Special Education Options for Charter Schools


For purposes of special education, charter schools have two options available to them to serve the full-continuum of special needs students.

Related resources:
- Evaluating Your School's Special Ed Needs
- Seeking LEA Status and Membership in a New SELPA
- Building a Charter School Consortium for Special Ed

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Currently, charter schools in California have two options when attempting to ensure that the students with special education needs in their schools receive the services that they are entitled to. Like all California traditional public schools, charter schools must be a member of a Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA). The nature of that membership depends on whether the charter school either:

  • Maintains status as a "school of the district" for special education services
  • Becomes a Local Education Agency (LEA) for special education purposes

On-Demand Training

CCSA has developed a recoded presentation on this topic. You may find that this on-demand video is helpful in gaining deeper understanding of this complex subject.

"School of the District" Status

What does it mean to be a School of the District?

If a charter school determines that it will remain a school of the district, they will not become an LEA for purposes of special education. LEA status will remain in the hands of the district and all special education services will be provided by the district itself, unless agreed to otherwise.

District Responsibilities

The district is responsible for providing all special education services to the special education population of the charter in the same manner as the traditional district school.

To accomplish this goal, the district will, in most cases, retain the full amount of the AB 602 funding that the SELPA provides to LEAs based on its local plan, and in exchange, take the full responsibility for providing services in the charter school. The district may also charge an encroachment to the charter school.

Charter Responsibilities

While the charter school will be relying on the district to provide the bulk of special education services, they may still be responsible for the implementation of an individualized plan, since they will be members of the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) team. In most cases, the charter school will not receive any funding, and will be limited to the services that the district deems are appropriate for the charter's students.

Gaining LEA Status for purposes of Special Education

As charter schools grow and demonstrate the ability to serve all students, a natural progression will be to seek autonomy in funding, oversight and service delivery in relation to special education services. In order to attain this flexibility, a charter must become an LEA for the purposes of special education, and join either the existing SELPA or a new SELPA.

What does it mean to be an LEA special education purposes?

Being designated an LEA for special education purposes is equivalent to being treated as a school district. Schools assume the full responsibility for providing quality and compliant special education programs and services, while ensuring that all eligible students receive a free and appropriate public education as dictated by the IDEA. The charter school must, therefore, demonstrate both the programmatic and fiscal capacity to achieve this goal, as well as the infrastructure and experience critical for consideration as an LEA.

There are a number of different models that can support a charter school that is seeking LEA status in order to ensure its ability to provide the full continuum of services. Currently, there are charter schools that are large enough to provide the full continuum within their organization. For smaller charter schools, a viable option would be joining a JPA or consortium of charter schools that would be able to share services among them.

Becoming an LEA requires a charter to seek membership in an Alternate SELPA

Here are specific steps that a charter must take in order to make this transition.

  1. Notify your current SELPA of an intended exit by June 30 of the year prior to your intended date of joining the new SELPA. District should receive notification should be received at least one full year before intended exit.
  2. Ensure agreements with your authorizer are conducive to exiting and obtaining membership in a new SELPA
  3. Weigh the different SELPA options according to the needs of your school and students; LINK to SELPA Options
  4. Apply to the SELPA(s) that best meet those needs

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