Thursday, January 07, 2010

COURT(?) TO DECIDE LAUSD’S BATTLE WITH CHARTERS: “The debate is more about adult politics than improving children's education”

smf: The State Board of Ed , made up of Schwarzenegger appointed charter proponents, is a court only in the same sense as as a medieval warlord’s was!

By Connie Llanos Staff Writer | LA Daily News

Thursday, 1/07/2010 11:11:59 AM PST -- A battle between Los Angeles Unified and charter groups could be decided today when the State Board of Education is expected to rule whether charters statewide can take complete control of educating their special needs students.

Publicly funded and independently run charters have argued that they should control special education funding, as they do for their general education student population. They accuse large school districts like LAUSD of controlling federal special education dollars and obstructing charters from getting their fair share.

But L.A. Unified officials say charters traditionally cherry pick special education students with less severe disabilities and leave LAUSD with severely disabled students who are more expensive to teach.

That was essentially the conclusion of a summer report by the Office of the Independent Monitor, set up to oversee a federal consent decree placed on the district for special education services.

"There is no research that shows how (the charter) plan will better serve students with disabilities," said Sharyn Howell, LAUSD's executive director of special education.  The debate, she said, is more about adult politics than improving children's education.

Howell said she will ask the state board to delay its vote on a plan that she said could further cripple LAUSD's ability to meet the needs of all special education students.

The issue comes as LAUSD, which already has the largest number of charter schools of any district in the country, is expected to allow more of the independent campuses to open under a new plan that lets outside operators apply to run district schools.

Charter school advocates say LAUSD and other large urban districts need to understand that the independent schools have a legal right to seek federal and state special education money.

"The heart of charter law is flexibility and autonomy in exchange for accountability and, if you go back to the law, you'll see that includes special education services," said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association.

LAUSD officials though, believe that this plan could simply strip the district of more special education funding, without reducing the number of special education students the district has to serve.

While federal and state law requires school districts to provide a complete menu of services to all students with disabilities, the cost to run the program exceeds available funding.

At LAUSD that deficit is about $700 million.

Currently special education is funded based on a district's total enrollment - not on the number of special education students.

So as LAUSD loses more students to increasing charter enrollment, families moving out of Los Angeles and other factors, it loses funding for special education. But district statistics show that the special education population is not dropping at the same rate.

According to the Office of the Independent Monitor report, students with special needs made up 11.2 percent of LAUSD's population in the 2008-2009 school year while they made up 7 percent of the population at charter schools.

The report also found that students with severe disabilities only make up 1 percent of the total enrollment at charter schools - within LAUSD they make up 3 percent - and the largest number of those students can be found at dependent charter schools, which are still managed by LAUSD.


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