Enrollment Preferences Bill Released From Committee But Newark Charter School Exclusion Remains Controversial

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 was released from the Delaware House Education Committee today.  There are very serious concerns due to a “compromise” brought forth by the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The bone of contention surrounds the Christina School District and Newark Charter School.  Since a portion of Christina exists in Wilmington, those students would not be considered in the enrollment preference which includes all students in a choice school’s district.  The line of thinking appears to be the district section of Wilmington is not connected to the rest of the district.  However, those who oppose this section of the bill feel it is a barrier for Wilmington students who are part of the Christina School District.

Today, State Rep. John Kowalko is bringing forth an amendment but no one on the committee knew specifically what the amendment was.  State Rep. Kim Williams, the primary sponsor of the bill, stated she assumes it would be to remove lines 7-9 of the bill which would give Newark Charter School their Wilmington exclusion.  Williams said she would not support the amendment because she gave her word to Senator David Sokola.  This, apparently, was an addition to the bill from Senator Sokola which caused the House Substitute bill from the original House Bill 85.  State Rep. Joe Miro said he would not support the bill if the amendment passed.

State Rep. Sean Matthews said he is in support of the bill but does not feel the bill serves all students in the Christina School District.  He felt the bill does not allow for Wilmington students to go to Newark Charter School and the exclusion for NCS was put in so it can pass the Delaware Senate.

If Newark Charter School is so good, they should take all students. -State Rep. Sean Matthews

State Rep. Deb Heffernan agreed with Matthews.  The bill was released with 11 votes in favor of the bill.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting said the Delaware Department of Education is taking a neutral stance on the bill.  Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said former State Board member R.L. Hughes was on the Enrollment Preferences Task Force and voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius. Kristin Dwyer, the Delaware State Education Association Director of Legislation and Political Organizing,  said she is happy the conversation is opened with this bill but DSEA does not feel the bill goes far enough.  DSEA feels the 5-mile radius should be completely removed.

My concerns with this bill are the very nature of Newark Charter School to begin with.  Even with their 5-mile radius, their student populations do not reflect that of the Greater Newark area.  This is the public comment I gave to the committee and my idea for a potential amendment.

While I am very happy to see this bill, I have concerns around Newark Charter School. When the charter school had their major modification approved to build their high school, they were instructed with formulating a plan to allow for more diversity in their district.  I have yet to see that materialize, even within their current 5 mile radius.  While their special education numbers have increased, they are still woefully under what the state average is, much less the Christina School District.  In the school profile for this school year, African-Americans represent 10.7% of their student population compared to 39.4% of Christina.  While factoring in the African-American population of the Wilmington contingent of Christina student population, the greater Newark area has a much higher population of African-Americans compared to NCS.  I would recommend an amendment be placed on this bill for a weighted lottery for charter schools, magnets, and any choice school where the demographics are disproportionately lower than that of the surrounding district to allow populations that do not seem to be getting access to certain charter school even footing and representation within those schools.  Enrollment preferences are meant to allow the most disadvantaged students into choice schools, not to keep them out. Thank you.

The bill, if passed, would take place immediately.  However, it would not be able to kick in until the 2018-2019 school year since the school choice calendar for the 2017-2018 school year closed in January.  During the House Bill 90 Enrollment Preferences Task Force, the majority of the members voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius as an enrollment preference for choice schools.  Williams said she does not necessarily agree with the Newark Charter School exclusion, but felt compromise was necessary.  If the bill didn’t move forward, she would not be able to help any students.

Once Kowalko’s amendment is public, I will add it to this article.

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