I excerpted for actual comment and submitted this in whole. I am hopeful that charter advocates will respect a different view. DE has several high performing charters and NCS is the best of DE charters. My concern is an honest one, and it’s with the law, not the school.
Before I begin I would like to formally suggest that I believe that the DOE is clearly an agency as defined in Delaware’s Administrative Procedures Act as it clearly issues licenses and that law explicitly lists the function of licensing as a singular qualifier for the title of agency in that act. As such I believe that this meeting and all meeting hosted by the DOE and ad hoc committees of the DOE, even if part of a process that requires State Board assent, are subject to the rules in that act including meeting notice rules, agenda rules, minutes rules, and venue rules.
I now want to thank the DOE for having us all here today. Public education is a sacred public trust and I am heartened by the turnout here today. First let me say that my name is John Young and I am an elected member of the Christina School Board. I am here today to submit my concerns regarding the charter law in Delaware and to speak through this meeting to the Secretary, in hopes of offering information for her consideration of recommending charter school applications pursuant to those laws, and to the State Board of Education, an appointed body charged with approving charter schools that apply through the State pursuant to those laws.
I happen to think that everyone here in this room is actually on the same side: a great education for our children. We merely differ on the mechanism best suited to making that goal attainable for every single child in Delaware. I have deep and abiding concerns that the series of laws passed that result in Delaware Title 14 section 5 are not in the best interests of the state. In short there are flaws in those laws. For example, the allowance of special interests, radii, sibling preference are not applicable to traditional public schools along with flexible spending and are helping to systemically create schools that appear to have full access when in reality access is not equitable. For example, tax dollars collected in my district, from parents of children living outside an arbitrary 5 mile radius in one case before the board next week for a vote which includes parents of children living in Wilmington are pooled into our local funds. These funds are then subject to a formula that sends those funds to charters when our students choose to attend. This is a burden on the fiscal stability of CSD as indicated in our impact study submitted today and represents a taxation of residents who are, by a definition that is allowed in Delaware Charter law, not permitted to apply nor attend that school. Something about that just doesn’t seem fair to me.
As a Board member, I am acutely aware of board functions: policy making is primary, but we also take on a quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial role that is recognized by courts and the state. Our State Board of Education approves regulations taking the force of law and makes case rulings not unlike the one before them next week on charter applications. I believe that it is the exclusive province of each and every board member on the State BOE to make a fully independent decision about a charter school that results in a functional interpretation of Delaware’s charter law. That’s what courts do, and that’s what the state Board of Education can and I believe should do. They must apply logic, fairness and reason. The must determine not only does a charter application comply with the letter of the law, but also its spirit and intent. The core of the law was written in 1995 under an active Federal Desegregation order, that order was later vacated. Subsequently, neighborhood schools became the law in Delaware and No Child Left Behind in the nation. Childhood poverty was well below 25% in 1995, now, the district I help to govern and which feeds over 96% of NCS’ students is over 50% poverty. The landscape has changed. A decade and a half has passed. Unintended consequences have occurred. The pernicious process of labeling schools under NCLB has destabilized the state of public school education in ways that were perhaps unimaginable prior to that law. Instead of the kids sometimes behaving badly now the adults are the ones doing so: we now force restructuring on schools based on test scores, abandon rich and demanding whole child curricula in favor of almost exclusive favor of ELA and Math, we deploy teacher accountability systems that have no basis in research, all in the name of accountability. We too often leave out consideration for stability, training, leadership and parental engagement as demanded by the same Title 1 funds we so callously deploy to disrupt the lives of those we purport to value. The changes in the collective landscape have been staggering and have exposed Title 14 chapter 5 to a stark reality: it is outdated, overreaching and overexposing the children of Delaware to vast landscape of haves, have mores and have not’s. This nation fought two bloody wars to throw off the social classicism of Monarchy. I submit that we are headed back there and that our charter law is responsible in a significant way.
The State Board, absent legislative intervention, must apply the law in a manner that ensures its intent is met. That may mean different decisions based on the letter of the law due to the shifting of Delaware’s socio-political and socio-economic realities in the 17 years that have passed since the law was made.
Our own Governor has seen the light of these social changes too. While campaigning in 2008, he remarked at a DSEA sponsored debate:
“Well, we know a lot more that we did 13 years ago. We know about some of the successes, but we also know about some of the big problems: re segregation, the skimming of students, the creaming of students…it’s a big issue and for me a matter of major concern…..some people tend to believe that any charter school that wants to be created, ought to be created as a matter of right, I think we’re past that…we have to understand the effect that charters schools are having not just on the students at the charter schools, but the effect they are having on students in every school”
All I am asking is for the State Board to accept its own mission statement next Thursday and at every subsequent meeting as it decides on charter applications that will affect the future of Delaware public schools, not just any one school’s students, but for all of Delaware’s students:
“The Delaware State Board of Education will provide the breadth of viewpoint and continuity of purpose of an independent citizen’s board and will work with the General Assembly, the Department of Education, school districts, families and the community to create a world class education system that provides educational excellence and equity for every student.”
Some charters have created islands of excellence that are renowned for outstanding results for the students it serves. These schools are each a critical organ in the overall system, but just like a human body, the organs must work in a complementary and symbiotic fashion in order for the whole body to be healthy. The State Board serves as the brain of that body, regulating its health. Clearly, the State Board’s mission is Delaware’s kids, every last one of them. I implore you to be as independent as your mission statement compels you to be, as independent as your mission statement asks you to be, and as insulated from political influence as your mission demands you to be. I ask you to consider if you have reached out to the constituencies outlined in your own mission statement in a meaningful way and if no, then seek to do that before you cast your vote, even if that means delay.
I am confident that if you can do that, honestly and in consideration of all the facts presented by those here today who ardently support the charter law and those that fear its effects on the students outside that system that your decision will be the best for Delaware.
I wish you luck and peace in what will assuredly be as significant a vote as you will ever cast from those seven seats dedicated to the most sacred of public trusts: the public education of our children. Thank You.