Both the House and the Senate are here for a joint committee meeting to hear Dr. Tony Allen present the recommendations of the Wilmington Education Committee.
Dr. Tony Allen is explaining how Wilmington Education Committee came about and recent developments such as Governor Markell issued priority school directives, the ACLU Complaint, and the closure of Reach and Moyer charter schools.
“It is the time to act. It is time to set Wilmington education on a new and different path…anything less will continue to compromise the lives of our children…we don’t enter this situation lightly.”
Allen explained how a week after the priority schools announcement, Markell reached out to him to begin the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee. Educators, parents, community leaders, and members of University of Delaware teams are members of the team. They reviewed 117 years of Wilmington education. “It has been fraught with many challenges.” Brown vs. Board of Education was ruled on in 1954, but Delaware didn’t act on it for many years later. Talking about the Neighborhood Schools Act, the recommendations from all those committees have not been acted on. “The confluence of events with education give us this window of opportunity to act.”
“It is important to fix education not just for low-income students in Wilmington, but the entire state.” The committee believes this can help students throughout Delaware due to the poverty rate for students in Delaware which is over 50%. The committee doesn’t believe it is of value to debate the types of schools that exist, but to make them better. “Wilmington schools should be supported as community assets…they should have allies to address the complexity of educating Wilmington children.”
There are over 10,000 students in Wilmington which creates a very difficult path for the most vulnerable of children due to 13 charters, a vocational school district and four school districts. He said charter schools and districts don’t have the collaboration they need. The Committee wants to reduce the number of school districts and reconfigure them. This includes having Christina no longer serve Wilmington students and to serve Newark and parts of Newcastle children. Colonial has 150 students in the city of Wilmington, but no actual schools. Red Clay should pick up the schools left by Christina and Colonial. This would have Red Clay rethink their process at educating low-income children. As well, they have a good working relationship with the charters in their own district.
The plan states “Governor Markell should call for a strategic plan for the development of charter schools.” Charter authorizers should be operating with a strategic plan. National charter authorizer organizations recommend this type of action. Charters need to take the best practices to scale up. Developing a plan will accelerate this process. Until this plan is developed, no new charters should come to Wilmington. The Committee wants a Wilmington Charter Consortium with Red Clay as the authorizer.
The boards from Red Clay and Brandywine should expand to include more members from Wilmington. Allen is showing a list of low-income schools with the most population of poverty being at 90% and the lowest being Charter School of Wilmington at 2%.
In the presentation, Allen is talking about student success formula, and changing the formula for student funding to include more weight for students in low-income status, English language learners and special education. He noted Kim Williams House Bill 30 was just submitted to address the K-3 special education formula. He also believes all three counties in Delaware need to increase assessed property values to help fund this process.
Allen expressed the opinion of the committee that the Governor and General Assembly should create a Wilmington Education Council. He said there has been a lot of positive responses to the recommendations, and they will be having coffee for community members to get public input. He stated this is just an interim report. It is now up for questions from members of the House and Senate Education Committees.
House Education Committee Chair Earl Jacques is asking Tony Allen why they are calling for no new charters. He said the National Charter School Authorizers Organization stated Delaware has the toughest procedures for new charters to open. Allen said they are not calling for a moratorium but a strategic plan. Jacques said he hopes they work with Illinois Utilities Fund to look at maps of where schools are located and if they are in the best location. Senator Sokola is praising the interim report. He explained how Christina Superintendent Freeman Williams stated the district will lose too much revenue from property tax. He said the issue of reassessment never gains any traction. He said the ACLU should look at assessment practices in Western Sussex and Newcastle County and that current practices are in violation of state code. Sokola said property assessment shouldn’t be a barrier to education.
State Rep. Potter thanked Allen for the meeting, the Governor for suggesting the committee, and the House and Senate for having the joint meeting. Potter asked about the recommendation about charter applications being halted for the time being. Allen said he wants the state to develop a plan and for it to be reviewed by the Governor and the General Assembly. He knows there is potential for further charter development. Potter said “Charters are just popping up…impacting feeder patterns.” He continued to say Wilmington has the highest drop-out rate and highest concentrations of poverty. This is a long-term problem. Potter stated “We have to fix Wilmington now….we need to look at what all the charters are doing.”
State Rep. Osienski is suggesting the Committee shows what their vision of a charter school plan should be going forward. Senator Bryan Townsend is suggesting the committee is as forthright as possible and deals are being set in motion in regards to priority schools. This needs to happen.
(Where is the talk about regular public schools. It’s charter fest in here!)
Sorry, technical issues. They need more plug outlets in the House Chamber! To recap what I missed, Senator Townsend asked the Committee to look at the priority schools in their final report and the impacts facing these students before a final decision is reached on this matter. State Rep. Stephanie Bolden wanted to add that even though they are recommending a moratorium on charter schools this should not be interpreted as a public condemnation of charters. She also wants to see new charters have more state of the art fixtures like Charter School of Wilmington and Newark Charter School. Senator Bonini said charter schools serve an important need for choice and this should not be ignored. House Rep. Paul Baumbach thanked the committee for formulating their plan and all the hard work that went into it.
Jacques opened up the floor for public questions. Seaford School District Board Member Frank Parks stated the issues of segregation in Delaware in relation to charter school enrollment preferences needs to be dealt with as it affects funding for schools all across the state and not just in Wilmington. I asked Dr. Allen if the committee has looked at increasing special education funding in the future, particularly as it relates to skyrocketing autism rates nationwide. He said that is a factor in the plans to be considered. Jacques added the Autism Task Force will soon be issuing their final report which will have suggested funding for Autism in the State of Delaware.
Dr. Allen did thank State Rep. Kim Williams for coming to every single meeting of the Wilmington Education Committee. Williams thanked the committee for allowing questions and public comment during the meetings.
Dr. Allen stated on a personal level he was instrumental in having Bank of America donate the Community Education Building for the purpose of having low-income charter school students. He stated there are two schools there now and it is his dream to have it filled with 2500 students.
Jennifer Nagourney from the Delaware DOE Charter School Office, Executive Director of the State Board of Education Donna Johnson and Kendall Massett, up in the balcony, from the Delaware Charter Schools Network were all in the audience.
I liked the presentation, and Dr. Allen did an excellent job in conveying the motivations for the committee. What I did not see was how to increase funding for public school districts. It was very charter-centric and seems to be geared towards even more charter schools in future years. So maybe Markell will let the priority schools go through their 3-4 year plan, especially if there is a moratorium on new charter school applications until June of 2017. We shall see. But the Wilmington Education Committee have certainly changed the conversation concerning not just Wilmington schools, but all Delaware schools.