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Monday, November 18, 2013

Special Education and Charter Schools in California

A number of posts have discussed the role of charter schoolsEdSource has an op-ed by Gina Plate, senior adviser for special education for the California Charter Schools Association. 
In California, services for students with disabilities are administered through regional district collaboratives, called Special Education Local Plan Areas, or SELPAs. In this case, the SELPA for Los Angeles Unified organized a new option for charter schools to provide special education services with full responsibility, flexibility and autonomy for serving all students with disabilities enrolled in the school. The Charter Operated Program (COP) became operational on July 1, 2011 with 47 participating schools, serving nearly 27,000 students. Its mission is to create a community of charter schools working together to provide innovative, high-quality educational options for students with unique needs. This network will serve as a model for excellence and directly address the concern that historically there have been lower percentages of students with special needs in charter schools compared to the district average.
A primary goal of the LAUSD board was to increase the number of students with special needs enrolled in charter schools, as well as the range of disabilities of the students served. That is exactly what we have seen in a report released this fall by the California Charter Schools Association. The results of the first two years of the COP program have exceeded all original expectations:
  • The percentage of students with disabilities enrolled in COP schools increased from 8.09 percent to 9.01 percent after the first year, which was greater than a similar increase across all charter schools in the district. (Based on data from California Basic Educational Data System and Welligent.)
  • The percentage of students with moderate to severe disabilities at the COP schools grew by 21.9 percent, which is greater than the overall student enrollment growth of 11.2 percent.
  • COP member schools added more than 100 new students with moderate to severe disabilities after their first year in the program. 
A new report from the Office of the Independent Monitor, the oversight agency of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s special education program, shows this trend of increasing enrollment of students with special needs continued in the third year of the program as well.