Gov. Car­ney ve­toes bill elim­i­nat­ing 5-mile ra­dius for char­ter schools

Newark Post - - LOCAL NEWS - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­

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.

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