Charter schools enroll less disabled children than traditional public schools, though the exact reasons why weren’t explored in the report released this month by the United States Government Accountability Office.
About 11 percent of children in the nation’s traditional public schools have disabilities that require special services, while charter schools have 8 percent of their student population considered disabled.
The lower rates could be because parents of the disabled aren’t seeking out charter schools, or because the schools themselves are discouraging children from attending, according to the report.
North Carolina appears to be doing better than most states, with traditional public schools showing it enrolls a slightly higher percentage (1 percent) of disabled children than charter schools.
The data for the study came from the 2009-10 school year, before North Carolina lifted its 100-school cap on charter schools.
The GAO report comes as the federal education department’s Office of Civil Rights is conducting a broad review to see if charter schools as a whole are complying with federal laws surrounding disabled children.
(Essentially, all schools that receive federal money can not discriminate against children with disabilities, and must provide free and appropriate educations to them.).
The discrepancy in how the two public school systems educate disabled children was not as high as in previous years, and in some states charters schools educated more children with disabilities than in traditional public school systems.
From a New York Times article published yesterday about the GAO study:
Critics of charter schools, which are financed with taxpayer money but typically enjoy more autonomy than district public schools, have said the charters skim the best students from their communities and are less likely to enroll students with special needs.
Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the lower enrollment of students with disabilities in charter schools was “not acceptable by any means.” But given the controversy over charter schools, Mr. Miller said, “my political antennae would have said that the disparity would have been greater.”