On President Trump's Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2019

“The billions of dollars in proposed cuts to the education budget is troubling, particularly when services and supports for students with disabilities are already significantly under-funded.

We need to increase recruitment and training of teachers for students with disabilities and increase IDEA funding levels. The proposed budget cuts do neither.

“And while we are pleased to see that charter school programs are a priority, it is critical that any investments in school choice ensure that these programs support students with disabilities and rights conveyed by IDEA.”

Indianapolis’ Paramount School of Excellence: Supporting Students with Disabilities via its Frameworks

By: Stephanie Lancet

As part of its effort to share best practices with the special education community, The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) identified several public charter schools across the country as “Centers for Excellence” and is communicating how each school uniquely leverages its autonomy to benefit students with disabilities. Here is a spotlight on one of them.

Located in Indianapolis, Paramount School of Excellence (Paramount) serves students from Kindergarten to 8th grade. School leaders attribute their success and strong performance on statewide assessments by prioritizing school-wide cohesion, consistency in practice, and clear communication; this is specifically supported by the school’s “Frameworks,” Paramount’s policy and instruction guide designed to support teachers’ practices.  

Reflecting the mission and vision of the school, Paramount’s Frameworks highlights the school’s commitment to true, explicit, intentional inclusion and shapes teachers’ approaches to curriculum, instruction, behavior, school culture, and more. For example, Frameworks enables and encourages general and special education teachers to regularly collaborate, co-plan, co-teach, and receive inclusivity training; this has created a school culture in which all Paramount teachers maintain high expectations and feel responsible for the success of all students, including those with disabilities. Regarding classroom teaching and learning specifically, Frameworks enables and promotes school-wide adoption of individualized instructional practices that benefit all students, such as problem solving and differentiation, as well as regular collection and evaluation of data to appropriately adapt and improve such practices.

Frameworks serves as the backbone for the school and distinctly reflect its commitment to truly inclusive, evidence-based practices. To learn more about Paramount and and its approach to serving students with learning differences, click here.

Denver’s School of Science and Technology - Cole High School: Supporting Students with Disabilities via Curriculum/Instruction Modification and Coaching

By: Stephanie Lancet

As part of its effort to share best practices with the special education community, The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) identified several public charter schools across the country as “Centers for Excellence” and is communicating how each school uniquely leverages its autonomy to benefit students with disabilities. Here is a spotlight on one of them.

Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) - Cole High School (Cole), a public charter school within the DSST network, serves students from 9th to 11th grade. Cole educates one of the largest proportions of students with mild disabilities in inclusive classrooms in its district, and, in 2016, ranked as the fifth highest-performing high school in Denver and the third highest in ELL proficiency growth. In order to effectively serve students with diverse learning needs, Cole modifies its network’s relatively structured approach to instruction. Our case study specifically explores the school’s modified curriculum and instruction, as well as its professional development model.

Cole teachers cite the ability to create new courses or to modify the curriculum as essential to supporting students' success. Guided by the school’s mission and objectives, for example, teachers may add foundational courses or make adjustments to the 10th grade trimester internship program as needed. This allows teachers the flexibility to meet the needs and foster the strengths of individual students. Moreover, the school supports intensive co-teaching practices, such as shared planning and professional development, to promote effective differentiation.

Coaching, a vital part of DSST and Cole’s professional development model, provides teachers the opportunity to continuously improve and hone their skills with each other’s assistance. Utilizing tools such as video commentaries and observation annotations, the school fosters a sustained cycle of professional feedback, reflection, and modification, with the ultimate objective of improving the experiences of students with disabilities. This practice contributes to a positive school culture, one which nurtures inclusion via comprehensive teacher support.

Together, Cole’s flexibility in curriculum and instruction and its coaching model support the school in balancing and maintaining an inclusive educational model with rigorous learning goals and high expectations. To learn more about DSST - Cole High School, and its approach to serving students with learning differences, read our full case study here.

A Much-Needed Resource for Charter School Authorizers

By: Paul O'Neill

There is nothing easy about public education, but there are quite a few things that raise the level of difficulty even higher. One of these is meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Another is engaging in effective oversight of charter school programs. 

A new resource from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) provides crucial, comprehensive guidance regarding the crossroads of these two challenges.

Their toolkit highlights best practices with the hopes that more authorizers will consider the needs of students with disabilities during each phase of the charter school lifecycle. For example, the toolkit offers a useful summary of applicable laws and regulations; profiles exemplary authorizers who are effectively addressing special education; and addresses important financial considerations relating to special education in charter schools.

Meeting the needs of students with a wide range of disabilities and navigating layers of federal and state compliance obligations is a complex challenge. By providing authorizers with critical information and empowering them to ensure that schools understand and meet the challenges of serving all students, we are hopeful that supports and services for students in charter schools will improve.

Access the Special Education Toolkit here!

NCSECS Weighs in on Proposed Kentucky Charter School Regulations

Kevin C. Brown, Esq.

