Growing Special Education Enrollments in Charter Schools

Although public charter schools are required by law to admit all students who apply, a common criticism is that charters fail to enroll enough special education students. Statistics show that public charter schools have proportionately smaller special education enrollments than conventional public schools, but recent trends suggest the difference will continue to dwindle. 

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According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, 13.6 percent of students in conventional schools in the 2008-2009 school year were enrolled in special education programs, compared to 9.6 percent in charter schools. While a difference still exists between charter and conventional schools, special education enrollment is rising quickly in charter schools. 

Since the 2000-2001 school year, the proportion of charter school students enrolled in special education programs grew by 76 percent. Charter schools served nearly four times as many special education students at the end of the last decade as they did at the beginning.

Conventional schools had nearly the same number of special education students in 2008-09 as they did in 2000-01. Since general enrollment declined over that same period, though, the percentage of special education students in conventional schools rose, but only by 8 percent.

To a certain extent, public charter schools operate under market conditions. Since Michigan uses a per-pupil funding formula, charters are dependent on how many parents make the choice to enroll their kids. It's not surprising then that charter schools are meeting the needs of special education students at increasing rates, since the recipe for their success rests on attracting and serving the needs of as many students as possible.