The charter sector is ramping up its efforts to serve high-needs students with a state legislative proposal that would help charter schools pool their resources.
One obstacle to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, charter operators have said, is that the schools are islands: Every school operates independently, so it is costly for any charter school to serve small populations of students with diverse needs.
Critics have accused charter operators with using this explanation as an excuse for not serving more students with disabilities and ELLs. But in fact some charter school lobbyists have pushed for years to be able to work together to pool resources.
In 2010, when legislators added special education enrollment targets to the state’s charter school law, revised in order to qualify the state for the federal Race to the Top competition, charter advocates asked for a legal change. But it was one of several proposals that didn’t cross the finish line in the frenzy to pass the law, according to officials from the New York State Charter Association, which is currying support for the bill.
Now, legislators are trying again. The Charter School Students With Special Needs Act would allow charter schools across the state to create consortia to serve students with disabilities. State Sen. John Flanagan, chair of the education committee, proposed the bill last month and moved it through his committee yesterday. In the Assembly, Karim Camara, a city representative, has introduced an identical bill.
In essence, the law would allow charter schools to create their own BOCES, or Boards of Cooperative Education Services, that already operate across the state to help small districts share resources. Under the law, a charter school consortium might assign one school to serve students with autism, while another school would hire staff who is specially trained to help students who are emotionally disturbed. Or it might hire teachers jointly who can assist students with disabilities in multiple schools.
The bill would also formalize and extend efforts among city charter schools to improve their capacity to serve students with disabilities. Borough partnerships that the New York City Charter School Center began in 2007 grew into a citywide collaborative of more than 90 schools last year. The goal, school leaders say, is to create networks of service providers that would mirror the networks available to district schools, whose special education teachers receive some professional training in groups of many schools.
Both of the state’s charter school authorizers, the State University of New York and the Board of Regents, are also pushing new charter schools to build capacity for more higher-needs students, including more special education students, into their school designs.
The proposed revision to the state’s charter school law could provide legislators an opportunity to tackle another issue that has inhibited charter schools’ ability to serve high-needs students: the admissions rules that prevent them from taking students who arrive to the city mid-year or after schools’ entry grades. State officials and some charter operators are trying to devise a workaround to the law, but changing it could offer a more direct solution.
It is unclear where the bill would fit in Albany’s crowded agenda. The legislative session ends in just a few weeks, and lawmakers have yet to discuss one major education issue, whether to shield teachers’ evaluations from public scrutiny.