GAO Report Finds Students with Disabilities Underrepresented in our Nation’s Charter Schools
WASHINGTON – As charter schools continue to grow steadily and have become an important part of our education system, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that nationally, charter schools are not serving students with disabilities at the same rates as traditional public schools. In addition, while charter schools have the potential to provide students with increased educational options, additional measures are needed to ensure access for students with disabilities.
The charter school movement began in the early 1990s and, as of the 2009-2010 school year, more than 1.6 million students – approximately four percent of all public school students –attend nearly 5,000 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia. GAO found that in the 2009–2010 school year, charter schools enrolled 8.2 percent of students with disabilities compared to 11.2 percent of students with disabilities in public schools.
“The charter school movement across the country is breaking down old stereotypes about which students can and can’t learn – whether poor, minority or a student with a disability,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). “As we move forward with education reform, we need to ensure that students with disabilities are a part of the educational revolution that is taking place within charter schools. This report rightly calls on Congress and the Department of Education to focus our efforts on providing students with disabilities the full opportunity to achieve a complete mainstream education whether in a traditional public school or a charter school.”
“This report scratches the surface of the equal access issues we know still exist in our nation’s schools. We need to make sure students have proper facilities and support no matter where they choose to go to school,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).“Whether they’re disabled, are still learning fluent English, or have any other special educational needs, our students should be sure our nation’s schools accommodate them and provide a quality education. We can’t be satisfied with anything less. I look forward to GAO’s findings on English language learner access, and I sincerely hope these findings spur the public attention and Congressional action our education system deserves.”
Like traditional public schools, charter schools have an obligation, which comes with the receipt of public funding, to serve all public school students, including students with disabilities. However, GAO found that in most states, charter schools enrolled a lower percentage of students with disabilities when compared to traditional public schools. GAO found that several factors – from parental preference to school capacity – may account for the differences in enrollment levels of students with disabilities.
Additionally, GAO found that:
- Students with disabilities represented 8-12 percent of all students at 23 percent of charter schools compared to 34 percent of traditional public schools.
- About half of charter schools reported having insufficient resources, including limited space, as a challenge to serving students with disabilities.
- Some charter schools may be discouraging students with disabilities from enrolling and denying admission to students with more severe disabilities because of the cost of services.
Last year, as part of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the House passed a bipartisan bill – the “Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act” – that took several steps to increase access for students with disabilities and address the challenges highlighted by today’s GAO report. Under this reauthorization of the charter school program, students with disabilities would have increased opportunities to attend and succeed at high-quality charter schools. The bill requires charter schools to have recruitment and enrollment practices that promote inclusion, retention, and engage students with limited opportunities to attend charter schools.
In response to GAO’s report, the Department of Education is considering issuing additional or updated guidance for charter schools and local agencies related to the recruitment, admissions, and accessibility of students with disabilities.
For more information the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, click here.