Charter Bill is a First Step – But More is Needed
House Bill 205 , to be discussed today in the House Education Committee meeting, is an important first step in providing greater oversight for charters—for which the Reach situation has clearly demonstrated a need—and in establishing a solution for turning around low-performing charters in the future without having to close schools and disrupt families. However, it doesn’t go far enough to help create an environment where charter schools can thrive and be regarded as an integral part of Delaware’s overall education reform strategy.Charters should receive equitable funding and should be incorporated into the state’s strategy and vision for a high-performing portfolio of school options.Other states are passing Delaware by in terms of our ability to attract and support successful charter operators.
We support the following components of the bill:
- Providing additional financial and governance oversight, including required background checks of board members, annual financial auditing, and financial transparency.
- Requiring charter authorizers to consider (and not as the sole basis of approval) the impact of quick expansions (less than 18 months) of over 15% increases in enrollment; this will provide sufficient time for impacted schools to adjust programs and staffing.
- Solutions for potential school closings in the future, including earlier decision making by authorizers and the opportunity for qualified charter operators to take over struggling schools.
However, in order to ensure charter schools succeed, we need to level the playing field among schools as a state by providing more support and equitable funding.This includes:
- Enacting policies that promote replication of highly successful charter schools – and not just in the case of low-performing schools. This is the surest path to creating a vibrant and successful charter network and provides an immediate return on investment as stated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers
- Provide equitable funding for charter schools – excluding capital (or facilities) funding. In 2009-2010, Delaware charter schools operated on $1,550 less/pupil than traditional districts. While some of this discrepancy in current expenses can be explained by special education enrollment, it is grossly unfair to charter families who pay the same taxes but receive unequal financial support to ensure their children’s academic success. At a minimum, the state should close the gap in local funding (which was over $1,300 in 2008-2009 ) and provide tax relief funds to all charter schools – which would significantly close the spending gap without requiring additional tax dollars.
Delaware’s weak statewide charter policy has led to many unfortunate, but avoidable, situations in charter schools over the course of the past year, including Moyer Academy , Pencader High, and Reach Academy. And while this bill might provide viable solutions for low-performing schools, it does little to nothing to encourage high-performing charters–such as Achievement First, KIPP, Uncommon Schools and others that have expressed an interest in coming here– to set up shop in Delaware and serve our highest-need students.
Ultimately, Delaware’s charter schools will continue producing mixed results unless we take a more proactive stance and approach charters not as a threat to district effectiveness, but as an integral part of our overall state strategy to increase student achievement. HB 205 is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to working with stakeholders—including the Governor, General Assembly, State Board, Department of Education, and Charter School Network— over the coming year to do even more.
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