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

DOVER – Rep. Earl Jaques introduced legislation Thursday to improve the law governing Delaware charter schools, the first major overhaul to the charter school system since its creation 18 years ago.

The bill reflects input from education stakeholder groups as well as research on effective charter practices across the country and would make improvements to Delaware’s charter school law. Rep. Jaques said he is confident the legislation will provide much-needed improvements to Delaware’s charter school law and he is proud of the collaboration among interested parties.

“I am very excited about the progress we have made. I won’t claim this bill is perfect, but I know these changes will help Delaware students,” said Rep. Jaques, D-Glasgow. “In particular, I think the provision of lunch to eligible students and the financial support we will provide to charter schools are especially noteworthy. 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 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.

Rep. Darryl Scott, who helped shape the legislation with Rep. Jaques and the other stakeholders, said the legislation demonstrates the kinds of accomplishments that can be achieved when groups are willing to compromise to improve Delaware’s laws and practices.

“I was pleased to work with a comprehensive group of stakeholders to find common ground on this important legislation,” said Rep. Scott, D-Dover, who chairs the House Education Committee. “Charter schools are a useful and growing element of our state’s educational system and this legislation seeks to strengthen the standards for charter schools while improving transparency for students and parents. Our hope is the new fund for high-performing charter schools will serve as a breeding ground for innovative ideas that can be applied to all of our public schools.”

A group of education stakeholders met for several months to identify possible opportunities to improve the Delaware charter school landscape, based on research from within and outside of Delaware. Those opportunities 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.

The reforms contained in HB 165 represent some of the most major changes to the state’s administration of charter schools since Delaware’s charter school system was established in 1995. Sen. David Sokola, the lead Senate sponsor of both the Charter School Act of 1995 and HB 165, said Delaware’s charter school system is due for an upgrade.

“When we passed the charter school law, we knew we’d have to work to keep it up-to-date,” said Sen. Sokola, D-Newark, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “Since then, we’ve done a lot of fine-tuning, but we haven’t done a major overhaul of the law until now. This is probably overdue and, I think, it does a good job of increasing accountability for existing charters and raising standards for new charters, giving us one of the nation’s best charter school laws.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee and will be heard in committee on Wednesday afternoon.