LA Unified’s district schools and independent charters enroll nearly the same percentage of students with disabilities after five years of gains by charters, a new report shows.
But cooperation between nearly 100 of LA Unified’s 221 charters and the district could slide into chaos if the LA Unified school board decides not to continue a five-year pilot program that has been credited with the enrollment increase. At least one charter leader said discontinuing the pilot could cause a chain reaction leading to the school board not approving the charters’ renewals.
The report, from LA Unified’s independent monitor of its special education programs, shows that 11.04 percent of students at independent charters are in special education — a new high — compared to 11.96 percent at district schools. The statistics were celebrated in a press release this week from the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). However, the release does not mention that the district still has a much larger number of special education students with moderate or severe disabilities, who are more costly to educate.
The number of students with moderate to severe disabilities at the nearly 100 charters has increased from 1.2 percent in 2010-11 to 2.1 percent this past school year, while the percentage of special education students in traditional district schools with moderate to severe disabilities has risen to 4.72 percent from 3.63 percent five years ago. The district noted in an email that the percentage at traditional schools includes preschools, which charter schools do not serve, so “it is difficult to compare the district’s percentage to charters.”
Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools, operator of eight charters in LA Unified, said the reason for the increase is the pilot program that is up for review this fiscal year.
“The pilot has led to a lot of really great things. It has led to an increase in the quality of special education in charter schools because we have been implementing the best practices that we have been learning from each other,” said Young, a former LA Unified school board president.
In 2011, some charter operators were threatening to leave LA Unified’s Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) and have their special education students served by the El Dorado County Office of Education in Northern California. Under state law, multiple school districts can band together to pool money and resources to serve special education students, and some of the district’s charters believed the cost of special ed at El Dorado would be cheaper.
But then a deal was struck that persuaded the charter schools not to leave LA’s SELPA, and that deal must now be reviewed during the current fiscal year.