Report: Washington charter public schools serving students with disabilities at rates higher than the state average

The Seattle Times reports some more good news about Washington’s charter public schools. The schools are doing an extraordinary job of serving students with disabilities.

Based on student demographic data as of May 2018, the authors found that 8 out of 10 charter schools currently operating in Washington enroll a larger share of students with disabilities than the state average of 12.4 percent. They also found that 8 of 10 charters enroll larger shares of students than the traditional public school districts where each one operates.

The report is unequivocal.

Charter schools in Washington are serving students with disabilities, and almost all of them are doing so at rates higher than the state average, and the district in which they are located. It is important to note that Washington state only provides special education funding for up to 13.5 percent of special education students enrolled in a school. Public schools—district or charter—with more than 13.5 percent of students in special education receive no additional funding when new students enroll or are identified as requiring special education services. This limits the financial incentive to over-identify or enroll new students in special education services—but it also limits the funds available to students who need services.

  • As of May 2018, in eight out of ten of Washington’s charter public schools, more than 12.4 percent of the students (the state average that month) were receiving special education services, ranging from 16 percent at Green Dot Excel in Kent to 23 percent at Green Dot Destiny in Tacoma.

The Times elaborates.

The higher-than-average rates didn’t surprise Lauren Morando Rihm, executive director and co-founder of the New York City-based National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, which receives funding from charter school supporters. Morando Rihm reviewed the CRPE brief before its publication.

She noted that the Washington State Charter Schools Association, which oversees the development and launch of new charters, directs school founders to plan for delivering special education services well before they start enrolling students.

“If I could wave a magic wand, all states would do that,” Morando Rihm said. “Washington was very intentional about special education.

As we’ve written earlier, Washington charter public schools continue to face opposition from entrenched interests. But that opposition has not deterred parents and students seeking expanded learning opportunities. We reiterate:

Charter public schools need not be seen as a threat to the public school system, but rather a complement, an alternative for students and families seeking a learning environment in which they can thrive.

The new report demonstrates another way these schools are expanding opportunities. Well done.