Governor Jack Markell signed into law today a bill that will strengthen education for Delaware children by increasing accountability and improving oversight of charter schools.
"Charter schools complement the work of our traditional public schools, bringing flexibility and creativity that can be a good fit for many students and teachers," said Markell. "Charter schools empower parents to choose the school that best fits their child's needs. But the promise of charter schools is not just added flexibility -- it is added flexibility coupled with heightened accountability."
The Markell administration worked closely with legislators, charter schools, and the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) to pass House Bill 205. The law is designed to better ensure that individuals requesting a charter are qualified to govern a school by requiring criminal background checks and disclosure of financial interests in the school.
The new law also requires that charter schools share more information about their fiscal health throughout the year and changes the way that state funding is disbursed to new charter schools to bring financial challenges to light earlier.
"This law will help the state give stronger options, support and oversight to ensure our charter schools provide children the education they deserve and taxpayers the accountability they deserve," said Dr. Lillian Lowery, Delaware's Secretary of Education.
image: Governor Markell
Moving forward, the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will have greater authority to intervene once a problem is identified. If a charter school is on formal review, a Financial Recovery Team may be appointed to examine the school's finances, provide information to parents and teachers, and make certain financial decisions.
An improved timeline for charter renewals will allow parents and teachers to know earlier if a charter will not be renewed, enabling parents to apply to another school through the state's school choice program. In the case that a charter school is slated for closure, the new law shortens the timeframe for a high-performing charter school to obtain a charter to serve those students.
"This makes some important changes, both in terms of imposing greater accountability on charter schools and giving parents time to meet their children's educational needs if a charter should fail," said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, who sponsored the state's original charter school law. "But these are evolutionary changes that build on what we've learned about charters that allow us to build an even stronger charter school program."
Representative Terry Schooley, who sponsored HB 205, noted that there have been some ups and downs through the years with charter schools, but they have had several successes in educating children.
"This bill is a good first step at addressing some of the issues which have come to light -- like financial oversight, criminal background checks and better timelines for both the schools and DOE to make sure the issues are resolved," said Rep. Schooley, D-Newark. "In the end, when charter schools fail, kids fail. That's not what we want. All kids deserve the opportunity to excel in school."
DSEA President-Elect Frederica Jenner commented, "DSEA was pleased to have been a part of crafting this important bill. No one wants any school to struggle or fail. We want a great school experience for every child and for all of our families. Great schools make great communities for all of us. Accountability is one part of the picture; setting the stage for successful community public schools as well as charter schools should be everyone's concern."