Charter schools and special education

Charter schools and special education

Date: 
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

As a recent report by the Government Accountability Office makes clear, the issues involved in enrolling students with disabilities in charter schools and providing them with appropriate services are complex but important to address.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education has been active in studying these issues and helping charter schools, authorizers, and other education leaders create high-quality charter schools with equitable access for students with special needs. Our book, Unique Schools Serving Unique Students: Charter Schools and Children with Special Needs, examines research, policy, and practice on the topic, as well as insight into the parent perspective.

Our research shows that many charters are using their flexibility to innovate in ways that can benefit students in all schools, remediating students who struggle early so they never need to be classified for special education, and creating new multi-school partnerships that can provide services no one school can. These changes are underway and need more analysis and support. Government agencies and the public should keep watch for evidence of equitable access and high-quality services, but not act as if charters won't make progress without heavy regulation.

The charter sector needs to continue to partner with school districts, state agencies, and other actors to address oversight practices, finance formulas, and technical assistance. It is with these types of partnerships that charter schools can fully share both resources and responsibility to ensure that all students enjoy the access and services they deserve. A recent CRPE webinar highlights two cities, Denver and Los Angeles, that are making progress in such charter-district special education partnerships.

The issue of equitable access for students is not specific to charter schools, but charter schools represent an opportunity to innovate and improve on how public schools serve students with unique gifts and challenges. CRPE looks forward to continuing to provide evidence and analysis on this important topic.

Robin Lake, Director
Center on Reinventing Public Education

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