currently, I am an assistant professor at Augustana University, teaching education and special education undergraduate and graduate courses. And, I’m the mom of 7 great kids, including my soon to be 14 year old daughter, who is on the Autism Spectrum and who has received special education services since she was 16 months old.

Since you might not be an education nerd like me, let me give you a little history. In 1996, South Dakota legislature set aside a pool of money, forming the very first ECF board and promulgated rules to address public school district shortages in budgeting for special education costs. This set aside served for many years to meet the needs of districts with students in need of special education whose costs could not be met with the funding available from federal and state dollars. From time to time, there were even years when the fund rolled a good amounts of state funds from one year to the next because school districts had not needed the funds from the extraordinary cost fund.

Let’s fast forward to 2016, when South Dakota passed legislation providing a half-cent raise to the sales tax to fund a targeted increase in teacher salaries. It is important to note that the ½ cent sales tax generated general funds, with nothing dedicated to special education teacher salaries.

Why is that important you might ask? Because in South Dakota, there is a separate funding stream comprised of a formula driven by the number of students in special education, along with a calculation of local effort (taxes) which is how all special education staff, including special education teachers are funded. It is also the pot of money used by the local school district to secure and pay for services, including day programs and residential programs (all components of ensuring a free appropriate public education known as FAPE under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). When this bucket of special education funds runs out, schools apply for funding via the ECF board.

As you might know, in 2016, school districts were required to use the new monies generated by the ½ cent sales tax to increase their teachers salaries, and so they did. The unfortunate, and I would counter, highly unanticipated outcome of raising ALL teacher salaries is that in 2016, there was no influx of comparable sales tax revenue flowing to the special education formula. There was a minor adjustment to the overall funding amounts of the formula, but it, in no way, shape or form, could be considered commensurate to the 10-12% jump in salaries schools were now obligated to provide. Every district’s negotiated agreement for teacher salaries jumped, meaning all teacher salaries (including special education teacher salaries) jumped. If you look at school district budgets, including special education budgets, they are comprised primarily (probably 80-85% on average) of staff. The rest of the special education budget basically goes to paying for specialty services, day programs, and out-of-district placements. All the special education teaching staff received the same large raise as the general education teachers, but the funding source for these staff has not seen a comparable increase.

Schools that already struggled to make their special education budget stretch were placed even further in the red. This is why the alarming increase in applications to the ECF has occurred. In our current situation, the federal and state funding currently being provided is never going to catch up to the ½ cent increase provided in the general fund. (Don’t even get me started with talk about full funding from the feds – that was promised in 1976 and we’re still waiting….)

And here’s why I am saying you don’t really want a Special Education Task Force. The reality is, as a state, we now have a built-in discrepancy between the two formulas and no amount of conversation about how many students we identify or how much a service costs will change this fact.

What you will likely end up doing, however, by creating this workgroup, is to disenfranchise our families who have children in special education- not to mention the wasted dollars in gathering this group repeatedly to seek answers to what I submit are the wrong questions (identification rates, costs of services).

If families perceive the intent of the Special Education Task Force is to attempt to somehow arbitrarily limit or unfairly restrict the identification and services to students in need of special education, there will be a response so loud and intense, the legislators will wish they’d never uttered the words “task force”.

Fortunately, there is a solution if the legislature feels the need to meet in a group. The State of South Dakota has an Advisory Panel for Special Education which is comprised of parents of children in need of special education. It meets quarterly and its members are appointed by the Governor. It is the role of these families to advise and assist the Department of Education and the state in meeting the needs of our children with disabilities. I would encourage legislators to consider tapping this existing (and federally mandated group) to have a conversation about the questions they have about our systems of identification and the issues being faced today with inadequate funding.

Working towards better access to quality educational programs is always a good conversation to have and I promise you the families will cut to the chase quickly and without fanfare- they are all about making sure South Dakota is doing the best job possible for its children in need of special education.

14 Replies to “Guest Post: You don’t really want a Special Education Task Force and here’s why…”

  1. Anonymous

    There. Scrap the task force. Anyone who wants to show how much he cares about education can wear a light blue awareness ribbon on his lapel. (Light blue is the color associated with studies in education in academic regalia.) This will accomplish just as much as another task force.

  2. Troy Jones


    If the purpose of the task force was as you describe (study the criteria of and who needs services), I would agree this is may not be an appropriate study body. But, the purpose is to examine the costs and develop recommendations (which may include formulas for funding and aggregate amounts).

    Your letter exposes a number of issues which need to be globally analyzed for which solutions need to be formulated. As I said in the other post, business is in constant mode of analysis of better ways to do things. Government just adjusts everything linearly- need doubles, funding doubles.

    This is why I support sunset laws to get periodic review of programs so they can be recalibrated. If this isn’t the right profile of members, change it. But, I think it is an issue of sufficient import to get analyzed by a diverse and new set of eyes. And, I think the Governor would be wise to ask you to serve on it.

    being identified as in need of special education or special education and related services, to examine the increasing costs of the services these students require, and to develop recommendations to address the situation.

    1. Lana Greenfield

      I served on the summer study, and the question I had (and still remains) is this: how do so many, many children now qualify for special education? Too many are under the umbrella of “need.” I find it astounding that one school of 400 has about one-fourth qualify. We seem to keep adding subdivisions for entry into the program. Special education, under current identifiers, has put labels on kids that will last for a lifetime. Instead of isolating children because they cause some disturbance in classes (distractions and hyperactivity, for example), they should be among peers that present good role modeling. I realize it makes the classroom go smoother if “Sarah” is removed for loud, constant chatter, BUT whatever happened to trying other things with her, other than removal or one-to-one monitoring all day? I certainly do not think she should qualify just because she is somewhat over-zealous or naughty. This seems to be where the train is going. Mainstreaming of mentally challenged and handicapped students used to be the ideal (and still should be), but we seem to have done a complete turn around from that idea. People out there who have no knowledge as to what I am talking about as far as expansively created levels of special ed. should become aware. It really shows how we became de-railed cost-wise.

