Jed Wallace responds to: "Charters: Students with Disabilities Need Not Apply?"

January 19, 2010

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CCSA Responds to Thomas Hehir's article Charters: Students with Disabilities Need Not Apply? in Education Week

Mr. Hehir's attacks on California charter school special education programs demonstrate an unfortunate lack of depth regarding California's special education infrastructure.

Under California's system, school districts largely maintain control of special education programs and funding, requiring charters to fit into their mold. The school district controls service delivery, data collection and reporting procedures, and funding. In San Diego, for example, the school district keeps all of the special education funding, charges charter schools an additional $700 per student, and provides services that are mass produced and unreliable. As a result, a number of San Diego charter schools have formed a consortium to fulfill the full federal continuum of services and operate their own special education programs, autonomously from the school district.

Mr. Hehir applauds "well-developed [reliable] special education departments" at large school districts. Yet, Los Angeles, the nation's second largest district, operates under an 18 year old federal court order for its failure to comply with federal special education law. The decree stems, in part, from LA's over-identification of students as special needs.

Los Angeles and San Diego continue to identify special education students at a much higher rate than other school districts in California that have adopted programs focusing on inclusion and intensive classroom-based supports. Although glossed over by Mr. Hehir, charter schools should be praised, not vilified, for a conservative approach to labeling students "special needs". In the small, innovative, and outcome driven classroom of a charter school, every student has an opportunity to flourish. That is a cornerstone of the charter school movement.

Charter schools and special education policy-makers in California have recently taken a monumental step to enable charter schools to take increasing responsibility for special education. The Board of Education-adopted plan, based on a three-year pilot, will make it easier for charter schools to achieve Local Education Agency (LEA) status for special education. This approach will give charter schools both greater autonomy to serve the full continuum of students and the necessary funds to do so effectively. Such innovation will lead to improved services for all special education students.

Jed Wallace
CEO and President
California Charter Schools Association

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