Charter Schools, Private Schools and Course Choice
Louisiana's education reform efforts have increasingly shifted from traditional school systems that based the responsibility of educating a student on the school system where that student lived to a model that presents options for families to choose which school or school system to send their child. The alternatives to the traditional public school being presented to parents include:
- Charter Schools
- Private Schools
- Course Choice
Unfortunately these school choice options present a number of issues for parents of children with disabilities, particularly those with the most significant disabilities. These issues include:
Lack of access
Private schools and Charter Schools on average serve significantly lower percentages of students with disabilities (2.6 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively) than do traditional public school systems (12.1 percent). Access for students with significant disabilities is even more problematic.
Private schools participating in the scholarship program indicated the types of student exceptionalities the school was able to serve – most indicated they did not serve any students with disabilities and few served students with more significant disabilities. Additionally private schools may remove (i.e., expel) a scholarship student according to the school's discipline policy. For students with disabilities presenting social and/or communication deficits (e.g., autism, emotional behavior disorder, etc.), private schools are not required to provide the necessary supports and services for the student to succeed and are allowed to remove them when they fail (behaviorally).
Parents of students with disabilities wishing to send their child to a different school (private) have a more difficult decision to make than parents of children without disabilities. Either accept a private school offer that does not include the services your child needs and waive all rights to appropriate services, accommodations, or supports OR stay in a school that is deemed failing.
Potential loss of funding for services to support students with significant disabilities
A combination of federal, state and local funding streams cover the costs of educational services for students with disabilities. Funds are allocated to school systems based on the number of students they serve and they receive additional funding for each student identified with a disability regardless of the level of severity of the student's disability.
School systems with unnaturally high percentages of students with more severe disabilities may have inadequate funding because of changes in the education system that do not maintain equitable distributions of students across disability severity levels while redistributing the funding levels. The amount of funding available for both the scholarship program and the Course Choice program appear to cause this redistribution of resources.
Type 2 Charter schools pose a more complex funding situation in which some school systems are charged over $16,000 per student and other school systems are charged less than $6,000 for students enrolled in the same Charter school. This is most evident in virtual charter schools where it is difficult to accept any provision of needed therapies (physical, occupational, etc.) and/or specialized services (e.g., nursing) being delivered. According to a report delivered to the Education Estimating Committee, virtual schools are expected to grow four to five times their current size (from 750 to 4,200 students) by 2017.
Unfortunately, Louisiana supports state-operated segregated schools and policy makers support the promotion and/or creation of segregated schools (i.e., those that serve students with specific disabilities exclusively). A report on the Louisiana Special Education Center by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (April 2012) determined that some of the Center's activities do not align with the mission of special education and made recommendations for coordination with OCDD for transitioning out individuals too old to receive educational services. There is much work to be done in educating the public and policy makers regarding the lasting negative impact these decisions have for society and people with disabilities.
The Council advocates for all schools accepting public funds to accept and offer students with disabilities all necessary and appropriate services in inclusive education settings (i.e., the least restrictive environments).
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