      1. Michelle Powers

        I kept tabs on the summer study and listened to the conversations, and I also spoke to Rep. Duvall when the study concluded sharing my thoughts.
        I understand you have questions about the identification and placement process that I would be happy to help you with if you’d like to sit down over a cup of coffee. I don’t know which school district you are referring to with a 25% identification rate, but in my review of rates of identification, this is an outlier. There certainly are pockets of very challenging learning situations across our state that may result in such a large number of students needing services. but suffice to say, no “new” subdivisions have been added under the law. There are 14 categories under which a student may eligible, and that has remained consistent.

      2. Anne Beal

        Lana, one of the things being observed and acted upon is children do better if they start kindergarten later. Over the years many states have been slowly increasing the starting age for kindergarten. Parents who are paying attention have been holding their children back.
        (This has the unfortunate downside of having high school students turn 18 before they graduate high school, allowing more of them to age out of foster care and parental control before they finish. But that’s a different problem.)
        It’s counter-intuitive but pre-k education isn’t doing the kids any good, and might even be doing them harm, if the result of starting school too early results in children being labeled “special needs” when the only thing wrong with them is they weren’t ready to start school.
        This should to be remembered when the perennial calls for free pre-k education are heard again.

  3. Steve Sibson

    ” I would encourage legislators to consider tapping this existing (and federally mandated group) to have a conversation about the questions they have about our systems of identification and the issues being faced today with inadequate funding.”

    We all need to understand the “federally mandated” part, and then look to removing federally mandated programs that have created the problems that some think are simply caused by “inadequate funding”. Pre-K and other social engineering programs have created the behavior that is then used in the “systems of identification ” to expand the role and control of those running the federal government by adding numbers to “special education”. The conservative approach would be to undo this big government agenda and start eliminating federal programs, instead of finding ways for us to expand the funding for these programs that are mostly about mass control of populations.

  4. Anne Beal

    No point in having studies if nobody is going to pay any attention to them.
    Like the federal study which revealed that Head Start is a waste of money, all the benefits dissipate by the 3rd grade. That study came out in 2012.
    Yet in FY 2017 here in South Dakota the federal government blew $44,055,673 on Head Start for 4510 children.
    Since that money is being wasted on an ineffective program, why can’t it be spent on something else?
    The obvious answer to that is that too many parents are relying on the free childcare provided, and too many early childhood educators are relying on the paychecks provided, and there will be screams of protests if anybody proposes shutting it down. So we will continue to waste money on a program which doesn’t work.

    1. Steve Sibson

      Anne, your obvious answers are all true. A not so obvious reason is that social engineering is more effective when done at the earliest possible age, and prior to traditional values being exposed to the children by the parents. That makes Head Start and Pre-K an enormous benefit for the ruling elite. Parental involvement in these programs requires agreeing with the agenda. Yes, having the government take care of their children is one incentive. Also, more parents are going along with these programs because they themselves have been impacted by similar programs when they were young. One has to wonder if we have now gotten pass the point of hitting critical mass, meaning the process is no longer stoppable.

    1. William Beal

      “The (2012) Head Start Impact Study is one of the most ambitious, methodologically rigorous, and expensive federal program evaluations carried out in the last quarter century. . . The findings, in brief, are that there were effects favoring Head Start children on some outcome variables at the end of the Head Start year. However, these impacts did not persist. Both in the kindergarten and first grade follow-up data, released just short of three years ago, and the third grade follow-up data, released in December of 2012, there were no reliable differences in outcomes for children who won the lottery to attend Head Start vs. those who lost that lottery and served as the control group. In the words of the authors of the report, “by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts … in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.”

      “If this conclusion by the authors isn’t clear enough, I’ll put it in less academic language:

      There is no measurable advantage to children in elementary school of having participated in Head Start. Further, children attending Head Start remain far behind academically once they are in elementary school. Head Start does not improve the school readiness of children from low-income families.”

      The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Our mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.

      1. Steve Sibson

        When are we going to accept the fact that the purpose of education for most kids (in the 90% tile) is to dumb them down? That is the Prussian model:

        “The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.”

        Anybody ever hear about the purpose of education is “workforce development”?

  5. William Beal

    “The July 2015 report from the What Works Clearinghouse describes how it reviewed 90 widely different studies on Head Start. Some looked at whether Head Start improves family health, for example; others at childhood obesity. Fewer than half the studies had conducted original research that assessed whether students’ academic and behavioral skills had improved.

    Only one of these studies passed scientific muster, and it showed rather disappointing results. It found that Head Start had “potentially positive effects” on general reading achievement and “no discernible effects” on mathematics achievement and social-emotional development for 3-year-old and 4-year-old children.”

  6. RJ

    Unfortunately, many kids don’t receive basic education at home because their parents can’t afford it or arent able to provide it for multiple reasons. I fell asleep during the second sentence of your speech William..I am an Alumni of Augie and am truly disappointed that someone without a heart is the special Ed department

    1. Steve Sibson

      “many kids don’t receive basic education at home”

      And what Mr. Beal has shown is that Head Start has not solved or even made a dent in solving that problem. Once we understand the a major root cause of the kids experience at home is due to the dumbing down their parents received in school, perhaps we can start to get a handle on how to deal with the problem.


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