05 May Charters ‘Fail’ Sped: Critics Knock Low Enrollment of Severely Disabled (NY)

May 5, 2010

By: Kenneth Lovett and Meredith Kolodner
Source: Daily News

City charter schools enroll far fewer of the most severely disabled stu dents than traditional public schools, state records show.

Only about 1% of special education students in charter schools are so disabled they require separate classes – compared with the 33% of special ed students in district schools.

These include students who are emotionally disturbed, severely autistic with little verbal ability or mentally retarded.

This imbalance makes it impossible to compare charter schools with traditional public schools, special ed advocates say.

"Most of the [special ed] kids are going to perform very poorly on the standardized tests," said Patricia Connelly, a special ed advocate. "These kids are a drag on a school’s scores. It’s not rocket science to figure out the impact."

About 90% of special education students in charter schools can manage in mainstream general ed classes with extra help. That’s true for only about 42% of district special ed students.

Some special ed parents complain that even once their child gets into a charter school they are "counseled out" – told their children would be better served in another school.

Lori Gill’s disabled son Darren is leaving a Bronx charter school she had hoped would be his haven.

"When the school first came, I thought it was like a blessing, a miracle," Gill said. Darren, a 13-year-old with epilepsy, attention and anxiety disorders and a speech impairment, is in sixth grade at Equality Charter School.

It took four months for Darren to get the speech therapy he needed and there was none of the classes the school promised, Gill sai d. "The teachers were telling me they couldn’t work with him," said Gill, who lives in Co-op City.

Equality Charter School officials didn’t return calls.

"The only way charters can serve more students with special needs is to give them the tools to do that," said Peter Murphy, head of the New York State Charter School Association. Murphy said proposals contained in a pending state Senate bill would help "move us in that direction."

A bill introduced Friday in the Senate – to be voted on today- would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools to 460, up from 200. It would also give special ed students preference in admissions in charter school lotteries in some cases, but critics say it won’t end the imbalance.

"The bill clearly has many loopholes in it," said teachers union President Michael Mulgrew.

Charter school advocates have threatened to spend a whopping $10 million to unseat at-risk Democrats this fall if the Senate does not pass the bill, sources said.

Democrats are fighting to maintain, and possibly grow, their razor-thin, one-seat majority in the Senate and are fearful of a well-funded organized campaign by pro-charter forces.

"We know they are a political force," said one Senate official. "Already there are a number of interests that have bull’s-eyes on our backs and if you have the ability to take one off, then why not."

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