Fewer Disabled Students Are in Charter Schools; U.S. Report Cites Possible Factors, Including More Constraints on Schools' Resources, Less Parental Interest; EDUCATION

By Armario, Christine | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

Fewer Disabled Students Are in Charter Schools; U.S. Report Cites Possible Factors, Including More Constraints on Schools' Resources, Less Parental Interest; EDUCATION


Armario, Christine, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


As the number of charter schools expands nationwide, one group of students that is enrolling in those schools at a lower rate is children with disabilities.

Eight percent of students at charter schools had disabilities in the 2009-10 school year, compared with 11 percent at traditional public schools, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

The difference could be a result of several factors, including fewer parents of special education students choosing to enroll their children, charter schools discouraging disabled students from attending, and constraints on resources making it difficult for charter schools to meet their needs, the report found.

"We know that in many instances the charter schools are breaking down all the old stereotypes about who can learn and who can't learn, whether they're poor or minority or students with disabilities," said Rep. George Miller of California, senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. "And we want to make sure that the students with disabilities get a chance to participate in that revolution, if you will, that's taking place."

Charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but operate independently of many of the laws and regulations that govern traditional public schools, have seen enormous growth over the last decade. More than 2 million children now attend charters, and the administration of President Barack Obama has encouraged their expansion through initiatives such as Race to the Top, the $4 billion grant competition.

Advocates have praised charters for being an innovative alternative to the traditional neighborhood school, but there have been persistent concerns over accountability, access and quality.

The GAO report found significant disparities among states.

About 6 percent of students in New Hampshire charter schools had disabilities, for example, compared with 13 percent at the state's traditional public schools. In Virginia, the number of special education students in charter schools was 11 percentage points higher than in traditional public schools. …

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