Pitfalls of Charter Schools for Students with Special Needs

Now that voters have approved a constitutional amendment in Georgia that will result in the approval of more charter schools throughout the state, is this a good thing?

A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which is an investigative arm of Congress, shows that charter schools are not enrolling as high a portion of students with special needs as traditional public schools. See Charter Schools Fall Short on Disabled, June 19, 2012 reported at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303379204577477003893836734.html.  The gist of this report is that charter schools are less likely to enroll students with special needs especially those with more severe disabilities. Although federal law requires that all public schools – including charter schools – enroll students with special needs that are within the geographic boundary of the school – this may not be occurring.

In general, charter schools have not shown consistency in serving children with special needs. In New Orleans, for example, 75% of all students are served by charter schools. But a federal lawsuit was filed in 2010 alleged that charter schools refused to enroll students with disabilities, found ways to remove them, or failed to provide them a free appropriate public education as provided by law. There have been reports in Georgia as well that some charter schools are not properly serving children with disabilities.  I recently spoke with an educator from an Atlanta area charter school that serves a certain immigrant population. According to this educator, the school is woefully prepared to serve its special education students. It is no surprise then to learn that some charter schools in Georgia fall far below the legal standards required to educate students with special needs.

Do you know of any children with special needs that are attending charter schools in Georgia. If so, do you think the schools are capable of providing a free appropriate education to these students? Do you have a positive or negative stories to share about your experience with charter schools and their efforts to comply with federal special education laws?

Torin Togut