Delaware charter school enrollment legislation generates request for legal opinion

WDEL | by Mark Fowser

Three Delaware lawmakers – with the backing of the President of the NAACP Delaware State Conference – are seeking a legal opinion on legislation that addresses the enrollment process of charter schools.

A house substitute for a bill that passed last Thursday in the House of Representatives would allow charter schools to give preference for students in a portion of a school district that’s geographically contiguous to the charter school. It would eliminate the five-mile radius preference charter schools had been granted.

Critics say the new legislation singles out the Christina School District, which has a Wilmington portion that’s disconnected geographically from the Newark and Newark-area portion. They maintain it effectively keeps Wilmington students in the Christina District from attending the charter school of their choice, such as Newark Charter.

“When it’s a publicly-funded school it cannot deny access either literally or figuratively by imposing a restriction, ” State Representative John Kowalko of the Newark area said. “These people pay taxes in Wilmington. They are in the Christina District. They go to Christina feeder schools. They do go to Christina high schools.”

Kowalko was joined by Wilmington Representatives Charles Potter Jr. and Stephanie T. Boulden in sending a request to Attorney General Matt Denn for a legal opinion on the legislation. They maintain that the bill, if signed into law, “denies state taxpayers access to a state-funded institution.”

“We believe it to be discriminatory and unlawful,” Potter said of the apparent geographical preference.

Delaware State NAACP Conference President Linwood Jackson also backed the three lawmakers in seeking legal clarification from the Justice Department.

The text of their request follows:

May 19, 2017

Dear Attorney General Denn:

I, and my colleagues State Representative Dr. Stephanie T. Bolden and State Representative John Kowalko and Linwood Jackson, President of the NAACP Delaware State Conference are contacting you regarding the legality of House Substitute No. 1 for House Bill 85 (attached), which passed the House of Representatives on 5/18/17.

HS1 for HB 85 eliminates the use of an enrollment preference for students living within a 5-mile radius of a charter school, and allows a new preference for students located in the portion of the regular school district that is geographically contiguous with the location of the charter school.

This bill appears to effectively prevent students from the City of Wilmington and the Christina School District from attending the charter school of their choice. My colleagues and I question the legality of denying state taxpayers access to a state funded institution, and believe this bill is discriminatory and unlawful.

We are contacting you to ask for a legal opinion from your office on this time-sensitive matter.

Thank you for your prompt attention and assistance. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact any of us.

Sincerely,

Charles Potter, Jr., State Representative, First Representative District
Dr. Stephanie T. Bolden, State Representative, Second Representative District
John Kowalko, State Representative, 25th Representative District
Linwood Jackson, President, NAACP Delaware State Conference

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