The obvious answer to my title would be “because it’s easy”. It’s not like I create these stories. They do it themselves. I just bring them to light for all of Delaware to see. Take Prestige Academy, and their board meeting at a tavern where they didn’t have a quorum and voted on stuff anyways. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I knew Jack Perry was “resigning”, so I thought I would see what their board minutes say. I wasn’t looking for anything sinister. By the time I got to their board minutes, and I saw what I saw, it was just another example of a Delaware charter school doing whatever the hell they want, regardless of the law.
I get a great deal of flack on Kilroy’s Delaware in the comments section when I say something negative about charters. There’s one guy named Publius. You would think the charters could no wrong, and because the ability for “choice” is out there, it is the charters God-given right for any type of pre-assessment before a prospective student is selected. Another guy, named lastDEconservative, will side with Publius every chance he gets. They have their opinion, and I have mine. But because I want to try to help people, I have a big head and I won’t agree with anyone’s opinion but my own. Or so they say. I think they are hoping I will just go away, but that just encourages me to fight harder.
I don’t hate the concept of charter schools, and I have no problem with school choice. It’s a parents prerogative to transfer their child to any public school they want. But charter schools are public schools. They aren’t private schools. If you receive federal and state dollars to educate children, you are a public school. Under the original intention of the law, charters were meant to be an alternative to public school districts, and they grew in popularity. But in Delaware, they became something different. Some of them became very elitist. Not the students, but the parents and administration that run these schools. Our current governor has it in his head that charters are the greatest schools in the state and we should all learn from them. The very fact that he threatened to take the priority schools and either close them, turn them over to a management company, or turn them into charters says it all. Why not turn them over to another school district?
Some have said I hate charters because I can’t get over what happened to my son at a charter. This is far from the case. It just opened my eyes to what is really going on out there. They don’t record their board meetings. Most didn’t a few years ago, but as transparency is demanded of all schools, the charters fought legislation for this process and won. The bill never even made it to a vote. But it needs to come back. We have far too many examples, just in the past six months, of charter schools running amok. If parents could actually hear the board meetings, because most people can’t always just go to one, they can know more about what is going on at their child’s school. I make it a point to go to my son’s school district board meetings. I even go to other school’s board meetings as well.
What irks many charter opponents is their boards are not publicly elected. They are picked from within, and parents have no choice about who makes the decisions for the students and teachers. Some parents seem to be oblivious to these facts, or just don’t care. They feel “their” charter is the best, and who cares how they run it as long as my kid goes there.
The financial situation at many charters is vague at best. Some charters have treated public funding like it’s their own money they can spend for personal use. Yes, this has happened in public school districts as well, but with some charters it has become more of a common practice. When you get right down to it, this is taxpayer money. Do you want your money going to a school’s personal use? I know I don’t.
A charter school family will defend their school when it is under attack, even when the most egregious of events are occurring right before their very eyes. I have seen this happen many times. If it’s a public school district, parents are demanding accountability. Take Family Foundations Academy as an example. If you read the public comment from when they were up for charter renewal, you would think this school was the only place their children could have gone to. Both their leaders AND their board were in the hot seat. Had it not been for Eastside Charter swooping in and saving the day, I am guessing they would have closed by the end of this school year.
What bothers me the most about the charters in Delaware is the enrollment preference. This is not every charter, but the ones that do it need to be held accountable, and publicly. Last year, the Office of Civil Rights received a case, and as a result, they asked every single charter school in the state for their applications from the last two years. This was coordinated through the Delaware Charter Schools Network. I have seen in at least one school’s board minutes that this was a FOIA request from the OCR. Apparently, most of the charters were not able to produce applications, as they did not believe they were required to keep them. So nothing went to the OCR as a result. I’m sorry, why would you throw away an application? Unless you don’t want someone to see what is on there.
At the Enrollment Preference Task Force, which is finishing up soon, the topic of assessing a student before or after they are accepted to the school has been a major conflict. Many of the charter folks on the task force are all for it. It was put up a for a vote at their last meeting, and assessment after a student is accepted won the day. But you would think you just stole the charter folks house and car. They were upset because it would dilute their schools. Sorry, they should never have the concentration of students they currently have. It is a recipe for discrimination for just that aspect, but many charters have been accused of turning down minorities right at the point of application.
The three biggest charters mentioned in the ACLU lawsuit are the Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy of the Arts. If you read the board minutes from these schools, they have known for a while they were at the heart of this case. In fact, they had a meeting not too long before the announcement of the ACLU lawsuit. This was not a public meeting, and I’m sure it wasn’t a “let’s get together and talk education for the kids” kind of meeting. These are also the three biggest charter schools with the most academic success out of all the charters. What many public school districts around them are most upset about has been their relentless onslaught against them in taking their best and brightest students, leaving these districts a pale imitation of what they were prior. Education should not be survival of the fittest. Not when you play dirty parlor tricks. Why these charters should get local funding from the school districts when a student transfers to their school is beyond me. The vocational schools are line items on the budget, so why shouldn’t the charters be the same?
Delaware does not currently have a charter management company in our state. Some have theorized (including myself) this could change if the priority schools are converted to charters. And lest we forget, the six priority schools are just this year’s picks. There will be future priority schools. Meanwhile, there seems to be more attention on the lower performing charter schools in the state. Just this year alone, two were ordered to shut down by the end of the school year. One narrowly escaped this sentence, a special needs charter where over 60% of their student population has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If it weren’t for the public outcry by these special needs parents, fate would have probably closed them too. One has to ask at this point, are there too many charters in Delaware? They only serve 10% of the student population. Is this why charters appear to be on the chopping block more this year? Because they have reached a saturation point? There are a few charters opening up in 2015-2016, which will somewhat replace the students lost by Moyer and Reach. But there are no charters opening up in 2016-2017.
The two applications for new charters this year were quickly rejected. I have to give credit to the Delaware Department of Education Charter School Office, led by Jennifer Nagourney. The first reasons for both of the applicants rejection had to do with special education. It seemed like both the applications didn’t have the first clue about what to do with special needs students. I have to give kudos where they are due, and thank the DOE for quickly realizing this. For many years, students with IEPs and charter schools in Delaware have been equal to oil and water. But many factors are bringing this to a head: legislation introduced in Delaware coming from the IEP Task Force, the ACLU lawsuit, Attorney General Matt Denn opening a Civil Rights office at the Department of Justice, and parents speaking up about these situations. Not that public schools don’t have their problems with special education. They do. But the bulk of the special education issues with Delaware charters have been both the denial of entrance for an already existing student with disabilities or a student who develops their disability traits while at a charter and they are denied an IEP. This issue has become more public in the past year, and yes, I have helped that cause, but it has been a weed in our charter schools for far too long and many people will no longer tolerate this.
What we aren’t hearing at all is the discussion of parent opt out for students at charter schools. Public school district parents are much more vocal against the Smarter Balanced Assessment, but charter parents have remained mum on the issue. Is it a situation where they are in their own charter bubble and don’t even realize what’s going on? Or are they so afraid of their child’s school losing funding if too many parents choose this option? We will know soon where charter parents stand. This test starts in 37 days in Delaware. All parents in Delaware will soon be faced with a choice, especially after the scores come in and many parents will be faced with the knowledge that their once proficient child is no longer proficient. Parents will need to collectively speak out against this insane test and punish tactic perpetrated by both our federal government and our state.
In the meantime, until they are held accountable, Delaware charters will make news, both good and bad. I will be there, writing about all of it.