Archive for May, 2014

Stop micro-charters now (SB 234)

May 31, 2014 14 comments

It’s nearly June and on cue there is late-breaking charter mischief afoot in the General Assembly. This year it is micro-charters. Current law says that a charter school must have at least 200 students [to open]. But a new bill, SB 234, would remove that language and allow the creation of even smaller charters (h/t Kilroy).

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Sokola and Rep. Scott, the chairs of their respective education committees, so there is going to be some muscle and political capital behind this bill. And as usual there is no public discussion on the need for this bill, and no time for parents to organize. Although interestingly, the bill has not drawn any other co-sponsors. I suspect the vote will be based simply on factional loyalties to the sponsors, rather than any real need or demand for the bill.

Why is this happening now? Where is the burning need for smaller charters? What public purpose is served?

The answer is found in the recent embarrassments the charter lobby has suffered due to several new charters failing to draw sufficient enrollment. The spectacle threatens to undermine the lobby’s contention that charters exist because they are demanded by parents. One of the underenrolled schools, Academia Antonio Alonso, plays a key role in the megacharter showcase, the Community Education Building.

According to Jennifer Nagourney, director of the Charter Schools Office in the State Department of Education, the department has three options: impose remedial measures on the schools, revoke their charters, or allow them to open as planned.

But apparently Sen. Sokola and Rep. Scott have found a fourth option: loosen the law to make the deficiencies legal.

This comes at a time when the public and legislators are becoming aware of the negative impact charters have on our district schools, by drawing away funds for key programs. Another bill (SB 209) has passed the Senate and is pending in the House, which allows the state to impose conditions on charters based on their projected impact to district schools.

So the last thing we need is to lower the bar on the creation of new charters, especially marginal charters with dubious financial viabilty, who will wreak their havoc on neighboring schools, and then likely fail and walk away from the trauma caused to their students.

Do we really want storefront charters fragmenting public education even further? We expect schools of all kinds to operate with a scale that permits organization and a reasonable economy of scale. Micro-charters will inevitably become personality-driven fiefdoms with no internal mechanics of governance (remember Pencader?). What’s next, kitchen-table charters?


No thank you, we will keep our referendums please

May 22, 2014 Comments off

I have no problem with paying school taxes; in fact there are lots of programs and enhancements I would gladly pay more taxes for. But I would like it to be subject to referendum to maintain some semblance of accountability:

State Rep. Darryl Scott, who isn’t running for re-election, says House Bill 355 will be filed next week.

The measure would revise a provision in current law that requires a school district to hold a successful public referendum before a school board may approve any tax increases to fund non-capital budget expenditures.

Under the bill, a school board could raise its local tax rate by up to 3 percent per year without a referendum. Larger increases and revenue enhancements for the purposes of funding capital projects, like new school construction, would remain subject to referenda in all cases. (from wdel)

Do… not… want.

And certainly not while local school taxes are being skimmed for charters.

Enrollment Preferences Task Force meeting tonight (Thursday May 22)

May 22, 2014 Comments off

Enrollment Preferences Task Force meeting #5 is tonight, 6:30pm @Buena Vista.The legislative web site for the task force is here.

Yes charters, that means you

May 22, 2014 1 comment

On the heels of newly clarified Federal civil rights guidelines for public school enrollment, and the Red Clay board’s task force looking into charter enrollment disparities, there is this:

Federal Civil Rights Laws Apply Equally to Charter Schools, Guidance Says

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance today clarifying that charter schools have the same obligations to abide by federal civil rights laws as regular public schools. The “Dear Colleague” letter by Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon includes specific guidance for charter schools related to admissions, students with disabilities, English-language learners, and discipline.

In addition to those areas, charter schools should ensure their policies and practices comply with all federal civil rights law, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination based on disability, Lhamon wrote.

(from Charters & Choice blog)

The full text of the guidance letter is here.

Delaware charters may feel comfortable that their civil rights obligations are satisfied by the assertion that “anybody may apply.” But the fact is, charter enrollments are heavily skewed toward whiter, richer, and non-disabled students, especially in the “top performing” charters. The guidance elaborates:

As explained in greater depth in the Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools, charter schools should consider approaches that do not rely on the race of individual students before adopting approaches that do. Race-neutral approaches can take racial impact into account to promote diversity or avoid racial isolation; examples include targeting specific media outlets in which to advertise, reaching out to particular community groups, or using lotteries that give extra weight based on the socioeconomic status of a child’s parents. If a charter school determines that race-neutral approaches would be unworkable or ineffective, it may employ generalized race-based approaches, which use race as an express criterion (such as locating a school based on the overall racial composition of neighborhoods or feeder schools) but do not ely on the race of individual students If race-neutral and generalized race-based approaches would be unworkable, a charter school may consider an individual student’s race under appropriate factual circumstances.

