Selected readings on US charter schools
Delaware officials approved four new charter schools Thursday, rejected one application, placed two charters set to open this fall under tight scrutiny over enrollment concerns and allowed an existing school to shrink its enrollment targets.
The four charter school proposals approved by Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and the State Board of Education are: Freire Charter School, Delaware STEM Academy, Great Oaks Charter School and the Mapleton Charter School at Whitehall.
All of them are set to open in Fall 2015 except for Whitehall, which would open in 2016, and all are in New Castle County.
“The charters that we are recommending for approval today represent a geographic diversity of locations – two schools in Wilmington, one in southern New Castle County and one in [Appoquinimink],” Murphy said. “They are providing unique instructional models that are not currently available to students.”
Murphy rejected an application from Pike Creek Charter School, saying he agreed with the state’s Charter School Accountability Committee that the school was not on solid financial footing.
The approvals mean a major expansion of the charter footprint in Delaware. If all four schools meet their enrollment targets, they would add about 2,360 charter seats.
There are currently 11,078 students in charters statewide, a number that was already expected to grow as existing schools expanded.
The approvals come despite worries from some about the impact they might have on traditional school districts. A group of 20 state lawmakers wrote to Murphy and the board earlier this month expressing “deep concerns,” saying Red Clay School District alone stands to lose 800 students and $2.6 million if the charters were all approved.
Several state board members raised those questions.
“At what point do we start looking on the cumulative impact all these schools will have on a district?” asked Randall Hughes. “Does that become something we think about? Can it?”
Department officials said state law does not allow them to reject an application based solely on its impact on other schools. That stirred a heated discussion between several of the board members.
“If next year we were to have 20 charter schools come before this board, and they all use this format, they will all be approved,” said Pat Heffernan. “I just want to make that very clear to the public.”
Heffernan questioned whether it made sense for the state to approve any charter as long as it met the state’s standards. He pointed out that Mapleton is designed to complement the Town of Whitehall, a planned private development.
“Maybe somebody wants to open a clown school, and because they filled out a form right we would have to approve it,” Heffernan said. “I think we need to think about whether this process allows us to make productive decisions about public policy.”
At the same time as it opened the door to new charters, the state put two schools already approved to open this fall on notice for low enrollment numbers.
Academia Antonia Alonso had only 107 students fully signed up by Thursday, or only 36 percent of its planned enrollment. Delaware MET had only 93 students fully signed up, or about 34 percent of planned enrollment.
That puts them on shaky financial ground.
Murphy and the board placed both schools on formal review, which will spur the accountability committee to scrutinize them. Formal review could lead to a revocation of a school’s charter or corrective actions, but Thursday’s vote was only a first step in the process.
“We are aware of the many effects this could have on a lot of people,” said Jennifer Nagourney, head of the state’s charter school office. “We are trying to takes steps as far in advance as possible.”
Design Lab Charter High School, another charter set to open in the fall, was also scheduled to face possible review, but the department took it off the board’s agenda. Design Lab officials have asked the state to allow it to open a year later.
Delaware MET could also choose to ask for a delay, but Academia has already received one and cannot request another.
Also Thursday, state officials approved New Moyer Academy’s request to shrink its enrollment targets by about half, from 455 students to 265 next school year.
The Board had rejected a proposal last year because of concerns over financial sustainability and ownership of the school building. Since then, Moyer’s board purchased the school.
Moyer is still out of compliance with its charter over a separate curriculum issue. Department officials say they’ve been working with Moyer over the problem and expect the school to submit a fix soon.
Source: Delaware Online – by Matthew Albright