April 19, 2019
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 5W106
Washington, DC 20202– 5970
Dear Ms. Holte:
I write to you on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with providing advice and recommendations regarding disability policy to the President, Congress, and other federal agencies, to offer advice regarding the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Proposed Priorities, Requirements, Definitions, and Selection Criteria— Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program; Grants to Charter Management Organizations for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools.
NCD acknowledges and is grateful for the service of the Department of Education in designating grantmaking priorities with the improved educational opportunities of students with disabilities in mind, as we also recognize that charter schools are in a unique position to provide pioneering solutions in achieving improved outcomes for students; but it is nonetheless strongly advised that related grantmaking priorities are mindful of the particular rights of students with disabilities so that these students are able to maximize the potential benefits born out of a charter school education. The following recommendations come from two school choice reports NCD recently published based on data collected nationally over the course of several months.
Recommendation: Grant applicants should be notified of their obligations with respect to inclusivity; that students with disabilities that are enrolled should not exclude students with more significant disabilities, and that students with disabilities should be educated in the least restrictive environment as per their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act.
Rationale: With the exception of schools focused on serving students with specific disabilities, charter schools have tended to enroll larger numbers of students with mild disabilities—such as learning disabilities, behavior disabilities, or mild intellectual disabilities—and smaller numbers of students with low-incidence or more significant disabilities. Subsequent studies examining charter school enrollment data for disability categories by states or districts similarly found lower percentages of students with more significant disabilities (e.g., students with intellectual disabilities) in charter schools as compared to traditional public schools. Also, as compared to traditional public schools, charter schools have enrolled lower percentages of students with developmental disabilities (0.92 percent versus 2.07 percent) and lower percentages of students with intellectual disabilities (3.64 percent versus 5.89 percent).
Recommendation: Provide notification to grant applicants focusing on high school students to provide a framework for transitioning students with disabilities to fulfill their educational, independent living, and employment goals upon graduation.
Rationale: To better prepare their students for employment opportunities in their locality, involvement by educators concerning transition goals is vital. Educators must incorporate both academics and functional learning into their curricula. If educators understand how services including the One Stop Career system works, they can inform their students about how to best utilize the services offered.
Recommendation: Provide notification to grant applicants of the rights of students with disabilities regarding discipline.
Rationale: The strict codes of conduct that are characteristic of many charter schools may be particularly at odds with the extensive requirements pertaining to students with disabilities (including, but not limited to, those students with an “individualized education plan”) and discipline under IDEA. It is vital that applicants are aware of these requirements so that the rights of students with behavioral disabilities are not violated.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our recommendations concerning this matter.
 National Council on Disability. 2018. “Charter Schools-Implications for Students with Disabilities.” 58-59.