Charter schools often inspire a plethora of myths. While there are of course myths created by charter school opponents, most often they arise as a result of a lack of understanding. People just are not familiar with public charter schools and how they work. As such, I will occasionally use this blog to tackle the myths that we hear circulating. I am going to start with special education.
Myth: Charter Schools do not serve children with special education needs.
This myth is a frequent flyer on social media and in charter school debates and is one of the most common conversations I have with parents of potential scholars. Often, they have heard from someone that charter schools expel children after the formal pupil counts and do not serve children with Individual Education Plans (commonly referred to as IEP’s). Let’s set the record straight.
The Lincoln Academy is a 2x independent charter school. As defined by Wisconsin Statutes, charter schools are public schools, and an independent charter school is a Local Education Agency (LEA). As an LEA, independent charter schools are legally required to provide a free and appropriate education to all enrolled students. Independent public charter schools are legally required to accept all children (limited only by the number of seats available and state of Wisconsin residency) and are legally required to meet the educational needs of all enrolled children. In other words, independent charter schools are not legally allowed to exit a child based on the need for special education services. At The Lincoln Academy we, in fact, welcome scholars with special needs.
I have seen and heard various local rumors and data points. For example, ‘all students who left an independent charter school and returned to the Beloit School District had an IEP’, or ‘the charter school expelled (dozens of) scholars the day after the pupil count (suggesting it was because they had special education needs). Neither of these are true. In fact, the data tells a very different story.
The Lincoln Academy enrolled a total of 71 scholars in 2021-22 who had IEP’s. Sixty-three or 89% of those scholars remain at the school. Those who withdrew did so based solely on the expressed interests and needs of the parent, family and scholar. On the 2022-23 Third Friday Count, 61 scholars with an IEP were enrolled representing 12% of all scholars. As of the end of the first quarter of this school year, 66 special education scholars are enrolled representing 13% of all scholars. To date in 2022-23, zero scholars with an IEP have withdrawn.
We have a robust and committed team of special education teachers and educational assistants who work closely with our educational team, our scholars and their parents to ensure the needs of all our scholars are met. It is true this is hard work. It is also true that state and federal funding does not cover the full cost of meeting the special education needs of scholars. Nonetheless, we intend to ensure they will be well served.
While I cannot speak for the decisions made in every school (or charter school), I can tell you that in my more than 30 years of urban education I have yet to see a child removed or expelled because of their learning needs. Trusting that experience, I would simply ask that when you hear such a statement presented, make sure you have reliable data from reliable sources. This will ultimately ensure we do what is best for our children.
Dr. Kristi Cole is the Chief Education Officer at The Lincoln Academy in Beloit, Wisconsin.