This paper, written by the Center for Law and Education under contract with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), examines the extent to which students with disabilities are being served by the approximately 5000 publicly funded charter schools, which are predominantly, but not exclusively, located in urban, under-performing school districts, and 20 percent of which are operated by charter-school management organizations (CMOs) controlling multiple entities. The paper:
1) provides a brief description of the rapid development of charter schools, including their purpose and intent as well as the characteristics that distinguish charter schools from traditional public schools;
2) describes the overriding legal principles and current federal statutes governing the operation of charter schools; and,
3) identifies an array of systemic issues and concerns that interfere with students with disabilities having meaningful access to charter schools that operate as part of an existing local education agency (LEA) and those that operate independently as their own LEA. For example, attention is paid to the under-representation in charter schools of students who have more significant disabilities with more resource intensive educational needs and the exclusion of these students through selectivity, controlled outreach, counseling out, and other push out practices. In this context, the paper examines the legal rights of students with disabilities to be free from discrimination, to receive a free appropriate public education, to be educated with students without disabilities in the regular education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate, and to be provided an equal opportunity to access publicly funded charter schools.
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