Federal Guidance States Specific Interest Is Not An Enrollment Preference For Charters, Delaware In Violation

“A charter school may weight its lottery to give slightly better chances for admission to all or a subset of educationally disadvantaged students if State law permits the use of weighted lotteries in favor of such students.”

Early College High School, the new charter school that opened in Dover, DE this academic year submitted a request for a major modification.  On February 2nd, they had their meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee.  What happened at this meeting looks like it took the Charter School Accountability Committee completely by surprise.  It turns out, Federal charter school law does not allow specific interest as an enrollment preference for admission to a charter school.

Early College High School’s major modification request was to change their enrollment preference to take out both the specific interest clause and weighted enrollment preference for the children of any of the school’s founders.  The school said they were applying for a Federal grant through the non-SEA Charter School Program, and found out through the US Department of Education that specific interest is not an allowable enrollment preference for any charter school in the country.  They wanted this modification to be in alignment with Federal practices.

I looked for this, and found out that yes, specific interest is not an allowable enrollment preference under any circumstances.  And this is based on Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and Section 5204 (a) (1) of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

This is all written out in the Charter School Program non-regulatory guidance document from Fiscal Year 2014, with Section E, pages 17-22 giving all the details.

So now my question would be how in the world would the two charter school authorizers in the State of Delaware not know this?  Those would be the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Who gives these authorizers legal guidance?  How many students in Delaware were picked for charter schools under the specific interest clause and how many students were turned away because they did not pick it?

Ironically, Delaware state law grants permission for the specific interest clause.  It allows the following enrollment preferences for charter schools:

  • Students residing within a five-mile radius of the school
  • Students residing within the regular school district in which the school is located
  • Students who have a specific interest in the school’s teaching methods, philosophy or educational focus
  • Students who are at risk of academic failure
  • Children of persons employed on a permanent basis for at least 30 hours per week during the school year by the charter school.Preference may also be given to siblings of current students and students attending a public school that is converted to charter status. Children of founders may also be given preference up to 5 percent of the school’s total student body.

The most noteworthy charter school in Delaware that utilizes the specific interest category is the Charter School of Wilmington.  This is one of the three named schools in the ACLU lawsuit against Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated, along with Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Newark Charters School actually grants the school director discretion to pick applicants before the lottery.

Even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools gave Delaware a bad rating in this category for their national state rankings report for charter schools, found here: http://www.publiccharters.org/get-the-facts/law-database/states/DE/

Stemming out of Delaware’s House Bill 90, State Rep. Kim Williams created the enrollment preference task force which is still in force.  The next meeting will be very interesting given this information.

 

 

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