Delaware Charter Schools: Weighing the Educational and Taxpayer Pros and Cons
The number of charter schools in the state has increased. So the debate about the effectiveness of traditional public schools versus charters continues.
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Buckley says one of the reasons that she decided not to send her children to Newark Charter is because the student body isn’t reflective of the surrounding community. She believes that the demographics at district schools are negatively impacted when more affluent students choose charter schools.
There are currently more than 2,000 students on a waiting list to attend Newark Charter. Because of the demand, the school uses a lottery system to choose new students every year. The lottery gives preference to siblings of current students, children of staff members and students who live within a five-mile radius of the school.
State Rep. John Kowalko says the five-mile radius leads to “de-facto segregation,” because it prevents Wilmington students—many of whom are minority and low-income—from attending Newark Charter.
But Meece says Newark Charter is following state law, which supports the concept of students attending neighborhood schools.
“Traditional public schools in Delaware give geographical preference to people living close to schools; it’s called a feeder pattern,” he says. “That’s what’s going on at traditional public schools, so how is it wrong for charter schools to do the same thing?”
He adds that the lottery system makes it impossible for charters to cherry pick the best and brightest students.
“When you use a lottery, you have no control over who is picked in the lottery,” he says. “It is what it is.”
Kowalko unsuccessfully tried to eliminate the five-mile radius provision from the state’s charter school law during the latest General Assembly session. House Bill 165, a charter school reform bill, was approved by Gov. Jack Markell in June. It updates the original law from 1995 to
enhance accountability and increase financial support for charter schools.
The most controversial element of H.B. 165 is the so-called “performance fund,” which sets aside up to $5 million annually for major charter school capital projects, such as building additions or new construction. The fund will be distributed through a grant process to high-performing charter schools.
Kowalko staunchly opposed the measure, calling it a “slush fund,” and plans to ask his fellow legislators to revisit H.B. 165 during next year’s session.
“We are denying our responsibility to adequately fund traditional public schools, while at the same time creating a pool of money for charter schools with little restriction on what they can spend it on,” he says.