Delaware House passes charter school rules change

Delaware Public Media | by James Dawson

Charter schools may soon no longer be able to use a five-mile radius surrounding the location as a screening tool for their student body.

Instead, a charter would be able to use the school district in which it resides as an enrollment preference.

But the bill explicitly excludes the part of the Christina School District within the city of Wilmington, which critics say lets Newark Charter continue to duck enrolling poor, minority students.

Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden (D-Wilmington East) called it simply discriminatory during a House debate Thursday.

“We are still fighting for civil rights and the civil rights of our children and we wonder why we’re having the problems we’re having now in the city with black-on-black crime,” said Bolden.

A failed plan last year that would have pulled Christina out of the city, redistributing its students there to other surrounding school districts, served as an undercurrent to the debate.

Bolden called out lawmakers who voted against the roughly $7.5 million Wilmington Education Improvement Commission plan that also would’ve diverted more money to high-poverty schools.

“Our kids can’t get educated, they can’t go, we can’t form our own school district, we can’t approve WEIC, we can’t get anything for our children,” she said.

“It’s always too much when it’s Wilmington, yet we know you people talk about the crime. Sooner or later, guess what, it’s going to come to your area,” said Rep. Charles Potter Jr. (D-Wilmington North).

Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South) unsuccessfully tried to include the satellite portion of Christina in the bill.

The measure passed 27-13.

Charter school advocates, like Kendall Massett, executive director of Delaware Charter Schools Network, say families can still apply for admission at Newark Charter.

But with 3,200 students on the wait list to fill a new grade levels of about 200, the chances of getting in are next to nothing without a preference.

Massett says the bill still allows schools like Newark Charter to have a student body nearby instead of extending about 15 miles away – one of the original intents of the bill that established charters in 1995.

“We do believe in community schools if that’s what the school so chooses to do, but we’ve seen that it allows for larger parent involvement,” Massett said.

She notes students in the noncontiguous portion of Christina have plenty of other charter schools to choose from that are close by – though few in the entire state score as well on standardized tests as Newark Charter.

Less than eight percent of the student body comes from low-income families, while less than seven percent require special education.

That’s compared to 39 percent of Christina School District students who come from low-income families and nearly 20 percent with special needs.

State senators will consider the bill next.

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