The charter school concept emerged from a deep commitment to quality and equity; schools of choice operating autonomously from traditional districts would serve as incubators of innovation and leverage market forces to ensure more students could access exemplary public schools. On many counts, the charter sector has met these ambitious goals. Charter schools are attractive options in many districts across the country and they have spawned innovative and highly successful instructional models.
Yet, when it comes to educating students with disabilities, the sector has largely been caught flat-footed. On average charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools and they have generally not invested adequate resources to develop exemplary programs for students with disabilities.
While these concerns have been acknowledged since the beginning of the charter movement, shortcomings related to educating students with disabilities are increasingly undermining the credibility of the sector overall. The collective lack of attention to the needs of students with disabilities appears to be reaching a tipping point reflected in growing scrutiny at the federal and state level. For instance, in 2012 the Government Accounting Office conducted an investigation and documented that charter schools across the nation enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is investigating a complaint against charter schools in Washington, DC. Based on concerns in multiple states, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education has mounted two investigations that include examination of issues associated with educating students with disabilities in charter schools. Rarely does a week go by when there is not an article in a local or national newspaper related to concerns about equal access and problems associated with educating students with disabilities in the charter sector. Unfortunately, these conversations rarely progress past sound bites regarding the shortcomings of charter schools to more substantive conversations regarding how to increase access and develop exemplary programs for students with disabilities.
Twenty-two years into the evolution of the charter sector, no one has worked with national charter school and special education advocacy groups to ensure that students with learning differences are provided equal access to potentially innovative opportunities in the charter sector.
Furthermore, no one is working with states to help them assess what kinds of supports charter schools and charter authorizers need to ensure they meet their responsibilities related to educating students with disabilities. Moreover, no one is organizing advocates, scholars, or practitioners to write op-eds and testify in legislatures to address policy issues that hinder access and development of quality programs.
Our Mission & Goals
To increase our collective understanding of the challenges, identify viable solutions, and ensure effective charter school practices that justify the trust of parents and students with disabilities, the charter sector needs a credible entity that will be a reliable resource for key stakeholders; both in the charter sector and the special education advocacy community. We created The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) to fill the current void and proactively seek to foster innovations that will benefit both charter and traditional public schools. In creating the NCSECS, our goal is to advocate for students with diverse learning needs to ensure that if they are interested in attending charter schools, they are able to access and thrive in schools designed to enable all students to succeed.
The following four goals and related activities drive the mission of the NCSECS:
Establish and communicate vital facts to policy makers, advocates and authorizers about the status and progress of students with disabilities in charter schools
Develop coalitions and form essential partnerships to both protect student rights and honor the core tenets of the charter sector: choice, autonomy and accountability
Inform Policy so states and authorizers can address barriers and create opportunities for students with disabilities to enroll in charter schools and access effective instructional programs and individualized supports
Create Opportunities for Excellence
Create opportunities for excellence that highlight and support exemplary programs for diverse learners in the charter sector.