The challenge: Charter schools having a real voice in SELPA decision-making to provide quality services while better managing risks and costs
In January 2007, the San Diego Special Education Joint Powers Authority (JPA) was formed to provide San Diego charter schools with a real voice in SELPA decision-making. Similar in concept to a consortium, a JPA is the official way for multiple government agencies (including charter public schools) to form pools to better manage risks and costs. The members give the JPA board of directors the power to enter into contracts and hire personnel on the members' behalf. One of the ways a JPA can benefit its members is by delivering better services at a lower cost, through the negotiating power of the group.
The solution: Creating a Special Education Joint Powers Authority
The San Diego Special Education JPA initially consisted of six San Diego Unified charter schools and was represented by a five-member board. It existed with the expressed purpose "to improve academic achievement of students with special needs by building, strengthening and expanding quality special education practices in California charter schools."
Since then, the JPA has grown to fourteen schools, and is led by a full-time executive director. Her responsibilities include: training member schools, helping them apply to other SELPAs, negotiating with the current district SELPA and other SELPAs, and securing a pool of special education resources and personnel for the group.
The results: Common standards for quality special education and new opportunities to improve services
One of the JPA's biggest accomplishments has been its adoption of special education quality standards, critical for a number of reasons. First, they ensure that a group of diverse charter schools have a common set of clearly understood standards for quality special education. Second, the standards provide a mechanism by which member schools can determine whether or not a new school should be able to join the JPA, to protect the reputation of all member schools. Finally, the quality standards create a data-driven culture to enhance the JPA's ability to secure improved services and fiscal agreements.
Perhaps most importantly, the JPA has enabled member schools to speak with a unified voice, creating new opportunities to communicate and negotiate with other SELPAs and service providers. As a result, the JPA has evoked a new recognition of the power of collective action, and become a potential model for using local collaboration to improve special education services and resolve statewide special education issues.