GAO Report: Charter School Enrollments Nationally of Students With Disabilities Lag District Schools By 3 Percentage Points
Enrollment of students with disabilities in charter schools nationwide trails traditional district schools by 3 percentage points, although little is known about why, according to a June 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Additional Federal Attention Needed to Help Protect Access for Students with Disabilities states that for the 2009-2010 school year 11 percent of enrollments in traditional public schools were students with disabilities compared to about 8 percent in charter schools. But in six states – Nevada, Wyoming, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – charter schools had higher percentages of these students than traditional district schools, according to the report.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has “several broad compliance reviews underway related to students with disabilities and charter schools,” according to the report, which describes federal law on public schools’ responsibilities to provide special education.
Four of 37 compliance reviews begun by OCR in 2011 focus on charter schools, with two pertaining to recruitment and admissions issues and two addressing the required provision of free appropriate public education. GAO researchers visited 13 charter schools and three states as part of their work.
The response to the GAO report from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement states that “the small sample size and the relatively small differences identified between charter schools and other public schools” make it difficult to draw conclusions, but that the Department is committed to addressing the issues and grant opportunities are “likely to continue to include competitive and invitational priorities for applications that propose to improve achievement for students with disabilities and promote diversity.”
As part of the 2012 National Charter Schools Conference in Minneapolis in June, the National Charter School Resource Center held the Building the Capacity of Charter Schools: Effectively Serving Students With Disabilities conference. The Resource Center also released Special Education Start-Up and Implementation Tools for Charter School Leaders and Special Education Managers, a 75-page guide that provides critical information in 15 key areas to help serve students with disabilities, including understanding the law, school culture and discipline, hiring and contracting with service providers, staff training, student performance, and working with parents.