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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Regs Threaten Charter Schools

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns. President Biden supports labor unions and people with disabilities. The interests of the two groups do not necessarily coincide.

Naomi Schaefer Riley at WSJ:
Ann Wiesner’s daughter struggled in school until she was admitted to Lionsgate Academy, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based charter school that specializes in serving children on the autism spectrum in grades 7 through 12. Now, the girl “thinks about the future,” her mother says. “She talks about getting a job and living on her own.” If regulators in Washington have their way, other children will be denied that opportunity.

At her 900-student elementary school, even with a paraprofessional by her side, “she got into conflicts in the hallway, shoving matches with other kids who were sitting in what she thought was her seat,” says Ms. Wiesner, who for privacy reasons asked me not to use the girl’s name. Lionsgate has smaller classes, a calmer environment and a staff that understands autistic kids. Though they are paid less on average than teachers at area public schools, the Lionsgate teachers aren’t burdened with piles of paperwork and can devote their time to teaching.

The Wiesners and hundreds of other families might not have gotten the opportunity to attend Lionsgate without grants from the Charter School Program, a federal fund that supports new charters and those looking to expand. From 2017-19, Lionsgate received grants totaling more than $500,000 to open a new campus. But new regulations proposed in March by the Education Department would make it much more difficult for schools like Lionsgate to get that support.

The rules, influenced by teachers unions, would require charter operators to submit a “community impact analysis” involving “descriptions of community support and unmet need for the proposed charter school, including information on over-enrollment of existing public schools.” The schools would also have to show that they “would not otherwise increase racial or socio-economic segregation or isolation in the schools from which the students are, or would be, drawn to attend the charter school.”

Yet public-school overenrollment isn’t why Lionsgate opened—or why it has a wait list of more than 200 families. There are seats at regular schools for children like Ms. Wiesner’s daughter—but their special education-programs can’t successfully meet the needs of children with autism.