Earlier this month, the Florida Board of Education voted to approve its 2012-2018 strategic plan which, among other things, calls for a 100% increase in students enrolled in charter schools over the next six years, to reach a total of 359,880 students by the 2017-2018 school year.
To accommodate greater enrollment, the Board called for a 60% increase in the number of charter schools by 2018. If achieved, this would raise the number of charter schools in Florida from 518 to 829 schools.
While CEC does not oppose charter schools, its recently revised policy statement on the issue details the need for strong oversight to ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and its mandate to provide a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Additionally, CEC’s policy restates federal requirements that charter schools be subject to the same accountability requirements as traditional schools. (See CEC’s Policy on Children with Exceptionalities in Charter Schools).
The Board also called for a 30% increase – for a total of 31,441 students – in the number of students participating in the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program, the Florida voucher program which provided 24,194 students with disabilities an average of $6,900 to be used for private school tuition during the 2011-2012 school year. CEC has been a vocal opponent of vouchers which siphon resources from traditional schools, exclude students from the accountability system, and result in parents – sometimes unknowingly – giving up rights and protections provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (See CEC’s Position on School Vouchers)
With many federal initiatives supporting the expansion of high-quality charter schools – such as the Race to the Top initiative, ESEA waivers – we expect to see many issues regarding the appropriate education of students with disabilities in charter schools become a more frequent discussion.
A June 2012 report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the investigative arm of Congress – found that charter schools under-enroll students with disabilities by 3%, though that gap is wider for students with more significant disabilities.
Tell us how your state is addressing charter schools, particularly for students with disabilities in the comment section below!