Privately-operated charter schools are notorious for consistently under-enrolling different groups of students, even though they are ostensibly public schools that are said to be tuition-free and open to all. Few charter schools have a truly diverse student body.
Students with special needs, English language learners, and homeless students are the three main groups of regularly under-represented students in charter schools. Students who are “poor test takers” and students who have “behavior problems” are also frequently excluded from charter schools, leaving charter schools with a reputation for intensifying segregation. In Los Angeles, California, for example, privately-operated charter schools “suspended black students at almost three times the rate of traditional schools; students with disabilities were suspended at nearly four times the non-charter school rate.” Suspensions and expulsions are two key ways these unregulated schools cherry-pick their students.
To this day, 30 years after they first appeared in the U.S., there remains no effective mechanism to hold these outsourced privatized schools accountable in a meaningful way, even though they collectively receive billions of public dollars every year and are routinely mired in scandal, corruption, and controversy.
The most recent example of dozens of charter schools cherry-picking students comes from Colorado. On January 13, 2022, Chalkbeat carried an article titled “Colorado: Charter school applications can’t ask about disability“. The article states that:
Colorado charter schools will no longer be able to ask on their applications whether students require special education services. The rule change brings Colorado into compliance with federal rules issued more than five years ago. It was approved unanimously by the State Board of Education Wednesday. Charter schools will also have to make it clear on their websites that they don’t discriminate and train employees to accurately answer questions about admissions policies in ways that don’t deter the families of students with special needs, including those with disabilities and those learning English.
Nearly 30 Colorado charter schools illegally “asked questions about disability status on their applications.” It comes as no surprise that Colorado charter schools under-enrolled these students “at a lower rate than the state average — and at a lower rate than charter schools in most other states.”
According to the Colorado Department of Education, there were more than 260 charter schools in Colorado serving students in the 2019-2020 school year. The state does not have a cap on the number of charter schools allowed. Nor does it set enrollment limits for virtual charter schools. Further, both nonprofit and for-profit companies may apply to open a charter school in Colorado.
The rise and expansion of charter schools across the country has degraded the overall level of education in society while enriching a handful of people.