One criticism lobbed against charter public schools is that they don’t serve enough special education students. While it’s true that historically charters have had relatively fewer students with disabilities compared to conventional public schools, this has begun to change and special education enrollments in charters are up dramatically.

According to Michigan’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, 9.7 percent of students whose parents chose charter schools had special education needs in the 2010-2011 school year, vs. 12.8 percent of those attending conventional schools.

That figure translates into 3.7 times more students with disabilities in charters in 2011 (10,927) compared to 2001 (2,961), an increase almost twice the rate of growth in overall charter school enrollments.

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In contrast, special-ed enrollments in conventional public schools have decreased in recent years, after growing between 2001 and 2007, when they peaked at 13.9 percent. Today there are 12 percent fewer special education students in conventional schools (185,000) than there were in 2001 (210,000).

Since charter school enrollment is entirely voluntary, perfect equity between charters and conventional schools in this area is impacted by the choices of special-ed parents. It’s clear though that Michigan’s charter public schools are demonstrating the capability to serve this subset of students nearly as well as their district-run peers.

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