The Challenge

Currently serving 2.3 million students in 43 states and Washington, DC, charter schools are public schools of choice granted varying degrees of autonomy from state laws in exchange for accountability for meeting student performance goals. As public schools, charter schools are required to abide by federal laws and regulations such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act—laws related to educating students with disabilities. Research has documented that charter schools often struggle to amass adequate capacity to provide quality special education programs and must navigate complex systems that did not anticipate the creation of schools that function as single school districts or semi-autonomous schools within a district. Consequently, more than 20 years into the evolution of the sector, charter schools have not effectively leveraged the autonomy granted by state charter school laws to benefit students with disabilities. Many stakeholders simply do not trust charter schools to welcome and support students who learn differently and can be challenging and expensive to educate.