New data strongly dispels myth that charters don’t educate special-ed students

Buddy Moorehouse
Jan 27, 2021 5:47:15 PM

Of all the myths surrounding charter schools in Michigan, one of the most irritating is that charters don’t educate special-education students. A new data analysis shows just how untrue that myth is.

Data experts from the Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office recently dove deep into special-education numbers from the 2019-2020 school year, as provided by the Michigan Department of Education. Here’s what they found: Charter schools serve special-education students at roughly the same rate as traditional public schools.

In traditional public schools, 13.16% of students receive special-education services, compared to 9.93% in charter schools.

That certainly dispels the notion that charter schools don’t educate special-education students, or that special-education students are ‘counseled out’ of charter schools. It’s simply not true. We’ve always known this was the case, but now we have fresh data to back up that claim."

-Dan Quisenberry, MAPSA President

This analysis is especially noteworthy because it’s the first time in several years that anyone has looked critically at special-education data as it relates to charters. What they found is that special-education percentages in traditional public schools and charter schools are within a few points of each other. That’s as clear as it can be, and it should put the matter to rest.

If you ever again hear a public official or anyone else trying to claim that charter schools don’t educate special-education students, invite them to look at the numbers.The analysis also broke down the data for each type of disability – looking at everything from autism to cognitive impairment.

- Dan Quisenberry, MAPSA President

Cindy Shinsky, Special Education School Support Specialist with the GVSU Charter Schools Office, summed up some of their findings:

  • Charter schools and traditional public schools serve approximately the same percentage of students with an Emotional Impairment and a Speech and Language Impairment.
  • Charter schools serve a greater percentage of students identified as Other Health Impaired and Specific Learning Disability.
  • The top three disability eligibility categories served by traditional public schools and charter schools are the same: Speech and Language Impairment, Specific Learning Disability and otherwise Health Impairment followed by Autism and then Cognitive Impairment.
  • Traditional public schools generally serve a higher percentage of students with low incidence disabilities, including hearing, physical and visual impairments.

Special education numbers and % based on district data submitted to MDE:


Total GE Count

SE Count

Total Students

SE %

Traditional Public 










Combined  Data






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