Bad News for Florida Charter Schools: GAO Probes Charters on Serving Students With Disabilties

From Education Week reporters Sean Cavanagh and Nirvi Shah:

Charter schools across the country, and in most individual states, enroll a smaller percentage of students with disabilities than traditional public schools, though the factors behind those disparities remain unclear, a new report from a federal investigative agency concludes.

The report from the Government Accountability Office, released late Tuesday, says some charter schools may be discouraging students with disabilities from enrolling or denying them admission, a charge that has been periodically levied at the independent public schools over the years.

But the GAO also explains that much of the information it could gather on that point is anecdotal, and that other factors are likely at work—such as individual families deciding that charter school with distinct missions or academic approaches are not the right fit for children with specific needs.

In other cases, the decision about whether to place special-needs students in a charter school may not belong to individual charters, but rather to school districts, the report said. State funding formulas can also influence whether students with disabilities end up in charters.

“[T]here are no comprehensive data to determine the extent to which charter schools may be discouraging students with disabilities from enrolling or the extent to which such practices actually contribute to differences in enrollment levels,” the GAO states.

In a letter released with the report, U.S. Department of Education officials said they were planning to release new guidance to charter schools on their obligations to serve students with disabilities

This isn’t news to Floridians. A December 2011 report in the Miami Herald and State Impact Florida detailed that “more than 86 percent of state charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability.” Yet this didn’t stall charter schools legislative hand maidens to increase the taxpayer money they receive even though they don’t come close to providing the same services as do public schools. Even Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage knew they shouldn’t have more money.

Such scrutiny takes the wind out of the sails of charter school’s perception of virtue. Florida’s charter schools are used to test data being the only accountability measure that matter. Not being able to cherry-pick and filter out kids who may not perform well on FCAT trashes the business model. Even teaching the test may not work anymore.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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