Delaware Public Media | by Paul Kiefer
A bill seeking to end some charter schools’ use of a five-mile radius admission preference is advancing in Delaware’s state legislature.
State Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark) says the goal of his bill is to expand school choice for more Delawareans, particularly low-income residents who are underrepresented in some charter schools.
Kowalko first noticed the issue at Newark Charter School – one of only three charters using the five-mile radius preference. That, he said, creates an obvious problem. “The five-mile radius excluded from consideration for entry the entire Wilmington section of Christina [School District],” he said. As a result, low-income students are notably underrepresented at the school compared to the demographics of the district: while nearly a third of Christina School District students are low-income, only about 6 percent of students at Newark Charter School are low-income.
Kowalko argues that exclusion of low-income students constitutes a form of institutional discrimination and says wants to even the playing field of school choice, even if that means students in places like Newark face new competition for charter school spots. “I don’t blame any parent who wants to put their children in the best circumstances they can, but if it’s at the expense of other children, I have to draw the line,” he said.
He noted that high school students from Wilmington already bus to cities like Newark to attend public schools, and he hopes to open opportunities for them to attend charter schools as well.
Opponents of the bill are concerned other charter school admissions preferences could be the next to fall, including for children of faculty.
Kowalko says he has no plans to challenge those preferences. The bill passed 22-16 in the House this week and now heads to the Senate.