New NACSA Report Highlights Trends From 3,000 Charter Applications

By: Paul O’Neill, Senior Fellow of NCSECS

Last week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) issued an engaging new report on its review of nearly 3,000 charter school applications submitted to authorizers in 20 states over the last several years. Called “Reinvigorating the Pipeline: Insights into Proposed and Approved Charter Schools,” the report identifies a range of significant trends, including these:

  • The “no excuses” model is becoming much less prevalent – with authorizer approval of such applications falling 40% over the last 5 years.

  • In contrast, “diverse by design” school models are surging, with authorizers approving such applications at a rate of nearly 65% nationwide.

  • Schools designed specifically to serve a special education population comprise only 2% of the charter applications NACSA reviewed; such applications were approved about 42% of the time, a rate comparable to that of more general applications.

NACSA acknowledges that this analysis is just scratching the surface of what we can learn from the data it has identified. One element it wants to drill down on is equity and access issues. That inquiry could shed important light on special education considerations, including these:

  • What sorts of information about serving students with disabilities do authorizers require of applicants?

  • What are applicants saying about how they will serve diverse learners? How much knowledge do authorizers have about this when they are deciding whether or not to approve an application?

  • Are certain approaches to special education finding favor with authorizers? Are others less likely to be approved?

Currently, this sort of information is scarce and very localized; a national study would be of tremendous value in understanding the current charter environment and fostering positive change. NCSECS looks forward to NACSA’s continuing work in this area. The full report can be found here.

Victory for the Disability Advocacy Community

By: Wendy Tucker, Senior Director of Policy and Megan Ohlssen, Managing Director of Programs

In a huge victory for the disability advocacy community, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) prevailed earlier this month in a closely watched lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. COPAA filed suit in July over Secretary DeVos’ decision to delay implementation of the Equity in IDEA regulations, which had been scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2018. Adopted in 2016 to address racial disparities in special education, the Equity in IDEA regulations will now immediately go into effect absent action by a higher court.

These regulations are a critical step in ensuring students are receiving the appropriate services and disrupting disproportionality, which is perpetuated in various forms:

  • The inappropriate identification of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education;

  • The underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in enrichment, gift and talented programs, and access to rigorous curricular materials; and

  • The excessive overrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse students involved in disciplinary actions 

It’s imperative that we see greater accountability for states with significant racial disproportionality; oversight of these regulations is paramount. We look forward to working with our partners to build out of systems to support greater equity for all students.  

You can learn more detail about the regulations here and read COPAA’s press release and the District Court’s decision here.

The Center's Statement on Devos' Proposed Education Tax Credit

Today, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and other lawmakers proposed a tax credit for donations to private school scholarships and other school choice initiatives. In response, Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director for the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (the Center) issued the following statement:

"All school choice options must embrace the responsibilities that accompany public dollars. These responsibilities are grounded in our nation’s commitment to civil rights via ADA, IDEA, and Section 504. The Center and its Equity Coalition members developed the Principles of Equitable Schools to establish a standard of equity intended to guide policy makers, legislators, and advocates and to help parents weigh their options when choosing a school. These principles should be upheld by any school enrolling students using public dollars. Upholding the Principles ensures equity and compliance with our nation's civil rights laws."

It's Time to Prohibit Seclusion and Limit Use of Restraints in Schools

Today, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee held a hearing about the problematic use of seclusion and restraints in schools and the provisions of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA). KASSA proposes to:

  • Eliminate seclusion and the use of chemical and mechanical restraints

  • Strict regulations on the use of restraints

  • Requirements for training school staff on crisis interventions

  • Reporting and notification requirements

The Center urges the subcommittee to re-introduce and pass KASSA in order to make schools safe learning environments for all students. Read our letter to Chariman Sablan and Ranking Member Allen.

Four Takeaways on Charter Schools and Students With Disabilities

This post by Kirsten Schmitz originally appeared on Ahead of the Heard.

With so much information, it’s easy for data to get overlooked. I’ve teased out our specific findings on how both charter schools and traditional public schools serve students with disabilities using data from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. When comparing data across sectors, the similarities are more striking than the differences. Bottom line? Both charter schools and traditional public schools can do more to better serve students with disabilities. Here are four big takeaways:

  1. Charter schools serve relatively lower percentages of students with disabilities than traditional public schools.

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools


Enrollment of students with disabilities has increased across the board, but charter schools lag slightly behind traditional public schools (TPS) in their enrollment percentages. Over time, charters are gradually serving higher rates of students with disabilities.

2. Charter schools report serving those students in more inclusive settings.

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools


Nearly 85 percent of charter school students with disabilities are taught in a general education classroom more than 80 percent of the day, compared to just under 70 percent of their traditional public school peers.

3. Students with disabilities are more likely to face disciplinary action than peers without disabilities in both charter schools and traditional public schools.

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Both charter schools and TPS suspend and expel students with disabilities at approximately twice the rate of students without disabilities.

4. However, disciplinary actions for students with disabilities in charter schools and traditional public schools differ across suspensions and expulsions.

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Source: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

Charters suspend students with disabilities at a higher rate, and expel them at a lower rate, than traditional public schools.

What does all this mean? The data can only tell us so much. When charters enroll lower percentages of students with disabilities, does that imply that charters screen or “counsel out” these students during enrollment, or that charters offer special education services that are more or less effective than those of traditional public schools? There are more unanswered questions, but in general, both sectors could be doing more to create an inclusive environment for students who need it most.

Our new deck aims to lay the groundwork for productive debates and conversations. We don’t take sides on these questions, but we hope these graphics can be a starting point for actionable measures that foster real improvement for kids.