Legislation Brings Clarity, Transparency to Families Seeking School Choice Options
House Bill 90 was introduced yesterday by Representative Williams and Senator Poore, building on Governor Markell’s vision outlined in his State of the State of providing transparency and consistency to Delaware’s school choice process for all families, which includes inter and intra-district choice, charter schools, and vocational technical schools.
The school choice program was originally established with the stated goal to “increase access to educational opportunity for all children throughout the State regardless of where they may live.” However, the school choice program has not received substantive attention since 1998, and current school choice practices vary widely across the state.
The bill creates a simple, consistent, and equitable process that all parties, including school districts, vocational technical schools, charter schools, and families, must go through each school year as part of the school choice process. If enacted, the process would look like this:
- No later than October 31st – all school districts and charter schools would hold a public information session about enrollment opportunities for interested families
- November 30th – each school district (for each individual school) and charter would report capacity and projected enrollment information to the Department of Education
- Second Wednesday in January – parents interested in enrolling their child into the school choice program would fill out a standard form on the Department’s website indicating their enrollment preferences
- Ten Days After Application Submissions – the Department would send applications to each district and charter for approval or disapproval
- February 28th – each district and charter must approve or disapprove an application for admission into programs in grades 1-12 (June 15th for kindergarten) based upon the preferences listed below
With regards to approval/disapproval of applications, priority MUST be given to students for the following reasons:
- The student attended the school previously;
- Students live within the school’s feeder pattern; and
- Students have siblings that already attend the school
In addition, priority MAY be given to:
- Siblings of students who live in the districts over siblings of students that live outside; and
- Students that have designated the program as either their first, second, or third choice;
- Children of school employees
Once all applications are submitted and students placed based upon preferences, every student thereafter will enter a lottery and chosen at random until the school reaches at least 85 percent of its capacity. Those not selected will be placed on a ranked waiting list maintained by the district or charter school until June 30th.
This bill is an extremely positive step for many parents and students. No more camping out overnight in the Brandywine School District and no more confusion on deadlines and application requirements for parents. In addition, the bill will eliminate discrimination against choice students by requiring the same information from all choice students as zoned students, removing a provision that allows districts and charters to reject students with special needs, and requiring a lottery for entrance.
In addition to the benefits for parents, taxpayers will have transparency on building capacity due to standardized reporting requirements, which will ensure public dollars are being spent as wisely and efficiently as possible – which hasn’t been done in the past. In addition, a Task Force will be created to explore enrollment preferences at magnet, vocational technical, and charter schools, and develop recommendations as necessary.
Overall, the bill is a giant step forward and we applaud Governor Markell’s leadership in bringing this to the forefront and Representative Williams and Senator Poore for putting it on the table for discussion. Delaware families have a lot to gain from a transparent and effective school choice system – one which will truly live up to the original purpose of providing families access to high-quality educational options, regardless of their zip code.