Associate Commissioner and General Counsel

Kentucky Department of Education

300 Sower Blvd, 5th Floor

Frankfort, Kentucky 40601


Dear Mr. Brown:

The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) is dedicated to ensuring that students with disabilities have equal access to charter schools and that public charter schools are designed and operated to enable all students to succeed. NCSECS is a leader and partner with state charter authorizers, charter networks, and charter schools across the U.S. We advocate for and support the fundamental principles that families should be afforded school choice and that public schools have the opportunity and obligation to serve all students. Public charter schools can create effective, inclusive learning environments and can be exemplars of educational equity, quality, and innovation.

We write today to provide input on the draft Kentucky charter school regulations currently under review and to identify resources to assist the state in better meeting the needs of students with disabilities who require special education services. Below are our recommendations:

1. Provide clarity as to whether charter schools in Kentucky are treated as Independent Local Education Agencies (LEAs) under state law for the purpose of special education.

The Kentucky charter school statute lacks clarity about whether or not charter schools function as LEAs. See sections 3(17) and 8(3) of the statute.  This is a serious gap, because allocation of authority and responsibility for special education depends on LEA status. For example, if districts remain the LEA for charter schools within their catchment area, those districts retain primary responsibility for special education and providing a full spectrum of placement options for students. If, instead, each charter school is an independent LEA, that considerable obligation falls to the charter school. A school LEA may have limited resources with which to provide such services. Given the absence of clarity on this point in the Kentucky charter school law, the regulations should address it and plainly state in the sections on student admissions and enrollment and/or on authorizer accountability, what the allocation of LEA responsibility and authority is. NCSECS has experience with these approaches and believes that both are viable, so long as the entity designated as the LEA has adequate resources and capacity to perform that function effectively.

2. Prohibit disclosure of student disability status on admission and enrollment forms except when it enables a student greater access to a charter program.

NCSECS is familiar with instances in which charter schools that were permitted to require information about the disability status of students applying to charter schools used that information as a barrier to admission. Instances of such “counseling out” may be infrequent but are inappropriate and should not be allowed. A revision to the Kentucky charter school regulations can preclude such practices. NCSECS recommends adding an additional provision, which could be designated 4(4)12, to section 4(4) of the regulation relating to student admissions and enrollment. This new provision would explicitly forbid charter schools from requiring applicants to provide information about their disability status. NCSECS would further provide an exception to this provision in instances where such information is used to allow students with specific disabilities to gain greater access to a charter program.

3. Require authorizer training on effectively serving students with disabilities and on equitable admissions practices.

After more than 20 years of charter schools in this country, one factor that is abundantly clear from research and experience is the crucial role that authorizers play in charter quality and accountability. The draft Kentucky regulations relating to authorizers prudently identify a number of topics on which authorizers must receive regular training in order maintain the expertise needed to do their work well.  The required topics for authorizer training should be expanded to include effectively serving students with disabilities and ensuring equitable admissions. NCSECS recommends adding to section 3(4)(b) an additional subsection (9) that requires authorizer training on equitable admissions practices and services for students with disabilities. This regulation should also more generally include special education as a consideration in determining whether an authorizer is competent and effective.

4. Require examination of a school’s track record on serving students with disabilities when considering conversion to charter status.

The draft regulations relating to conversion charter schools and charter school appeals do not get into sufficient detail to identify the criteria for these steps. NCSECS recommends providing clarity on such criteria and explicitly spelling out that they should include special education considerations.  For example, the track record of a school that seeks to convert to charter status should be scrutinized for indications of how it has served students with disabilities. This is a critical step toward ensuring that schools who seek charter status are well equipped to serve students with disabilities.

5. Increase specificity around special education throughout the draft regulations.

Finally, the draft regulations would benefit from more specificity around special education considerations broadly.  Perhaps the best source of model viable language is the “Model Policy Guide” issued by NCSECS in April 2017.  See https://static1.squarespace.com/static/52feb326e4b069fc72abb0c8/t/58fe1b588419c294e04cf8e8/1493048189842/Leveraging+Policy+to+Increase+Access+4.24.pdf. This document offers language on a range of issues that can be inserted into regulations. Specifically, it addresses areas such as charter applications and admissions that are the subject of current Kentucky draft regulations. It also provides specific language on many other areas, such as the roles of charter schools and of authorizers in the special education arena, with particular attention to assessing quality of programs and equitable access.

Additional potentially useful resources from NCSECS include “Getting Lost While Trying to Follow the Money: Special Education Finance in Charter Schools,” issued by NCSECS in November 2015. See http://www.publiccharters.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/sped_finance_web.pdf and an interactive webpage for our Charter School Special Education Finance Project that allows you to pull up special education finance information for chartering states: http://www.ncsecs.org/state-data.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into Kentucky’s draft charter school regulations. NCSECS is encouraged by the state’s commitment to offering its families more school choice and hopes that it takes the extra steps necessary to ensure that all students can access and thrive in charter schools. As you finalize these regulations and transition to the implementation phase, NCSECS invites you to call on us and our resources as a guide for best practices for serving students with disabilities.


Paul T. O’Neill

Co-founder and Senior Fellow