Charter School Progress Halted by Delaware Legislature

Published September 1, 2008

The Delaware Legislature has put the brakes on charter school growth in the state by passing a joint resolution to place a one-year moratorium on charter school applications. The only exception is for four schools already in various stages of development.

Supporters of the moratorium, passed in June, say its purpose is to allow time for reflection and discussion of current charter school laws. School choice experts say it will undermine Delaware’s standing as a leader in charter school development and quality.

“The teachers-union-supported legislature said accountability issues were the reasoning behind the moratorium and that they wanted to take a year to assess charter schools in Delaware before approving any new ones,” explained Kara Hornung, director of external affairs for the Center for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group based in Maryland.

“But with only 19 schools, there is not that much to look over,” Hornung continued. “It’s really an effort to roll back charter schools in Delaware. We rank every charter school law in the country, and Delaware was considered the seventh-strongest in the nation, so it received an ‘A.’ That will change next year because of the moratorium.”

Holding Pattern

The moratorium’s status as a joint resolution may mean the ban expires sooner than the one year for which the legislation called. Resolutions last only as long as the legislative session in which they are approved, so this resolution is executable only until January 2009 at the latest. Some charter school supporters say that may have had a lot to do with the resolution’s success.

“The real intent was to slow down the legislative process regarding modifying the charter school laws in Delaware,” said Gregory Meece, president of the board of directors of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, a Wilmington-based organization focused on improving charter school growth statewide.

“There were opposing forces putting pressure on the legislature, and [lawmakers] preferred to wait until some sort of compromise is worked out between the parties,” Meece continued. “They also want to wait for new leadership to send a signal as to what direction to go in. It makes a little bit of sense from that standpoint.”

Continuing Challenges

Although charter schools are seeing growth, experts say decisions such as the Delaware moratorium highlight the challenges school choice supporters continue to face.

“The movement is growing. With over 4,200 charter schools serving 1.5 million children [nationwide], you can see there has been incredible growth,” said Hornung. “But there is still much more to be done. Ten states do not have charter school laws, and other states have laws that are not even worth looking at.

“Reformers need to step it up a notch and realize that although we have some laws and are making gains, we can never get too comfortable with the status quo. We have to keep fighting for better educational options,” Hornung said.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.