Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Charter Regulation Needed

DSEA is likely to be back this year with legislation on regulation of charter schools. For 13 years charters have had an unregulated market in Delaware. In spite of receiving public money, the schools are immune from public scrutiny or governance.

If DSEA charter legislation returns this year, look for it to contain the following goals:

1. Only the Delaware Department of Education and the State Board of Education will have the authority to grant new charters.
This should perhaps be named the Red Clay clause. Under the previous board and superintendent, Red Clay sponsored charters. Moreover, Red Clay promoted and advocated for charters. Sometimes this was at the expense of Red Clay schools. For example, Charter School of Wilmington shares building space with Red Clay's own Cab Caloway. While Cab lacks the space to guarantee that their own middle school students will matriculate into the high school, Charter elbows for room while paying a whole one dollar of rent per year to the district.

2. A more thoughtful process for charter school authorization.
The state DOE and Board of Education would have to take an affirmative vote every year to allow charter applications for that year. The state would have to balance the best interests of the charter against the best interests of the community and the community's public schools. DOE would be charged with researching and writing an impact statement that looks at the proposed charter's effect on enrollment and finance of area public schools, demographics of children in the county, extent of redundancy of programs offered by the charter, and the affected districts' superintendents would have to file an opinion letter giving their impressions.

3. Added transparency of charter school information.
The DOE would need to post information about charters on their web site including, applications for new charters and the DOE decisions about those applications, all IRS 990 forms, and all charter school audits.

4. Regulated conduit bond funding for charter schools.
Community public schools have to bring proposals for needed construction and renovation money before the public in the referendum. Charter schools gain capital financing through issuing bonds in a process called "conduit bond funding". Once again, this has been unregulated. Capital financing should only come through the state, not some other public entity. Conduit bond financing should only be available for established charters after their first renewal, provided they are not on probation. There should be a Certificate of Need process in which again the opinion of superintendents in impacted districts will be solicited. The state Office of Management and Budget would do a financial review of the charter to determine fiscal stability.

Not one of these four goals is extreme. Not one of these goals if made into law will endanger established, effective charters.

The public is spending tax dollars on charter schools; dollars that would be going to community public schools. Thus, the public has the right to regulate and monitor charter schools.

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