Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Statement for the Record - House EL Committee - Charter Schools

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Statement for the Record U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education & the Workforce

Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education

“Proven Results: Highlighting the Benefits of Charter Schools for Students and Families”

March 6, 2024

Chairwoman Foxx, Ranking Member Scott, and Members of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education:

Thank you for this opportunity to submit the National Council on Disability’s (NCD) Statement for the Record to inform Members of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education (Subcommittee) about the educational barriers that students with disabilities experience in charter schools and to recommend successful educational models that will assist the policy goals of the Subcommittee. NCD is a federal voice for over 61 million people with disabilities and is congressionally mandated to advise the President, Congress, and other policymakers on policies and practices that enhance equal opportunity for people with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency and integration into all aspects of society.

in 2018, NCD published its report, Charter Schools—Implications for Students with Disabilities,[[1]](#_ftn1) which examined the education of students with disabilities in charter schools, the barriers experienced by students and their families, along with models of success. While some charter schools experience serious challenges in the provision of special education programming and services, NCD identified other programs have developed innovative educational approaches that have been successful in meeting the unique educational needs of students with disabilities.

In conducting this research project, NCD utilized a mixed-methods approach that included analysis of existing policies and secondary literature, and an examination of qualitative data. Policy and literature reviews analyzed key federal and state statutes, regulations, and administrative guidance as well as relevant case law and administrative due process hearings. As an important component of this research, NCD incorporated the perspectives of interested stakeholders by holding a series of six focus groups with parents and parent advocates in different regions across the country. In addition, NCD held eighteen semi-structured interviews with state department of education officials, teachers, administrators, representatives of charter school organizations, representatives of disability organizations, parents of students with disabilities, and parent advocates.

NCD first found that a special education enrollment gap exists between charter schools and traditional public schools. Charter schools generally enroll lower percentages of students with disabilities than traditional public schools and identified factors underlying this enrollment gap to include: (1) Parents of students with disabilities are less likely to apply to charter schools. Among reasons is the fact that students with disabilities may already be connected to specialized programs within traditional public schools or that charter schools may be discouraging parents of students with disabilities from applying to the school. (2) Charter schools are more likely to declassify and less likely to classify students as needing special education services than traditional public schools. (3) The existence of qualitative, anecdotal reports of charter schools engaging in the practice of “counseling out” students with disabilities who are enrolled in these schools, including for discipline or behavior-related issues.

Next, NCD’s report identified factors that created challenges for charter schools in delivering appropriate educational services to students with disabilities as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These challenges include (1) limited knowledge and understanding of special education responsibilities and requirements on the part of some charter operators and charter authorizers, (2) limited availability of special education funds that are distributed in complex ways, and (3) potential tension between the charter school movement’s underlying principles related to autonomy and flexibility and special education requirements. This tension manifests itself in a number of ways: for example, tension stemming from some charter schools’ implementation of strict academic and behavioral expectations that clash with the rights of students with disabilities with respect to discipline under IDEA, as well as tension between the parental choice focus of the charter movement and the individualized education program (IEP) team based decision-making process of IDEA.

In order to find solutions to these educational challenges, NCD analyzed emerging educational policies in charter schools that could be potential models of success for policymakers in providing special educational programming to students with disabilities. NCD examined the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools’ (NCSECS) model policy guide, which provides an innovative framework to assist policymakers in developing successful practices that mitigate potential harm to students with disabilities. Specifically, NCD’s report highlighted Paramount School of Excellence in Indianapolis (Paramount). At the time of NCD’s research, Paramount served 700 students in grades K–8 and had a special education enrollment rate that was comparable to that of the Indianapolis School District (18.5 percent versus 18 percent, respectively). Paramount’s high expectations for students was encompassed in a series of policy and instructional guidelines or “Frameworks.” These Frameworks created clear goals for all students and helped ensure that students with disabilities did not receive a watered-down curriculum or taught to standards that were below grade level. The classrooms allowed flexibility to accommodate the needs of all students regardless of whether they had an Individualized Education Plan. The school also utilized a combination of a co-teaching and a purposeful resource room support model along ongoing collaboration between special education, general education personnel, administrators, and teachers. Lastly, teachers regularly updated student performance data to guide subsequent instruction that was shared with the student. NCD strongly encourages Members of the Subcommittee to review the profiles of other charter schools that NCSECS has described as “Centers for Excellence,” which is a compilation of profiles of charter schools that have implemented educational practices that have the potential to serve as a model for charter schools.

NCD thanks the Subcommittee for allowing our agency to share our 2018 investigation and recommendations to policymakers to improve the educational experiences of students with disabilities.

Read NCD’s 2018 Charter Schools – Implications for Students with Disabilities report at:


Kimie Eacobacci

Legislative Affairs Specialist


An official website of the National Council on Disability