Newly Revamped Model Charter School Law Expands on Special Education

By Paul O’Neill, Co-Founder and Senior Fellow

Last week the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published a new, substantially revised version of its Model Charter Schools Law ("A Model Law for Supporting High-Quality Charter Public Schools: Second Edition"). As a co-author of both versions, I can offer a few observations. 

 The goal behind the creation of a model charter school law in 2009 was to collect and disseminate best practices that were developed in the states since the first charter school legislation was enacted in the early 1990s. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools pulled together a varied group of seasoned educators, authorizers, attorneys and other stakeholders from across the country to share best practices and experiences. The result was a strong set of provisions that states could draw on to bolster and improve their existing law and regulations or that could be tweaked a bit and adopted whole as a new law (as was the case in Maine).

 The model law was revised to capture new ideas and to drill down on areas that could benefit from more attention and clarity. The special education section, in particular, received a major expansion. The original model law included language that addressed charter school and district responsibilities for serving students with disabilities, and the need for equity in admissions. The revised law goes much farther, adding several paragraphs that provide detailed language about issues such as enrollment, service provision, funding, excess cost aid for high-needs students, access to intermediate school district services and resource organizations. It is careful to address how such considerations play out for charter schools that function as independent Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and those that are part of district LEAs. It even takes account of flexibilities within federal special education law that allow LEAs to be innovative in how they serve students with disabilities.

 These new special education provisions are a big leap forward – there are no state charter school laws that currently provide anything like this level of detail. Another groundbreaking resource will be available soon. NCSECS is developing a model policy guide containing analyses of the key issues impacting students with disabilities in charter schools and a much broader range of specialized language for legislators and policy experts. NCSECS is developing this resource jointly with special education and charter school experts from numerous leading national organizations and advocacy groups.

 Together, the forthcoming NCSECS guide and the revised model law should serve as essential resources and practical templates for states that want to do more to ensure that charter schools are equitable and able to effectively serve all students.