Charter School Laws Are All Over the Map On Disabled Students

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints

Some charter school laws specifically address students with disabilities; others do not. Some include general statements that call for schools to obey federal and state special education and antidiscrimination rules.

But in practice, things get messy in a hurry.

For example, states such as Arizona and Michigan allow charter schools to hire uncertified teachers. But state special education rules often require that disabled students be served by teachers or others with specific credentials.

In some states, charters are autonomous entities, essentially functioning as their own school district; in other states, charters are part of an existing school district. That distinction is often critical in figuring out what charter schools are responsible for under special education rules.

Ironically, states that deliberately allowed their charter schools to be autonomous entities so they would be subject to less regulation may in fact have placed a greater burden on them, said Jay P. Heubert, an assistant professor of education at Harvard University's graduate school of education.

In those states, he said, the individual charter schools may be wholly responsible for evaluating, monitoring, and tracking special education students--tasks that ordinarily would be taken care of by the district.

"These are issues lawyers and schools face all the time," Mr. Heubert said: "What happens when you apply a new entity onto pre-existing law?"

Charter schools, he pointed out, don't fit neatly into pre-existing categories. "People just didn't sit down and think it through. Most people did not anticipate these issues."

But Ted Kolderie, a charter school analyst and proponent in St. Paul, Minn., says there's nothing wrong with that.

"Public policy doesn't have to solve everything, and particularly you don't have to write it all in law or regulation," Mr. Kolderie said. "It's OK to just leave it to people to work out in a common-sense way, and I think that's the situation with special ed."

And, he said, compliance with existing special education rules does not always bring good educational results.

Legal Layers

Children with disabilities are covered by several major federal laws, including the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which calls for students to receive a "free, appropriate, public education" tailored to their individual needs; the Americans With Disabilities Act; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In addition, states have their own requirements for special education and school funding, most of which were on the books long before charter schools ever opened their doors. The intersection of all these rules can make for confusion.

And, given that many traditional public schools continue to struggle with special education more than 20 years after the landmark IDEA became law, the fact that charter schools face confusion is no surprise, experts say.

In general, the IDEA and many state laws place much of the responsibility for special education on school districts, Mr. Heubert said.

Autonomous charter schools, therefore, may have to assume many of the functions of rural, one-school districts, which often use regional cooperatives or form other arrangements to serve their special education students, Mr. Heubert said. But unlike a traditional school district, a charter school cannot levy taxes.

"Special ed is definitely in the top 10 concerns" of charter schools, said Sue Steelman Bragato, the executive director of the California Network of Educational Charters, a nonprofit group based in San Carlos, Calif. "At this point, without some more guidance from our education department and the U.S. Education Department, it's really difficult to define what charters have to do as opposed to what they are doing [now]."

Web Only

Related Stories

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Free Ebook: How to Implement a Coding Program in Schools

Successful Intervention Builds Student Success

Effective Ways to Support Students with Dyslexia

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

Building Community for Social Good

5 Resources on the Power of Interoperability from Unified Edtech

New campaign for UN World Teachers Day

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

Tips for Supporting English Learners Through Personalized Approaches

Student Engagement Lessons from 3 Successful Districts

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >