Many parents in Delaware are unaware that this is an option for their children.
By Dr. Tanya Hettler, Ph.D., Director
Center for Educational Excellence, Caesar Rodney Institute
November 18, 2022
A January 2022 national survey conducted by National School Choice found that nearly 70% of parents support school choice (31% “strongly support and 38% “somewhat support”). These parents also said they have considered sending one of their children to a new or different school. Options abound nationwide including school choice vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, and charter schools.
While “school choice” has become a hot topic across the country, many parents in Delaware are unaware that “school choice” is an option here.
DELAWARE ‘SCHOOL CHOICE’ PROGRAM
The 2022 open enrollment School Choice dates are November 7, 2022 through January 11, 2023. During this time, Delaware parents can apply to have their child attend a new school – either within the same school district, another district, or a charter school. Parents can access the online application and instructions by visiting SchoolChoiceDE.org.
The board of every school district and every charter school has until November 30th to notify the Delaware Department of Education of its capacity to accept new students. Parents can find this information by visiting https://www.schoolchoicede.org/.
Each district and each charter is required, no later than October 31st, to hold at least one public information session about choice opportunities for the coming year. Unfortunately, these sessions are frequently not well advertised, and parents are often unaware of them.
Parents are responsible for transporting their children directly to their “choice” school or taking them to the nearest bus stop location. Transportation has been an obstacle that caused many parents not to take advantage of the school choice program. Low-income families could find this a hardship because they may not own a car or have a flexible work schedule.
Currently, to assist in transportation to school, the state of Delaware allows middle and high school students to obtain a free DART bus pass for transport to their school. However, with the DART bus system, all the routes end up in the city of Wilmington and do not take the students directly to their schools. Students often must take two buses before arriving at school, which is frequently not a practical option.
The free DART bus pass is available to all students in the state, not just those attending a district or charter school. The bus pass may also be used to transport a student to a Catholic or private school. In fact, some students who live in Dover take DART to attend a Catholic school in North Wilmington. This is a two-hour ride and requires a bus change in Wilmington, but the families and students have decided that the long commute is worth it.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE DELAWARE’S SCHOOL CHOICE PROGRAM
- Provide Transportation: The Delaware School Choice program should include transportation costs for the student to attend their “choice” school or at least cover the transportation costs to be transported to the nearest bus stop, as was the law in the past. Doing this would make the program much more feasible and equitable for low-income families.
If the state doesn’t have a budget for transportation, another option would be to have one of the non-profits in the state whose goal is to improve the education system provide transportation to students participating in school choice.
- User-friendly Webpage: One of the most crucial aspects of a School Choice program is providing parents with information about how various schools perform on standardized tests. It is essential to provide an easy-to-use website where parents can find the test scores for the district and charter schools their child is considering.
U.S. News and World Report has a website that ranks the various high schools in Delaware, but it is not based solely on the statewide Smarter Balanced test. Instead, it includes information on how many students take or pass AP or IB tests and how many students graduate. The site also doesn’t include elementary and middle schools. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/delaware
The Delaware Department of Education’s website currently provides access to the test results of the statewide Smarter Balanced assessment for each school; however, it is not user-friendly for parents to view (broken down by topic, grade, race, sex, and special needs). There is no place where a parent can easily see a school’s overall performance in math or reading. Without this information, they cannot decide which school is best for their child.
- Improve Awareness for School Choice: Finally, information on the procedures required to participate in school choice should be publicized on the websites of the school districts and the Delaware Department of Education, as well as through phone calls and emails to parents within a district. Public service announcements on local radio stations or information provided through newspaper and newsletter articles like this one should inform families of the school choice option and the timetable involved.
|Author’s Notes:Before applying for school choice, a student must be registered in their feeder school. To find your feeder school, go to https://arcgis.doe.k12.de.us/school_locator/ To find out the availability of public or charter schools near you, go to: https://www.schoolchoicede.org/ChoiceApplications.aspx|