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Department of Special Education Receives $1Million Grant
Educate Magazine-Summer 2016
The Department of Special Education has been awarded a $1,064,592 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). According to the U.S. Department of Education, the funds will help address the state-identified shortage of early childhood special education (ECSE) teachers to work with children, including infants and toddlers, with disabilities.
Since 2014, the Minnesota Department of Education has granted more than 100 variances for teachers who are not fully licensed in the area of early childhood special education. The shortage is predicted to increase as many ECSE teachers near retirement age.
Over the next five years, the OSEP-funded program will enable the Department of Special Education to partner with Mankato Area Public Schools, Bloomington Public Schools and St. Paul Public Schools, to prepare up to 50 new early childhood special education teachers. Aligned with Governor Dayton’s focus on early childhood education, the project aims to help ensure that more ECSE teachers are expertly prepared to work in the field and meet the needs of our youngest students receiving special education services.
The teacher preparation will be conducted through “Project PREP: PReparing Early childhood Practitioners using evidenced-based practices.” The early childhood special education courses are offered online. In addition to strong field experience and student teaching opportunities, Project PREP will work with school district partners to support on-site seminars, which will include practicing teachers. In addition, a mentoring website, video observations and support system will be provided to ensure graduates are supported in their development.
Currently, the College of Education offers an early childhood special education online graduate program. The program serves students who have a bachelor’s degree and are interested in gaining skills and expertise in the area of early childhood special education. It covers competencies needed for students seeking an initial teaching license as well as those adding an ECSE license to their existing teaching license.
Project PREP will cover tuition and fees for coursework of the students pursuing ECSE licensure. It is expected that some graduates of the program will work in inclusive settings, sharing their knowledge and expertise alongside general education teachers.
Funding for OSEP personnel preparation grants for programs like Project PREP is especially competitive. Project PREP Director Aaron Deris said, “For this funding cycle and this particular grant in the area of Preparing Personnel to Serve Infants, Toddlers and Preschool-Age Children with Disabilities, there were 26 applicants and only 6 were funded. The awarding of this grant provides the College of Education with a presence at the national level.”