legal action

Bill would let charter schools pool funds for specialized services

The charter sector is ramping up its efforts to serve high-needs students with a state legislative proposal that would help charter schools pool their resources.

One obstacle to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, charter operators have said, is that the schools are islands: Every school operates independently, so it is costly for any charter school to serve small populations of students with diverse needs.

Critics have accused charter operators with using this explanation as an excuse for not serving more students with disabilities and ELLs. But in fact some charter school lobbyists have pushed for years to be able to work together to pool resources.

In 2010, when legislators added special education enrollment targets to the state’s charter school law, revised in order to qualify the state for the federal Race to the Top competition, charter advocates asked for a legal change. But it was one of several proposals that didn’t cross the finish line in the frenzy to pass the law, according to officials from the New York State Charter Association, which is currying support for the bill.

Now, legislators are trying again. The Charter School Students With Special Needs Act would allow charter schools across the state to create consortia to serve students with disabilities. State Sen. John Flanagan, chair of the education committee, proposed the bill last month and moved it through his committee yesterday. In the Assembly, Karim Camara, a city representative, has introduced an identical bill.

In essence, the law would allow charter schools to create their own BOCES, or Boards of Cooperative Education Services, that already operate across the state to help small districts share resources. Under the law, a charter school consortium might assign one school to serve students with autism, while another school would hire staff who is specially trained to help students who are emotionally disturbed. Or it might hire teachers jointly who can assist students with disabilities in multiple schools.

The bill would also formalize and extend efforts among city charter schools to improve their capacity to serve students with disabilities. Borough partnerships that the New York City Charter School Center began in 2007 grew into a citywide collaborative of more than 90 schools last year. The goal, school leaders say, is to create networks of service providers that would mirror the networks available to district schools, whose special education teachers receive some professional training in groups of many schools.

Both of the state’s charter school authorizers, the State University of New York and the Board of Regents, are also pushing new charter schools to build capacity for more higher-needs students, including more special education students, into their school designs.

The proposed revision to the state’s charter school law could provide legislators an opportunity to tackle another issue that has inhibited charter schools’ ability to serve high-needs students: the admissions rules that prevent them from taking students who arrive to the city mid-year or after schools’ entry grades. State officials and some charter operators are trying to devise a workaround to the law, but changing it could offer a more direct solution.

It is unclear where the bill would fit in Albany’s crowded agenda. The legislative session ends in just a few weeks, and lawmakers have yet to discuss one major education issue, whether to shield teachers’ evaluations from public scrutiny.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.