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Dayton streamlines special ed - Record Editorial

Cheers for a less paperwork: Special education teachers will be able to spend more time with students, and less at their desks or at home doing paperwork, thanks to a major effort by Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and the state Department of Education.

Gov. Mark Dayton praised the effort, saying the reduction will enable educators to spend much less time filling out forms and much more time in the classroom teaching children with special needs.

The Minnesota Department of Education has reduced its annual district Total Special Education System manual from 279 pages to just 16 pages.

In addition, a template was provided to school districts to further ease the reporting process. School districts are required to submit those reports each year. Reducing their paperwork by 94 percent will help school districts save both money and valuable time.

"Overloading teachers with unnecessary paperwork does nothing to provide better education for students with special needs," said Dayton.

"Excessive paperwork is the No. 1 complaint I hear from special education teachers everywhere in Minnesota. It takes them out of their classrooms and away from their students.

"To their great credit, Commissioner Cassellius and her staff tackled this problem and found a solution. Their accomplishment is an example of real reform, which matters to Minnesotans."

"This streamlined manual shows how the Minnesota Department of Education is not only listening, but responding to feedback from educators in the field of special education," said Melissa Schaller, special education director for Intermediate School District 917 in Rosemount

This session, MDE will recommend continued improvements to special education reporting by converting the entire TSES process from a paper system to an online system.

This move will create a database that would allow for even better accountability and oversight.

"Students with disabilities need as much time as possible with their teachers," said Cassellius in a news release. "By streamlining processes and reducing paperwork, we'll do a better job at supporting our kids and helping our teachers create the best possible outcomes for every single student."

In addition to streamlining the TSES, the Department of Education has worked with the Office of Administrative Hearings to expedite the special education complaint hearing process and avoid delays in resolution.

By developing a best practice document for parties and judges, MDE has noticed a 47 percent reduction in extensions. The average length of time from request to decision was almost cut in half; a reduction from 114 days in 2010, to just 69 days in 2012.

Improving the hearing process has saved the state an estimated 53 percent of what it was spending on court fees during the previous two years.

Better yet, this reduction in hearing times demonstrated better outcomes for students with disabilities by delivering faster resolutions for disputes.

Less red tape and faster hearings means real progress for Minnesota special education.