House Passes Legislation Overhauling 18-Year-Old Charter School Law

HB 165 would update charter school law to strengthen charter school accountability and support, reflects collaboration from stakeholders

DOVER – Legislation aimed at improving the law governing Delaware charter schools cleared the House Tuesday, representing the first major overhaul to the charter school system since its creation 18 years ago.

Rep. Earl Jaques, the lead sponsor of House Bill 165, said that updating the state’s charter school law has been something he has been involved in for three years, including drafting a bill last legislative session addressing charters. Rep. Jaques said he is confident HB 165, which incorporates some of those earlier ideas, will provide much-needed improvements to Delaware’s charter school law and he is proud of the collaboration among interested parties.

“This bill has been a long time coming and is long overdue. I am very excited about the progress we have made,” said Rep. Jaques, D-Glasgow. “There are numerous areas of the charter school law that needed updating, and many of the changes we are making will help Delaware students. I know there are conflicting views about the legislation, but when you look at the content of the bill, you will see a lot of positive steps forward, such as providing breakfast and lunch to eligible students and improved pre-screening and increased expectations and controls to ensure that charters succeed.

“This bill is by no means perfect, but if all interested parties dug their heels in and held out for 100 percent of what they wanted, nothing would have gotten done. This bill is a great example of compromise, shown by the support we have received from different education groups, who all want to see our children succeed.”

House Bill 165, which passed the House 31-9, updates the charter school law to better hold charter schools accountable while strengthening the state’s support for charter schools. The legislation would make it more difficult for low-performing charter schools to exist in Delaware, while providing more flexibility and support to high-performing charter schools, especially those serving the state’s highest-need students. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Raise the bar for starting charter schools with a pre-screening process, applicant interviews and additional opportunities to use public input regarding the impact of new and expanded charter schools;
  • Increase charter flexibility and support, with 10-year terms for high-performing charters, more timely allocation of funding, clear allowance of conduit financing and equalized minor capital funding;
  • Create a charter school performance fund for high-performing charters, particularly those looking to expand the number of high-need students they serve;
  • Set and enforce consistent expectations for charter schools, with authorizer-charter agreements, required board member training, required provision of lunch to eligible students, clear closure protocols and a revised renewal process aligned to the charter performance frameworks.

A group of education stakeholders, which included members from Delaware State Education Association, the State Board of Education, Charter School Network, Parent Teacher Association and Delaware School Boards Association, met for several months to identify possible opportunities to improve the Delaware charter school landscape, based on research from within and outside of Delaware. Rep. Jaques was invited to participate due to his efforts to overhaul the charter school law.

The opportunities discussed during the meetings were shared at a public meeting in February, after which the legislators worked with parties involved in Delaware charter schools to craft a bill they all found suitable. Key stakeholders, including the Charter Schools Network and the Delaware State Education Association, fully support the legislation. During a House Education Committee hearing on the bill last week, DSEA noted that the measure advances impact studies and authorizer discretion, two issues DSEA advocated for years. 

HB 165 now heads to the Senate for consideration.