Delaware Updates Charter School Law, Tightens Teacher Preparation Standards
Charter schools in Delaware will have a more flexible renewal process and expanded access to funding as well as tighter screening for start-ups and requirements for board training and provision of school lunch, according to a new charter school law. In separate June 2013 acts, the state amended its laws regarding teacher preparation programs and school choice.
For example, the law provides for successive 5-year charter renewals, but allows for charter schools with an “outstanding record of performance” to be renewed for 10 years. The law also calls for enforcement of consistent expectations for charter schools and requires plans to ensure the effectiveness of board members of charter school applicants, including governance trainings.
The law also states that charter schools will have the same access to conduit bond financing as any other non-profit organization, and that charter schools will seek financing through state issuers unless better terms are available elsewhere.
A “Charter School Performance Fund”, which is not to exceed $5 million annually, is established by the law to support schools, with applicants prioritized by the Department of Education. The law revises the terms for evaluating a charter school’s local impact, stating that an authorizer “may exercise its reasonable discretion in determining whether the proposed new school or expansion is contrary to the best interest of the community to be served, including both those students likely to attend the charter school and those likely to attend traditional public schools in the community.” Under the law, information about community impact can’t be the sole basis for disapproval of a new charter school or expansion. The law also requires provision of free or reduced cost breakfast or lunch to eligible students.
Before an authorizer decides to close a school, according to the law, an authorizer must have a plan to ensure an orderly transition of students to new schools and disposal of property. The law sets priorities for settling accounts in case of closure, with all cash held by the school first going to satisfy outstanding payroll obligations for employees. If the school files for bankruptcy, the court will manage the distribution of all assets.
Under the law addressing educator preparation, requirements include that no educator preparation program in the state will be able to operate without first getting the assent of the Department and programs will be required to have minimum standards for applicants. For example, applicants will have to have a grade point average of at least 3.0 or a grade point average in the top 50th percentile for the most recent two-year period, although the requirement can be waived for up to 10 percent of students admitted, according to the law.
The law also requires preparation programs to include a “clinical residency component” that includes 10 weeks of full-time student teaching and that preparation programs will collaborate with the Department to collect and make available to the public data on the effectiveness of program graduates who are employed in the state.
Under the choice law, changes include that local education agencies will be required to accept standardized enrollment application forms provided by the Department, and districts will be required to hold public informational meetings about school choices.