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.

Sincerely,

Paul T. O’Neill

Co-founder and Senior Fellow



 

 

NCSECS Supports Nomination of Johnny Collett for Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Collets’s Track-Record and Commitment to Students With Disabilities Would Bring a Needed Focus to the Department of Education on Services and Support for Students With Learning Differences

 

Washington, D.C. – In response to the President’s nomination of Johnny Collett as Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of Education, Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) released the following statement:

“The role of the Assistant Secretary of OSERS is critical to upholding the special education laws that protect students with disabilities, including the estimated 300,000 students with disabilities enrolled in public charter schools. The rights of these students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal responsibility and must be understood, promoted and enforced by the U.S. Department of Education. Johnny Collett has a demonstrated track record and commitment to students with disabilities at both the state and national level.  We look forward to supporting him in the Department’s charge to ensuring students with disabilities have the same opportunity as any other child to enroll in a charter school and receive the instruction and support they need to achieve their full potential.”

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The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools 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. www.ncsecs.org

NCSECS Receives Walton Family Foundation Grant to Support Critical Work to Ensure Students with Disabilities have Ready Access to Charter Schools That Are Prepared to Enable Them to Succeed

Award Will Support Organization’s Work to Initiate, Foster, and Assist in the Development of Strategies, Programs, and Supports for Students With Disabilities in Charter Schools

NCSECS is excited to announce that we have been awarded a two-year grant for a total of $905,000 from the Walton Family Foundation that will support our work on behalf of students with disabilities interested in attending charter schools.

The core of everything we do at NCSECS is based on data and these new funds are going to help us continue to identify new and promising practices related to educating students with disabilities through ongoing research, analysis, and technical assistance.

 

We are especially excited about the opportunity to expand our local work in cities such as Camden, New Orleans, Newark, and Washington, DC – partnering with authorizers, educators, parents, and administrators to accelerate and track the adoption of best practices that will have a positive impact on not only access, but the quality of supports and services provided to students with disabilities.

 

We will also be conducting a secondary analysis of the biennial Civil Rights Data Collection administered by the U.S. Department of Education, with the goal of tracking enrollment, service provision, and discipline trends for students with disabilities in traditional schools as well as charter public schools. We will share findings with charter school leaders, policymakers, parents, and the broader K-12 education community in order to inform discussions focused on educating students with disabilities.

In addition to our work in target locations, NCSECS will also continue our advocacy work at the federal, state and local levels, striving to encourage adoption of policies and practices that support charter school development of quality supports and services for students with a diverse range of learning differences. To accomplish our goals, we are building meaningful partnerships with leading special education and charter school advocacy organizations around the country such as the Council for Exceptional Children, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and National Center for Learning Disabilities. 

 

We are seeing progress being made in the charter sector in terms of access and commitment to developing exemplary programs for students with disabilities. We attribute that progress to the relentless work of advocates, parents, and education leaders around the country who are standing up for students with disabilities.

 

But we have more work to do, and the more we document and disseminate facts, communicate with policymakers and decision makers, and build coalitions among key stakeholders, the more progress we will make.  We are grateful for the Walton Family Foundation’s support and look forward to sharing the results of our work with you in the very near future. To learn more about our multiple initiatives, research, and resources, visit: www.ncesecs.org or follow us @NCSECS.

Statement Regarding Secretary DeVos' Possible Delay of the Obama Administration's Special Education Ruling


October 26, 2017
Lauren Morando Rhim, Ph.D. Executive Director,and CoFounder
The facts are clear: minority students are disproportionately identified as students with disabilities as well as suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers. This should alarm Secretary DeVos and trigger a sense of urgency to fix the problem, not kick it down the road for two years.  We strongly urge the Secretary to rethink the decision to give schools a pass and take this opportunity to show the country that not only are we committed to improving the situation for minority students, but that we are committed to the highest quality supports and services for all students with learning differences.

New Certification Regulations in NY May Solve One Problem but Create Another

NCSECS Executive Director, Lauren Morando Rhim released the following statement in response to the State University of New York's (SUNY) vote to approve regulations that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers:

"While we are glad that the developments in New York have shed light on the shortage of teachers, and especially special education teachers, in this country, we are concerned that opening the door for charter schools to certify their own educators may solve one problem but create another. To be successful, public schools need more exemplary educators with sufficient training and experience. Creating pathways that lack adequate training (e.g., only 40 hours of practice time) runs the risk of hurting rather than helping schools committed to improving the outcomes for at-risk students, particularly students with disabilities. Instead of attempting to solve problems on a one-off basis, we urge education leaders to take a step back and develop policies that will ensure all students — including students with disabilities -- have trained teachers who are prepared to lead their classrooms as soon as they enter the profession."

 

Story in Chalkbeat:  https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/10/08/suny-revises-controversial-proposal-to-let-some-new-york-charter-schools-certify-their-own-teachers/

Story in NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/nyregion/suny-charter-schools-teacher-training.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fnyregion&action=click&contentCollection=nyregion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=sectionfront