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Charter Schools Serving Fewer Students With Disabilities


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Charter schools are enrolling a disproportionately low number of students with disabilities compared to traditional public schools, though it’s unclear what’s contributing to the disparity.

The finding comes from a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday looking at the experiences of students with special needs in charter schools. Currently charters serve some 2 million American children and their influence is growing.

For the study, GAO looked at data from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2009-2010 school year, the most recent available. Just 8 percent of charter school students had disabilities that year compared to 11 percent of kids enrolled in public schools.

Government investigators were unable to determine why fewer students with disabilities were attending charters, but said anecdotal evidence suggests a number of factors. Parents of children with disabilities may not be choosing charters or the schools may be discouraging such students from enrolling. Local schools districts could also be playing a role in student placements.

Meanwhile, some charters may be ill-equipped to serve students with severe disabilities, GAO said.

In visits to 13 charters in three states, investigators said they found that schools were publicizing and offering special education services, but officials at half of the schools said “insufficient resources” were a challenge.

“The charter school movement across the country is breaking down old stereotypes about which students can and can’t learn — whether poor, minority or a student with a disability,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. “As we move forward with education reform, we need to ensure that students with disabilities are a part of the educational revolution that is taking place within charter schools.”

Complaints from parents of students with disabilities about access to charter schools have been bubbling up for years. Such issues came to the forefront in New Orleans in 2010 with parents bringing a class-action lawsuit alleging that the city’s schools — most of which are charters — were denying access to students with disabilities.

The federal report, however, is among the first to offer a comprehensive look at how students with disabilities are faring at charters nationally.

GAO officials are recommending that the U.S. Department of Education issue further guidance to help charters understand their obligations to students with disabilities. What’s more, investigators say the agency needs to research what’s leading to enrollment disparities.

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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. Beth says:

    My son has autism and attends a charter school. While the structure of the school has been fabulous for him, they had a difficult time this past school year (their first year open) providing the OT and PT hours written into his IEP because they weren’t able to find consistent providers to contract for these services. I think one of the challenges faced in a smaller district is accessibility. If the appropriate professional staff aren’t available, they can’t provide the service.

  2. Thomas C. Wood says:

    As an Autistic with Cerebral Palsy & “looking in from the outside”, I see “charter schools” as “segregation” by “another name”. These schools are usually set-up to “siphon off” the “best & brightest”, while @ the same time “stripping” resources away from “public” school systems. Being flexible to accomodate children with disabilities is “not really in their mandate”. In other words, I am describing what can be called a multi-tiered educational system. Crap “public” Schools @ the bottom, A “mid-level” Charter School “system” for those who are permitted to attend out of the public schools, & “private” schools for the “elite” & for “religious” fundamentalists, “away” & not interacting with the bulk of society stuck having to go to public schools as children.
    The “system” is set up to “screw” a lot of disabled children out of an education.
    I am lucky that I was “mainstreamed” in the 1960’s & 1970’s, because I was able to barely “pass for normal”, & lucky to have been able to study Engineering & graduate from Wentworth Institute.

  3. ACK says:

    In my city, there are few students with disabilities in charter schools, and those that are typically receive Integrated Co-Teaching services (inclusion with general education students). The system in place excludes children who require education in a self-contained classroom and students with emotional/behavior problems from attending charter schools. We also find that charter schools will expel children with behavior problems, sending them back to public schools.

  4. Kim says:

    Charter schools enroll all the students they can get on the first day, wait until after count, then kick them out and keep the money. Its not fair and they are destroying the school system. Take detroit, once charters started taking everyone and thowing them out for the littlest thing they killed the schools. kids lost confidence and quit going or went to public-charter schools in other districts since the parents bragged about them going to a charter school. Detroit had special schools that took the most disabled and made them productive to the best of their abilities, now they share a wing with less equipment.

  5. Glen S says:

    Again with the over generalizations and fear mongering. Public schools are failing everyone especially children with disabilities. Advocates for individuals with disabilities and self-advocates cannot have it both ways. Either you are for school choice or you are not. As one poster put it he is an observer from the outside and based on previous posts left the k-12 system long before charter schools were around. He opinions have also demonstrated a clear skew toward the government control of everything belief.

    Like public schools not all are good. But far more are doing a great job on less than the public schools which by far worse for all involved.

  6. amy says:

    My child was asked to leave a school here in pennsylvania because they determined without testing of any kind that he had a disabilty. I was asked to find a new placement for him after two months of school and to do so the same day of notification.

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