HB 90 would standardize school choice process and make it more accessible

DOVER – Legislation providing the first substantive update to Delaware’s school choice program in 15 years unanimously passed the House of Representatives Tuesday. The bill, introduced by Rep. Kimberly Williams would standardize the process and help parents better understand and navigate the system.

The school choice program enables students to attend a school different from their feeder school, whether it is a charter school, a vocational technical school, a different school in the same district or a school in a different district. Currently, Delaware school districts set their own school choice parameters with different criteria and forms for interested students and parents.

A former Red Clay Consolidated School District board member, Rep. Williams said it is important that school districts provide school choice for students, but she knows the process of applying to attend a different school is confusing and challenging.

“I have been incredibly involved in public education in my community as a local PTA president and a school board member, and I constantly hear from parents that this continues to be a very serious issue in Delaware,” said Rep. Williams, D-Stanton. “The system in place now is just so overwhelming and confusing. What you have is each district establishing its own set of criteria, with its own application forms altogether. Not only does this measure make the process easier, it makes it fair. All students deserve a level playing field in the choice system.”

House Bill 90 would create a uniform system across the state and would make the process easier for parents to navigate by:

  • ·         Standardizing application forms and deadlines across traditional, vocational technical and charter schools;
  • ·         Creating the option for parents to submit information through the Department of Education website and requiring districts to hold public information sessions;
  • ·         Eliminating discrimination against choice students by requiring districts to use the same standards for choice students as they do for students in their attendance zone;
  • ·         Eliminating discrimination against students with special educational needs;
  • ·         Specifying the criteria that may be used in reporting capacity and requiring districts to accept choice students until they are at 85 percent of capacity;
  • ·         Creating a task force to explore enrollment preferences at magnet, vocational technical and charter schools and developing recommendations as necessary.

In his 2013 State of the State, Governor Jack Markell said the application process for choice and charter schools has become too burdensome and complicated, with multiple applications and numerous deadlines. In the speech, he said, “Just as we need high-quality career choices for our teachers, we need high-quality school choices for our families. The application process for choice and charter schools has become too burdensome and complicated. I talk to parents with children in multiple schools and they look forward to school choice and charter applications with the same enthusiasm that they have for tax season.”

Currently, one out of four Delaware students utilizes some form of school choice. Approximately ten percent choose schools in their current district, eight percent choose charter schools, five percent choose vocational technical schools and four percent choose schools in different districts.

 Under the bill, the task force, which would include legislators, school administrators, district superintendents, teachers and parents, would be required to issue a final report to the General Assembly by January 31, 2014.

 Rep. Williams worked with her local school district, Red Clay Consolidated, to ensure the new process would align with districts’ established programs.

 HB 90 now goes to the Senate for consideration.