Special Education in Tennessee Charter Schools Primer
One purpose of the Tennessee Public Charter Schools Act is to provide options to local school systems “relative to the delivery of instruction for those students with special needs as specified in the federal [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act].” T.C.A. § 49-13-102.
Tennessee law requires public charter schools to provide special education services for students in the same manner as all other public schools. T.C.A. § 49-13-111(a)(4). Public charter schools may not discriminate on the basis of eligibility for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Charter School Applications
Charter school applicants and operators should be thoroughly familiar with all of the laws, regulations and guidance provided by the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Special Education. Tennessee’s charter school application forms require applicants to provide comprehensive plans to serve the needs of special student populations, including hiring licensed special educators, identifying and referring students for assessment of special needs, and modifying instructional practices to meet the needs of students with mild, moderate or severe disabilities.
In addition to the application form and scoring rubric, charter school applicants and chartering authorities may wish to review this Charter School Authorizer Rubric for Assessing Special Education Capacity, developed in 2012 under a contract with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE). A Word version is available here.
Chartering Authorities and Special Education at Charter Schools
Because Tennessee charter schools are considered part of the LEA, the LEA must treat the chartered schools just as any other school in the district in the provision and monitoring of special education services.
In some cases, the charter school may contract with the local board of education to provide the services through a separate fee for services contract to ensure funding is directed to the entity providing the services.
Funding Special Education Services at Charter Schools
Funds to meet the needs of eligible students are provided through the Basic Education Program (BEP), federal IDEA Part B funds and high-cost reimbursements if received by the LEA from the State. BEP funds are generated on an on-going basis, regardless of the level of need at an individual school. IDEA funds are provided on a reimbursement basis for services provided. LEAs submit high cost reimbursement from the State at the end of each year. Qualifying services provided to students at any public school in the LEA, including charter schools, should be included in that LEA request to the State. An overview of charter school funding is available here.
Students and Parents of Students with Disabilities
Charter schools may not refuse to enroll students because of their eligibility for special education services. T.C.A. § 49-13-111(b). Though charter schools may not presently have the infrastructure or personnel to meet the needs of special education students identified in the students’ individualized education programs (IEPs), charter schools are responsible for ensuring their students receive special education and related services in the least restrictive environment.
Additional background information and FAQs
In 2006, a team of LEA special education directors, TDOE and Tennessee Board of Education staff and national special education experts developed primers for charter school sponsors, authorizers and operators relative to the provision of special education services. The primers provide an overview of special education in charter schools, and include checklists and answers to frequently asked questions.