Charters Work Together in New, Creative Ways on Special Education

October 18, 2011

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Charter schools throughout California are actively looking to improve access to and outcomes from services for students with special needs.

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) is paving the way for charter schools to work together in new and creative ways. The creation of a Special Education Joint Powers Authority (JPA) is just such a tool. By partnering with other charter schools and highly regarded service providers in a regional special education consortium, charter schools will strengthen their expertise around special education and develop the infrastructure to offer a full range of program options.

A JPA is a legal entity that allows public agencies to act collaboratively; lending their power and authority to a common governing board. It is appropriate for public agencies to establish a JPA when a shared activity naturally transcends the boundaries of the existing public authorities; and, when by combining their efforts, these authorities can operate more efficiently or achieve greater economies of scale. In California, charter schools are able to form JPAs for the purposes of pooling financial risk - which may include sharing staff and outside service providers. This model allows charter schools to transcend the boundaries of individual entities and achieve the economies of scale necessary to support the provision of the full-continuum of special education services.

While the benefits of developing such partnerships are far-reaching, specific benefits of a special education JPA include:

  • The ability to identify and share best practices and service delivery frameworks;
  • The ability to share resources, including personnel, materials, and equipment;
  • The ability to access specialized programs operated by other schools or by the consortium, as a whole;
  • The ability to access shared staff or consultants who aid members in special education oversight, data collection, compliance issues, and coordination of service delivery;
  • The ability to organize and access professional development programs that align with the specific priorities and needs of consortium members;
  • The ability to collectively voice concerns and advocate for improved special education policies with charter authorizers, special education local plan areas, and the California Department of Education.

Through these partnerships, charter schools will expand service options for students with unique needs and improve outcomes for all students on their campus. In doing so, schools will also demonstrate the ability to operate independently of their authorizer for purposes of special education.

The Shasta County Charter Schools Special Education Consortium, San Diego Special Education JPA, and Los Angeles Special Education Improvement Authority are three examples of charter school consortia for special education that have enabled charter schools to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and gain independence from their authorizers for purposes of special education. Since the formation of these consortia, participating schools have vastly improved the quality of special education services available to their students, and many have secured status as independent local educational agencies (LEAs) for special education.

CCSA is currently working with a group of schools in San Diego County to form a second special education JPA that will serve schools located throughout the County. In addition, CCSA has convened a group of schools in the San Francisco Bay Area to form a JPA that will serve schools in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Marin counties.

To learn more about CCSA's special education advocacy efforts or to get involved in a special education JPA in your area, get in touch with your CCSA Regional Director.

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