Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Charter Schools

We recently had the chance to speak with a parent whose son, with special learning needs, is a student at a New York City Charter school. She was upset with the efforts of the school to have her place her son elsewhere, since the school claimed they were unable to meet his educational needs. "They are happy to have my other two children," this frustrated mother noted. "But this child has greater needs, so they don't want to keep him."  This mom decided to become involved in a new organization, the New York Charter Parents Association. Charter schools cannot turn away students or have a selective admissions policy. But they are faced with meeting the goals set in their charters. If they do not meet these goals, they risk losing their charter.

Whatever the cause or result of this family's situation, it highlights an inherent tension in charter schools throughout the country. An analysis by the Boston Globe last summer noted that Massachusetts charter schools enrolled fewer special education students than public schools in the same area. In New York City, charter schools are competing for space in crowded school buildings with services for children with special needs.

Both regular public schools and charter schools (which are also public schools, but may receive funds from private sources as well as public) are faced with limited classroom space and resources. As long as there is  a shortage of space and money, and as long as some children are in need of specialized, and often expensive, support services, there will be pressure on both regular public schools and charter schools to meet the needs of the children they were designed to serve. There are no easy solutions, but we all need to pay attention to the issues.

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