Gov. Carney vetoes bill eliminating 5-mile radius for charter schools
Gov. John Carney has vetoed a bill that would have removed the 5-mile radius as an enrollment preference for Delaware charter schools. The schools would have had the option to instead give priority to students who live in the contiguous portion of the school district in which they’re located, but according to Carney, that’s not fair for Wilmington students in the Christina School District.
Christina is the only school district in the state that is split up over two separate geographical areas. Under the bill, Newark Charter School, which boasts a waiting list of 3,000, could still give preference to students in the Newark part of the district, but applicants living in the Wilmington section wouldn’t have the same advantage.
Because of the perceived exclusion, Carney vetoed the bill July 20.
“I believe that the sponsors of HS 1 for HB 85 wanted to expand options for students and increase diversity at Delaware charter schools by eliminating the fivemile radius as an enrollment preference. These are goals that I share,” Carney said in a statement. “Despite those efforts, this legislation unfairly excludes some of our most vulnerable students. It does not simply remove the fivemile radius preference. The legislation creates a new standard that uniquely limits options for at-risk students in the Christina School District portion of the city of Wilmington – many of the kids who need our help the most – and that is something I cannot support.”
State Rep. Kim Williams, who wrote the bill and sponsored it in the House, said she wasn’t surprised Carney vetoed the bill, but it was never her intention to exclude Wilmington students. She said her original bill was meant to open charter school enrollment to all students who live within a school district – geographically contiguous or not – because the 5-mile radius is not fair.
“If we’re talking about Newark Charter School, Christina taxpayers pay for that school, but not all taxpayers have access to that school,” she said.
In order to get the bill in front of the governor, Williams needed a Senate sponsor, so she reached out to Sen. Dave Sokola for support. Williams said Sokola was the one who added the stipulation that charter schools could still prioritize students who live in parts of a school district “geographically contiguous” to them, meaning in the immediate area.
She said Sokola believes charter school are neighborhood schools and removing the geographic preference would defeat that purpose. She said she decided to compromise to move the bill along.
“For me, I had to say to myself, ‘Do I want to take one step forward or take no steps at all?’ and I decided to move forward,” Williams said.
State law gives charter schools the option of several kinds of enrollment preferences. Newark Charter gives preference to students who live within 5 miles of the school. After that, a random lottery is used.
While any student in the state can apply, more students from within the radius apply than the school has room for, meaning other students don’t get a chance to compete for a seat.
“They’re not forbidden from applying but they are, in effect, excluded from having any chance of being selected,” state Rep. Paul Baumbach, a co-sponsor of the bill, noted.
Earlier this year, Newark Charter Director Greg Meece defended the 5-mile radius.
“The problem is supply and demand,” he said, noting the school receives 3,200 applications for less than 200 seats each year. “Ninety percent of those who live in Newark and the surrounding community don’t get in, and many of them consider that unfair, too.”
He said the preference is no different than Christina’s school choice policy, which gives preference to students residing in a school’s feeder pattern.
Baumbach said he hopes Carney’s veto is a wakeup call.
“The bill and the governor’s veto just highlights the challenges we have ahead of us and we have problems that our implementation of the charter schools have accompanied and we have not succeeded in addressing those problems,” he said.
As for Williams, she plans to try again. She said she will introduce another bill in January that only eliminates the 5-mile radius.
“I’m going to do it the way I originally wanted,” she said.
Newark Charter School would have been affected by a vetoed bill to change charter school admissions preferences.