Last year, the Delaware General Assembly passed House Bill 56 which created a moratorium on new charter school applications in the City of Wilmington until June 30th, 2018 or until the State Board of Education came up with a strategic plan to deal with charter schools in the city. This was signed by Governor Markell on May 5th, 2015. As of today, no strategic plan has come forth.
This bill provides a moratorium on all new charter schools in Delaware until June 30, 2018 or until the State Board of Education develops a strategic plan for the number of charter, district, and vocational-technical schools in the State. Also, the bill requires review and comment from Wilmington’s Mayor and City Council before either a local school district or the Department of Education approves a charter in the City of Wilmington. Lastly, the bill requires the local school board’s approval for a charter school in the City of Wilmington before the Department of Education can approve the charter school.
An amendment was placed on the bill:
The amendment clarifies that the Mayor and the City Council of Wilmington may review and provide comment on applications by charter schools seeking to locate in the City of Wilmington before the school is authorized by the relevant approving authority. It also clarifies that no new charter schools will be authorized to open in the City of Wilmington prior to June 30, 2018 or the development of a statewide strategic plan for specialized public educational opportunities; those charter schools already authorized will be able to open as planned.
While this bill was desperately needed at the time, one of the major failings of the bill was not addressing enrollment issues at already existing Wilmington charter schools. Several new charter schools opened in Wilmington over a two year time span in years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. Other charters closed down. Meanwhile, other charters submitted modifications to increase or decrease their enrollment. This causes havoc with education funding which is already a beast.
Yesterday, I broke the news that Prestige Academy is slated to become a part of the EastSide empire. But given that the board of Prestige already wrote a letter indicating they would not seek charter renewal for next year and no part of the renewal process has gone forth since that letter, wouldn’t the school becoming a part of EastSide technically be a new charter school? Whatever the intention with Prestige Academy might be, it needs to be publicly addressed now. When Family Foundations Academy became a part of EastSide, it was done with no public ability to comment on the move and was announced at a State Board of Education meeting. Negotiations took place behind the scenes with no transparency whatsoever. By adding a sole-standing charter school into a conglomerate of other charter schools, it essentially changes the entire corporate make-up of a charter school. And for those who aren’t aware, charter schools are considered to be corporations in Delaware.
Charter school modifications have a ripple effect not only on traditional school districts in the area, but also other charter schools. We saw this play into the fates of the Delaware Met, Delaware STEM Academy, Prestige Academy, Delaware Design-Lab High School, and Freire Charter School of Wilmington. All faced enrollment issues which resulted in either closure or a formal review for those enrollment issues with the exception of Delaware Met. For Delaware Met, they were woefully unprepared to open the school and students suffered as a result. There is certainly a correlation between the charters that received approval for larger enrollments and other charters who had less students this year.
I would like to see our 149th General Assembly continue this moratorium on new charter schools in Wilmington but add a few more items to it. Any charter school modification needs to be given the same weight in terms of approval by Wilmington City Council and the local school district. On November 1st, the Delaware Department of Education will begin accepting applications for new charter schools to open in the 2018-2019 school year. These issues need to be addressed by our legislators before the State Board of Education may begin approving more charter schools next April, not only in Wilmington, but the entire state.
I also urge the 149th General Assembly to firmly address the issues of inequity at Newark Charter School, Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Military Academy, Odyssey Charter School, and Sussex Academy. As well as some of the magnet schools and vo-tech schools in the state. We can no longer move forward in the 21st Century with the severe inequities across our schools that represent a face of discrimination and de-facto segregation. Delaware needs to be better than that. We are still waiting on the Office of Civil Rights to address these issues based on the complaint from the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union and Delaware Community Legal Aid. The OCR has been sitting on this since it went to them in December of 2014, almost two years ago. The reliance of standardized test scores on all Delaware schools has been extremely punitive to schools that have much larger populations of high-needs students, especially in the City of Wilmington and the greater Newark area.