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May 13, 2011

The number of children classified as special-needs students who are currently enrolled in charter schools is 8.24 percent, compared with 15.87 percent enrolled in general public schools. Chris Cerf, acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, cited the statistic as proof that charters do not necessarily get an easier ride than local public schools. Cerf made the comments at NJ Spotlight’s Roundtable on Charter School Policy & Accountability.

While Cerf acknowledged that the rate of special needs students in general public schools is much higher than in charters, he dismissed the idea that much of it was due to charter school administrators "counseling out" -- or discouraging -- special-needs students, as many critics of the programs contend. "That’s illegal and I encourage anyone who knows of such a case to tell me," Cerf said. "I will prosecute them."

Cerf said there were a variety of reasons special-needs children gravitate to conventional public schools, including the fact that many families believe district schools are better equipped to accommodate them. Cerf also noted that charter schools generally serve younger children, while the longer a child stays in school, the more likely he or she is to identified as special needs.

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