Greater Minnesota school districts rely on cooperatives to help provide specialized instructional programs and facilities for high-need students. Together they now face an unprecedented growth in these students and lack both appropriate spaces and the financing tools to give Greater Minnesota access to similar well-designed learning spaces available for metro-area students. View a brief on this issue.

The map to the right shows the Special Education Cooperatives, Education Districts and Intermediate Districts in Minnesota. View the interactive map.

Growing Needs

In 2010, 1 in 68 eight-year-olds were on the Autism Spectrum, compared to 1 in 150 in 2002, according to the CDC. The prevalence and complexity have grown significantly.

“Within 4 years, our Level IV Special Education program needs tripled,” said Stephanie Schmitz, Alternative Programs Administrator for Southern Plains. “Not only did the student numbers increase rapidly, but the severity of student needs also dramatically increased. Considerable renovation is needed at considerable cost to make any currently available building appropriate and equitable when comparing our students to their non-disabled peers.”

This inequity is felt by students the moment they walk into these spaces.

“When I was send to the ALC, I felt like my district threw me away,” one student share. “Only to find out they threw me in a hole of a building.”

A Need for Different Spaces

Students with severe autism need learning environments that are more spacious, calmer  and more predictable. Providing appropriate Level IV Special Education spaces for children with high and complex needs, including severe autism, EB/D, and extreme mental impairment for temporary settings within reasonable travel distances for rural children is a major challenge in Greater Minnesota.

Financing Tools

Greater Minnesota schools and cooperatives have been limited by the financing tools available to address these facility needs. The chart below shows a comparison of the lease levy utilization:

District Lease Levy Utilization 7-County
Metro Area
Greater Minnesota
Median District Regular Lease Levy $71.69 $7.35
Median District Intermediate Lease Levy $11.36 $0 (not allowed)
Median District Total Lease Levy $88.60 $7.35
Districts with Zero Lease Levy per APU 0 119


Minnesota can respond to this growing trends and need by providing rural school districts with financing tools that are available to members of the metro Intermediate Districts and increased flexibility with existing revenue streams.

  • Allow districts to use lease levy for cooperative facilities even if they once owned the facility.
  • Allow Long-Term Facility Maintenance (LTFM) to be used to enhance leased facilities from public and private owners.
  • Provide Greater Minnesota school district members of cooperatives the authority to levy up to $65 per pupil for cooperative facilities, the same as district members of Metro Intermediates.
  • Establish a minimum allowable district lease levy equal to that for 480 pupils ($31,200).