Delaware establishes charter school moratorium in Wilmington

 Representative Charles Potter Jr. (second from right) poses with Governor Jack Markell (far right) at the signing ceremony for House Bill 56. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks)

Representative Charles Potter Jr. (second from right) poses with Governor Jack Markell (far right) at the signing ceremony for House Bill 56. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks)

Delaware won’t approve any new charter schools in the city of Wilmington until the state drafts a strategic plan for school growth.

The legislation, signed Tuesday by Governor Jack Markell, also gives Wilmington officials the ability to review and comment on charter school applications in the city.

“We are over-saturated”

The new law comes amid growing concern that the density of charter schools in Wilmington has disrupted local feeding patterns and hamstrung traditional public schools.

“We are over-saturated with charter schools in the city of Wilmington,” said Representative Charles Potter Jr., D-Wilmington, who authored the bill.

At present, 13 of the state’s 24 charter schools have at least one location in Wilmington. One of those 13–the Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute–is expected to close at the end of this school year due to poor academic performance. There are, however, three new charters slated to open in the city in August 2015.

One of those three, Friere Charter School, has been placed on formal review by the Delaware Department of Education due to low enrollment projections. Another Wilmington charter school, Prestige Academy, is under review for the same reason. Potter said those enrollment woes are proof of charter overabundance within the city.

The moratorium on new charters comes with an expiration date:  June 30, 2018. If the State Board of Education and Delaware Department of Education have not drafted a strategic plan for by then, the ban will lift.

Markell announced the creation of a strategic plan in March. The plan will look at every type of public school–charter, traditional, and vocational-technical–to determine where growth would be prudent and where it would be unwise.

The state expects to complete that review by the end of the year. If it meets that time-line, the state could approve new charters for the 2017-18 school year. The Delaware Department of Education has already rejected all applications for the 2016-17 school year, meaning if the strategic plan comes along as scheduled the moratorium would have no real effect on the number of charters in Delaware.

No new power for school boards

An earlier version of the bill would have empowered local school boards in Wilmington to reject or accept new charter applications. That provision was removed via an ammendment. Right now, only the charter authorizer–typically the State Board of Education–has that ability. 

Representative Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, who co-sponsored the moratorium, believes a lack of local control has spurred the rapid proliferation of school choice in Wilmington.

“Right now we are just over-saturated with everything for the city,” she said. “We have no input.” 

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained multiple errors. The bill places a moratorium on charter schools in Wilmington, not statewide as originally stated. The bill does not give local school boards the power to approve or reject charter applications in Wilmington. That provision was removed by ammendment.

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