Special Education

Clarification Regarding Charter Schools and Early Childhood Special Education

TO: School District Superintendent, Special Education Directors and Business Managers

FROM: Bobbie Burnham, Deputy Director of Office of Early Learning; Carol Hokenson, Manager, Division of School Finance; and Cindy Murphy, Supervisor, Grants for Federal Charter School Program

DATE: July 11, 2013

Minnesota is a birth-21 special education state, which means that child find duties (identification of students with possible disabilities) begin at birth. Minnesota has assigned that child find duties to districts via Minnesota Rules 3525.0750:

“School districts shall develop systems designed to identify pupils with disabilities beginning at birth, pupils with disabilities attending public and nonpublic school, and pupils with disabilities who are of school age and are not attending any school. The district's identification system shall be developed according to the requirement of nondiscrimination and included in the district's total special education system plan.”

Child find for birth-to-kindergarten enrollment is of necessity undertaken by resident districts because districts are responsible for a contiguous geographic area and therefore are obliged to ensure that all students in their geographic area are located. It is impossible for charter schools to undertake the same duties, as they have no defined population or geographic area they must serve. In addition, child identification duties for birth-to-kindergarten enrollment students require significant coordination between a resident district and other agencies.

The primary focus of a charter school must be to provide a comprehensive program of instruction for at least one grade or age group from five through 18 years of age (Minn. Stat. § 124D.10, Subd 8). However, Minnesota’s charter school law does not require charter schools to follow the portion of Minnesota’s special education law that governs early intervention (Minn. Stat. §§ 125A.259-125A.48). Consequently, charter schools are not legally responsible to provide special education and related services to early childhood special education (ECSE) students. That responsibility has been assigned in law to an ECSE student’s resident school district.

Charter school responsibility for providing child find and special education and related services begins upon enrollment of the student as a pupil at the charter school. An ECSE student would not be considered enrolled in a charter school and generate general education revenue for the charter school until they enter kindergarten or the first grade served by the charter school.

In the event a charter school operates an early learning program of any sort, they would be required to refer any children that may warrant special education assessment to the child’s resident school district. The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed by the resident school district and remains the responsibility of the school district.

Early learning programs operated by charter schools do not enroll students as pupils and therefore, do not receive any sort of general educational aid for those students. When a resident district provides special education and related services to an ECSE student under the student’s IEP/IFSP, the district reports the student on MARSS with State Aid Category (SAC) 00. These services could be provided at the resident district site or the special education teacher could provide the services at a child care program, center-based program or in the child’s home. The time the child is participating in the child care program or center does not generate membership hours unless those services are required by the IEP/IFSP and appropriately licensed staff provides the service.

A resident district’s IEP team may place a student into an early learning program provided by a charter school. The district is authorized under Minnesota Statutes, section 125A.76, Subdivision 2(3) to receive 52 percent of the cost in state special education aids after accounting for the general education revenue earned on behalf of the student. The IEP team will have to assure that the district does not have the service(s) available or can be made available before making the placement in conformance with Minnesota Rule 3525.0800, Subpart 2. The IEP team needs to consider district services available prior to a placement into an early learning program of a charter school. The student’s IEP should state the characteristics of the services to be provided in the early learning program.

Charter schools may wish to continue to offer specific programs that appeal to a subset of special needs early learners, as is the case with Metro Deaf, but they would need to do so via having the resident district enter into a student contract placement with the charter school to provide services to identified early learners. The charter would have their costs covered for providing the services by billing the resident district. This billing is outside of the MDE special education tuition billing adjustment. In this situation, the resident district remains responsible for the administration of the IEP. The resident district would report the student on MARSS with SAC 28. The resident district would also be responsible for student transportation that should be contained in the student’s IFSP/IEP.

Questions can be directed to:

Lisa Backer, Early Childhood Special Education Services at 651-582-8473 or George Holt, Special Education Funding at 651-582-8889.