According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, February 21, 2010, the Texas Senate is studying the feasibility of opening charter schools for students with special needs.
As is the situation in many school districts around the country, including Michigan, parents are frustrated with the lack of options for their special needs children and are pushing for alternatives. A new private school for students with high-functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome is scheduled to open next Fall in Ann Arbor. There is enough interest in the school to conclude that many students are not getting what they need in public education, despite federal and state laws mandating an appropriate education for all students with disabilities.
In Texas, there are problems with funding charter schools. Charter schools receive the same per pupil expenditure for maintenance and operations as other public schools, but they do not receive capital funding.( see Resource Center for Charter Schools, FAQ) There are also concerns about accountability. Then there is the fear voiced by a spokesman for Advocacy Inc., the Texas equivalent of Michigan's Protection and Advocacy Services, who fears that segregating students could create serious issues with federal mandates.
More than three decades have passed since federal law (the precursor to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) guaranteed an appropriate education to all students with disabilities. Included in the law and its regulations is the necessity for school districts and state educational agencies to ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities. The continuum required includes instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions. In addition schools must make provision for supplementary services to be provided in conjunction with regular class placement. Placement is based on the Individualized Education Program (the IEP), written by the school and the child' s parents.
It looks like federal law has everyone covered and a mechanism to determine what is best for each child, the IEP. And yet Advocacy, Inc., an agency set up to protect the rights of people with developmental and other disabilities, doesn't have a clue as to how to respond to the dilemma parents face. How did we arrive at this sorry state?
Back in the 1990's a lot of government-funded advocacy organizations along with Protection and Advocacy agencies decided to promote Inclusion, an ideology that says that all disabled students belong in regular classrooms in public schools, regardless of the severity or nature of their disabilities. Sorry, parents and teachers: anything less than full Inclusion is segregation and an outrage against the rights of people with disabilities. (see Inclusion Defined, page 8)
The idea of having a righteous reason to close a lot of expensive programs for kids who might not make it in regular classrooms appealed to many school administrators. Together, the advocates and the schools managed to close many of the specialized schools and classrooms that some parents are now clamoring for.
The issue of publicly-funded charter schools excluding students with disabilities is a problem in both Michigan and Texas and does raise thorny legal issues. Maybe if the advocates and Protection and Advocacy people had concentrated more on protecting rights established by IDEA and other laws against discrimination, rather than promoting an ideology that was bound to lead to the predictable consequences we see today, disabled children and their parents would not have to fight for options and rights already protected under federal mandates.