SELPA Options for Charter Schools
Under California law, charter schools have two options for the delivery of special education services:
- Operate as an “arm of the district” or “school of the district” for special education purposes
- Become an LEA for special education purposes
Option 1: School of the District Status
If a charter school determines that it will remain a “school of the district,” it will not become an LEA member of the SELPA. LEA status will remain in the hands of the district and all special education services will be provided by the district, unless agreed to otherwise.
The district is responsible for ensuring that all special education services are delivered to students of the charter school in the same manner as traditional district schools. In most cases, the district will assume full responsibility for providing services to students in the charter schools. In exchange, the district will retain the full amount of state (AB 602) and federal (IDEA) special education funding that it receives from the SELPA on behalf of each charter school.
In addition, the Ed. Code also requires each charter school operating under this model to contribute financially to district-wide special education costs. This contribution is typically referred to as a “fair share contribution.” (EC Section 47646)
Charter School Responsibilities
While the charter school relies primarily on the district to provide special education services, the school still carries certain responsibilities with regard to special education. The school must work with the district to ensure that students are appropriately identified for special education, support service delivery, and implement and monitor the individualized education program of each eligible student. In some cases, the charter school does not receive any funding to carry out these functions, nor will the charter school have the ability to make decisions about how or by whom services are provided.
Option 2: Local Educational Agency Status for Purposes of Special Education
If a charter school chooses to be its own LEA for special education purposes, it would either join as a member of its authorizer’s SELPA or another SELPA. By becoming an LEA for purposes of special education, a charter school has more autonomy in funding, oversight, and service delivery.
Charter Special Education Local Plan Areas
As charter schools began to enter the California landscape, they faced challenges in joining a traditional SELPA. SELPAs were either not allowing or could not allow charter school LEAs to become SELPA members. This was particularly true of the SBE authorized charter school LEAs because they were not affiliated with an authorizing school district within the geographic SELPA. To address this challenge, the SBE requested the CDE review SELPA options to ensure students with disabilities receive FAPE if a charter school operates as an LEA member in a SELPA that is not within the authorizer’s geographic SELPA. For this purpose, the SBE established a pilot project that included four charter SELPAs (Desert Mountain, El Dorado, Lodi Area Special Education Region, and Yuba County) to consider the viability of continuing out-of-geographic region charter school affiliation with these SELPAs.
Currently, there are five charter-only SELPAs in California: El Dorado Charter SELPA, Fresno County Charter SELPA, Los Angeles County Charter SELPA, Desert Mountain Charter SELPA, and Sonoma County Charter SELPA.
[Source: CDE Memo to SBE, "Special Education Local Plan Areas - History and Requirements," March 27, 2019.]
California Charter Schools Association (CCSA)
California Department of Education Laws, Regulations, and Policy on Charter Schools
National Center for Special Education In Charter Schools