Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Study: Are Charters beacons of opportunity for Special Needs Students? – Cloaking Inequity

New Study: Are Charters beacons of opportunity for Special Needs Students? – Cloaking Inequity:

New Study: Are Charters beacons of opportunity for Special Needs Students?

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The extent to which special student populations (ELL, Special Education and Economically Disadvantaged) gain access to charter schools is understudied. The new study Separate and Unequal?: The Problematic Segregation of Special Populations in Charter Schools Relative to Traditional Public Schools utilizes state, district, and local level data to understand the enrollment of high-need special populations in charter schools compared with non-charter public schools.
Vasquez Heilig, J. Holme, J., LeClair, A. V., Redd, L., & Ward, D. (in press). Separate and Unequal?: The Problematic Segregation of Special Populations in Charter Schools Relative to Traditional Public Schools. Stanford Law & Policy Review27(2), 251-293.

In this article, we examine the extent to which charters in the state of Texas are serving high needs populations (English Language Learners, Special Education, and low-income students) at the same rates as traditional public schools. We first conduct statewide analyses to compare charter school and traditional public district demographics by locality. We also compare levels of segregation of those populations between traditional public schools by locality and charter status. We then conduct a local-level analyses to understand high-need students demographic patterns within the footprint of a large urban district to evaluate the extent to which students with greater than average instructional needs are served by charter schools in equal proportion to the neighboring public schools. We then conclude by descriptively examining the access and enrollment of high-need students in several popular “exemplar” charters.
Summary of Findings
We find that while Texas charters appear to be demographically similar to traditional public schools at the aggregate, the granularity provided by geospatial analyses demonstrate that charters under-enroll ELL students and special education students relative to nearby non-charter schools. State-level dissimilarity analyses show only modest disparities in segregation and access of high-need students within the Texas charter system compared to traditional public schools. However, local-level descriptive and geospatial analyses of charters in a large metropolitan area shows that there are large disparities in the enrollment of high-need students relative to traditional public schools nearby. (Please click on the article links above for more detailed findings)
Policy Implications
We conclude by discussing implications and recommendations for law and policy. The policy implications that logically emerge from the geographic granularity of these data could either be first-order incremental or second-order substantial. On the one hand, a set of first-order changes to educational policy related to charter schools would seek to take what is in place and make incremental adjustments to policy that aim to better regulate public charter schooling. On the other hand, a second-order change would be an approach that is a substantial departure that would purposefully curtail growth that charters have exhibited over the past two decades.
Second-Order Substantial Approach
One example of a second-order change that sought to challenge charters existentially came through litigation in the state of Washington. In 2015, the Washington Supreme Court in League of Women Voters of Wash. v. State, noting that charters resulted in “the loss of local control and local accountability,” found that charters were not “common” public schools under the Washington Constitution and thus could not be constitutionally funded as such.[1]
In 2012, voters in Washington state approved Initiative 1204 (I-1204), often known as the Charter School Act and codified as RCW 28.A.710. The Act established charters in the state of Washington and authorized up to 40 schools in the state. The Charter School Act purposefully labeled charter schools as “common school” allowing them to receive public tax dollars on a per pupil basis.[2] Further, the Act governed charters under a politically appointed board and established that charters were “exempt from all school district policies…all state statutes and rules applicable to school districts” beyond those specifically identified within the Act.[3]
The Washington Supreme Court ruled in League of Women Voters of Wash. v. State that charter schools were not common schools as defined in Article IX, section 2 of the Washington Constitution and voided the Charter School Act.[4] The decision upheld and relied upon the 1909 ruling in School District No. 20 v. Bryan that established that common schools must be under the control of voters and uniform for every child.[5] This aspect of the decision upheld the ruling of the lower court. The Washington Supreme Court, however, overturned the lower court ruling that the act was severable because the Act’s unconstitutional funding source was “so intertwined with the remainder of the Act and so fundamental to the Act’s efficacy” as to render the Act inviable as a whole.
The Court explained that I-1204 clearly indicated that charters were “to be funded on the same basis as common schools” but that such funds are restricted to use for “common schools,” which charters are not. Because the Act unconstitutionally diverted funds from common schools to charters, the court found the Charter School Act unconstitutional in its entirety. The Supreme Court decision also declared that legislatures could not just fund charters from the general fund either. The courts explained that because property taxes that in-part fund common schools were not segregated and could not be sorted from the general fund, they could not be used.
Bringing challenges to charter policy through constitutional litigation presents challenges that are highly context dependent. The variety of state constitutional provisions and language means that an approach that may have legs in one state would be nonsensical in another, particularly given the variations in how each states’ constitutional provisions have been interpreted over the years. Each states’ constitutional provisions have a rich history of being interpreted as they relate to the public schooling system in that state, and a variety of innovative litigation strategies directed at school employment, school funding, or the like have likely created a rich and idiosyncratic foundation of doctrine that would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case, state-by-state basis. This is not to say that litigation is not an important tool for achieving desirable and equitable ends, but the approach depends heavily on the specifics of each state’s constitutional doctrine surrounding schools, any applicable education clause, or other potentially appropriate clauses. Given the unique nature of courts and their limited ability to fashion a policy-oriented remedy, a strategy advancing any particular policy aim may be better suited for the political branches.
First-Order Incremental Approaches
Given the increasingly accepted role that charters play in the public education landscape, first-order incremental policy changes present a set of approaches to foment accountable charter schools that serve all student populations equitably.[6] The data in this paper suggest that claims by charter operators of comparable levels of enrollment of high needs students should be regarded with some suspicion. These findings also indicate that policymakers and the courts should find ways to hold charters accountable for serving high-needs students at the same rates as nearby schools so that charters don’t become an engine of stratification, draining the “easier to serve” students from strained nearby non-charter public schools. To address these challenges, a variety of policy recommendations are already gaining wide-spread acceptance among other scholars looking at the emerging research around charter schools.

Enrollment and retention. Just last year, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform New Study: Are Charters beacons of opportunity for Special Needs Students? – Cloaking Inequity:

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