L.A. Charters Closing the Special Needs Gap

July 18, 2016

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Charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) now serve a nearly identical proportion of students with special needs to district schools, according to a new report released this week by LAUSD's Independent Monitor.

Charters serve just 1% fewer students with special needs than district schools. The percentage of students with disabilities in charter schools is 11.04%, compared to 11.96% in district schools. (So the gap is actually less than 1%.) During the 2015-16 school year in LAUSD, while charter school enrollment increased by 2%, the percentage of students with disabilities who enrolled in charters jumped by 9.9%.

The data reflects a growing trend: charters continue to enroll more and more students with disabilities. It also shows that current policies aimed at expanding services for students with special needs at all publics schools within LAUSD are working.

"Students with disabilities not only deserve the best possible learning environments, they deserve to have all of their needs met at whichever public school they choose," said Gina Plate, Senior Special Education Advisor at the California Charter Schools Association. "While this data points to the overall growth of students with disabilities in charters, we are also thrilled to see increases in the range of disabilities served. This is the result of a dedicated collaboration between the charter school community and LAUSD's special education division, led by its outgoing Associate Superintendent Sharyn Howell, whose commitment to expanding services and learning options for students with special needs has been tireless and inspiring."

In 2011, the charter community and LAUSD came together to build an arrangement, known as the Charter Operated Program, Option 3, offering charters flexibility and autonomy while maintaining their participation in the LAUSD SELPA. Option 3 has enabled participating charter schools to provide an expanded range of innovative and high-quality special education services and to increase the number and range of students with special needs that they serve. The percentage of students with special needs served by the nearly 130 participating charter schools has increased by almost 40% (11% of total enrollment in 2015-16), and the population of students with low incidence disabilities has increased by 50% (2% of total enrollment in 2015-16).

"The latest data from LAUSD affirms that this innovative model is empowering charter schools to serve all students," said Plate. "We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the district to ensure the growth of high quality supports and services for students across all settings."