The corporate reformers trying to undermine public education always talk about "school choice." In Florida, it turns out that's the choice of charter schools not to admit disabled students. All a charter school has to do to avoid having disabled students is ... not be set up to serve them.
StateImpact Florida and The Miami Herald gathered and analyzed data on K-12 students with disabilities from 14 school districts representing more than three-quarters of Florida's total charter enrollment.
The analysis focused on students in the state's two most severe disability categories, which includes some students with autism, Down Syndrome, and cerebral palsy. It shows:
- More than 86 percent of the charter schools do not serve a single child with a severe disability — compared to more than half of district schools which do.
- In Duval County, just one student enrolled in a charter school has a severe disability. Duval district schools educate more than 1,000 severely-disabled students.
- There's not a single child with a severe disability in charter schools in Pinellas County, the nation's 24th-largest school district.
- The majority of charter school students with severe disabilities are concentrated in a handful of schools that specialize in those disabilities, often autism.
The students who come with extra costs, the students who need extra support—charters can avoid those challenges. You see similar patterns with homelessness: "New York City has 50,000 homeless students, but only about 100 are enrolled in a charter school. If a proportionate number were in charters, there would be 1,500, not 100." In Boston and New York, charters have lower percentages of students who have limited proficiency in English or qualify for free school lunches. In New Orleans, too, charter schools serve proportionally fewer special needs students.
Whenever conservatives and billionaires start talking about "choice," remember to ask who will get to choose.