The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing to discuss the impact of charter schools on the public education system as it prepares to reauthorize – rewrite – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as No Child Left Behind. Notably, witnesses and members of Congress raised concerns regarding recent studies which showed an under-representation of students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools and “counseling out” practices which may discourage prospective families of students with disabilities from enrolling their child because special education services and supports are unavailable. CEC has echoed these concerns and others, with members of Congress and their staff and encouraged lawmakers to address issues of under-representation and providing a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
Dr. Tom Hehir, professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education testified that while some charter schools can provide students with disabilities with a high-quality education and offer parents school choice options, on the whole charter schools generally serve fewer children with disabilities than traditional public schools. Additionally, Hehir testified that charter schools serve far fewer students with more significant disabilities, and in some instances, none at all. According to Hehir, under-representation is problematic for a variety of reasons including: civil rights concerns, it compromises the ability of charter schools to claim better approaches to serving students for whom the current education system has failed, may present a financial disadvantage to traditional public schools, and the existing financial disincentive for charters not to educate students that may require costly services. To remedy this issue, Hehir provided members of Congress with three recommendations:
• The federal government should require states to proactively address issues of access involving special populations as a condition for receiving federal funds;
• The federal government should establish a federal technical assistance center focusing on the needs of students form special populations in charter schools; and
• The federal government should fund research on serving special populations in charter schools.
Numerous members of Congress – including Rep. Miller (D-CA), chairman of the Committee; Rep. Scott (D-VA), Rep. Cassidy (R-LA), Rep. Hinojosa (D-TX), and Rep. Biggert (R-IL) – all raised the issue of the ability of charter schools to serve students with disabilities.
Also discussed was the All Students Achieving through Reform Act (H.R. 4330), legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), which seeks to increase the number of charter schools by replicating successful charter school practices. Currently, 1.5 million children are enrolled in nearly 5,000 public charter schools across the country and thousands of students remain on waiting lists.
Read CEC’s Policy on Children with Exceptionalities in Charter Schools.
For more information, including the testimony of all the witnesses, visit the House Education and Labor Committee Website.