Governors Can – and Should – Lead on Special Education
Sep 01

Governors Can – and Should – Lead on Special Education

By: Wendy Tucker, Senior Director of Policy

President John Quincy Adams famously said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more and become more, you are a leader.” That leadership is needed now more than ever in our country in our approach to educating students with disabilities. The stark reality is that we as a nation are largely failing our more than 7 million public school students with disabilities, who make up roughly 13% of the total student population. Despite the fact that the vast majority of students with disabilities have the capacity to graduate and perform on par with their non-disabled peers when given the proper supports and services, there is a significant and persistent gap in academic performance between students with disabilities and those without. But Governors across the country have the opportunity to change that fact and lead their states in significantly improving the lives of these students.

Earlier this month in Nashville, the National Governors Association held a two day convening of Governors’ offices to discuss policies that support equity and collaboration in education. We at the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools were honored to co-host the meeting with the NGA and with Chiefs for Change.

Over the course of the two day event, sessions focused on policies that allow charter schools, with their built-in autonomy, to better serve at-risk student populations, including students with disabilities, and to more effectively collaborate with traditional district schools with the goal of sharing successful practices. At a time when the rhetoric against charter schools is often negative, attendees heard about specific policies that encourage collaborative efforts between traditional district and charter schools from Denver to New Orleans to Washington. We saw firsthand Nashville’s Newcomer Academy, a highly effective immersion program for immigrant students that is run by STEM Prep Academy charter school and made possible through a collaborative partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Nashville Mayor’s Office. Seeing equitable access in action, especially through a collaborative effort, served as a definite call to action for those in attendance.

We were thrilled to participate in the convening and to lead in-depth conversations about proven policies that promote equitable access to charter schools, including robust and transparent data systems and equitable funding formulas. Education leaders from across the country shared successes and ongoing challenges, with a focus on equipping Governors’ offices with the information they need to support policy improvements in their states.

By championing strong policies in their states, Governors will be able to literally change the lives of many of their young citizens. We hope that seeing equity in action inspired them as much as it inspired us.

Gandhi is credited with saying “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” We as a society simply must do better for our students with disabilities. Our Governors have the opportunity to take the lead on this by using their bully pulpit to communicate that closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities is worth prioritizing and by supporting policies in their states that will ensure that students with disabilities are given the best possible chance for success. We strongly encourage them to take advantage of this opportunity, and we stand ready to assist them in any way we can.

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