Keeping Your Special Education Options Open

June 20, 2012

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Charter schools were intended to serve as incubators for education reform, offering innovative educational models and demonstrating successful outcomes for all students. By this very nature, charter schools are uniquely situated to provide individualized and high quality services students with disabilities and other unique needs.

However, many California charter schools currently operate as schools of their authorizing district for purposes of special education. Under this scenario, the authorizing district retains the responsibility and decision making authority for providing all special education services to students enrolled in the charter school, and receives state and federal funding necessary to support these services. Not only does this arrangement translate to high costs and poor quality of services for many charter schools, it also prevents charter schools from delivering special education services that align with the innovation and educational philosophies that are unique to their school.

Alternative special education arrangements - including the option to seek LEA status for special education - can provide charter schools with the autonomy, flexibility, and access to funding necessary to provide these innovative services and offer high-quality program options to students with disabilities. But these alternative options are not a guarantee for all charter schools. Securing increased independence for special education requires careful planning and advocacy.

If your school is interested in exploring LEA status or negotiating alternative special education arrangements for the 2013-2014 school year, you must submit a letter notifying your existing SELPA of your intent to exit the SELPA by June 30, 2012.

Submitting a letter of intent to exit is non-binding, but ensures that your school has the option to explore LEA status if you so choose. Schools that do not submit this notification by June 30, 2012 will not have the option to join a new SELPA during the 2013-2014 school year.

This letter can also serve as a valuable bargaining tool with your authorizer. Notifying your authorizer of your intent to explore other options may encourage the authorizer to work with you toward better special education arrangements as a school of the district.

Many charter schools, including some that were not planning to seek LEA status for special education, have experienced improvements in their relationships and special education arrangements with their authorizer as a result of submitting a letter notifying their authorizer and SELPA of their intent to explore alternative SELPA options.

In San Diego County, one charter school leader noted increased communication from their authorizer and improved quality of services after submitting this notification.

And in the Sacramento area, one authorizer offered to cut the charter school's fair share contribution in half after receiving a letter stating that the charter school intended to join a different SELPA the following year.

The recent and groundbreaking special education changes in the Los Angeles Unified School District can also be attributed to this notification. In 2010, 93 charter schools submitted notice to the Los Angeles Unified School District of their intent to join a new SELPA. As a result, District officials and administrators worked with CCSA staff and charter school leaders to develop improved funding and service delivery options for charter schools. One of these options provides the same autonomy and access to funding that charter schools would receive by joining another SELPA, but enables schools to remain part of the District's SELPA. By providing charter schools with the autonomy to design innovative special education models, and the funding to support these services, this arrangement has the potential to transform the way special education services are delivered to public school students.

For these reasons, CCSA encourages you to notify your authorizer and existing SELPA of your intent to explore new special education options, including the option seek LEA status in an alternate SELPA. To access more information about what it means to operate as an LEA for special education, a detailed description of the application process and your SELPA options, and a sample letter, click here.

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