Open-enrollment charter school laws and special education: A study of state and local policies in Texas
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This study is a review of open-enrollment charter school laws in the State of Texas to document how needs of students in special education are addressed in accordance with Texas charter school statutes and practices. It includes a background on charter schools in Texas, a survey report of key special education personnel directly involved with translating policies into practices, and a review of relevant information from the contents of various charter school organizations’ websites. The key objective of this study is to document both policies and practices in open-enrollment charter schools which are most prevalent in Texas. The following four areas of policies were identified and form the major points of discussion: 1. Provision of special education services 2. Admission and enrollment of students with disabilities 3. Expertise of service providers (knowledge of special education policies and procedures) 4. Special education accountability Results from this study revealed that the experience of most open-enrollment charter school with special education has proven particularly challenging. Lack of knowledge and experience, insufficient funding, limited resources and open-enrollment charter schools’ ability to hire and retain special education personnel has affected open-enrollment charter schools’ capacity to effectively and equitably serve students with disabilities. Lack of resources is particularly acute for open-enrollment charter schools because they operate as independent local education agencies (LEAs) and are responsible for offering a full continuum of special education and related services to provide students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). This challenge is further compounded by the funding disparity between public charter schools and traditional public schools. Teachers and staff in open-enrollment charter schools earn substantially less than their peers in traditional school districts. Renting or purchasing school facilities is extremely difficult for Texas open-enrollment charter schools because they do not receive state or local facilities funding. This study revealed that while open-enrollment charter schools are provided targeted technical assistance on an on-going basis through the Regional Education Service Centers, this does not necessarily translate into public charter schools having the capacity to deliver special education. More assistance is needed in developing the structures needed to serve students with disabilities.
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