And, if there was ever any doubt about charters’ obligation to students with disabilities, there is this:

Free appropriate public education for students with disabilities.

Under Sect ion 504, every student with a disability enrolled in a public school, including a public charter school, must be provided a free appropriate public education – that is, regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet his or her individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Evaluation and placement procedures are among the requirements that must be followed if a student needs, or is believed to need, special education or related services due to a disability.

Go Kenny!

May 15, 2014 2 comments

From WDEL:

Red Clay’s School Board creates a new committee to investigate charter and magnet school admissions policies for possible prejudice.

Board member Kenneth Rivera, District C, introduced the topic at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“If you look at the demographics at some of the schools, it is a vast disproportionate number of students who are of low income, special ed, certain races who are not attending certain schools,” Rivera says. “So my question is, why?”

As commenter Publius often notes over at Kilroy’s, Red Clay is simply responding to demand. WDEL continues:

There’s no doubt charter and magnet schools in Red Clay School District are a popular option.

Yes, and separate drinking fountains were once a popular option in certain quarters.

But race aside,

Numbers also show 53.9 percent of kids in Red Clay are considered low-income, but 5.7 percent of Charter School of Wilmington students are low-income. […]

Rivera says action needs to be taken to ensure institutional hurdles aren’t stacking the odds against race or economic groups.

“What are the proactive measures we are taking as a district, because we do value diversity and we do value the opportunity for everyone to have an equal chance to attend these schools,” Rivera says.

But here’s a hint Kenny. Expand your horizons – resegregation isn’t just about charters, it is also about other decisions made by the Red Clay board. Take a look at feeder patterns, and the impact of “choice only” Brandywine Springs, and the fact that Red Clay doesn’t have any neighborhood secondary schools in the city.

Feds issue updated enrollment guidelines

May 9, 2014 Comments off

Delaware’s Enrollment Preferences Task Force (next meeting May 22) is currently pondering which questions may be asked on school applications (for example, before a charter lottery) and which may be asked only upon enrollment. See this post for more background.

In timely manner, yesterday the US Secretary of Education and the US Attorney General issued updated guidelines on enrollment:

Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder today announced updated guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools to ensure enrollment processes are consistent with the law and fulfill their obligation to provide all children — no matter their background — equal access to an education.

The clarified guidelines are aimed mostly at making sure undocumented children are not prevented from enrolling in public schools. But Delaware’s top performing public charters tend to have incongruously low enrollment of low-income and minority students, whether undocumented or not. Delaware’s public charter, vocational, and other choice schools would be advised to read the guidelines carefully and review their supplemental application materials.

The English guidance documents:

The Spanish-language guidance documents:

For example:

Q-8. How can a school district distinguish between (a) information that it should or must collect, and (b) information that it may not collect because doing so may discourage enrollment or attendance?

A-8. There is typically only minimal information that a district is required to collect under state law for a student to be able to enroll, such as proof of age, immunization history, and residency within the district. Both the state and the district must act in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and valid Federal or state laws, including their obligations not to discriminate, or implement policies that have the effect of discriminating, on the basis of race, color, or national origin. In doing so, states and districts should also assess their current policies to determine whether they are doing anything that may have the effect, albeit unintended, of discouraging the enrollment of undocumented children, such as asking for immigration papers or social security numbers, or requiring a driver’s license or state-issued identification from a parent. Such practices and policies,once identified, should be changed to eliminate any possible chilling effect on enrollment.

This echoes the guidance from the Delaware Attorney General’s office:

While it may be advisable as the best practice for an RLEA to have a two step process separating admission and enrollment information, it is not legally mandated. Each RLEA has the legal responsibility to ensure that they are complying with state and federal law and in doing so they should review their application process and practices carefully to make sure they are consistent with the law and do not have a chilling effect on the enrollment. (emphasis mine)

Also from the new Federal guidelines, note that while districts may collect social security numbers, it may NOT deny enrollment if the number is not provided (so what exactly do schools use Social Security numbers for anyway? Why have them on an application at all?)

A school district that opts to request social security numbers should make clear in all enrollment and registration documents, including forms, websites, and communications with parents, that the provision of the child’s social security number is voluntary, and that choosing not to provide a social security number will not bar a child’s enrollment. […] Similarly, a school district cannot deny a student enrollment if his or her parent chooses not to provide his or her own social security number.

Red Clay CLOSED today due to flooding of bus yards

May 1, 2014 2 comments

At least it’s not snowing. Happy day off, kids! Be careful out there, and stay out of the water.

From the Red Clay website:

Due to heaving rains, bus yards of Red Clay Transportation Contractors are flooded. Without the ability to transport students, Red Clay Schools will be closed today. All teachers and staff members are to report as scheduled.

Those “heaving rains” are the worst kind!