Analysis – House passes bill that nixes 5-mile limit for Newark Charter

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A bill eliminating the controversial five-mile boundary for Newark Charter and other schools passed the Delaware House.

The vote was 22-16. Republicans and some moderate Democrats voted to keep the boundary, with progressive Democrats pushing for a change.

The boundary has long drawn fire from parents in Bear-Glasgow and other areas, who say the five miles exclude more diverse communities outside the line. Also, the radius is not a true circle since the charter school’s location is near the Maryland border and excludes lower-income students on the other side of the line.

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Any Delaware student can apply for Newark Charter, but a long-waiting list makes getting in a longshot, even for those within the five-mile area. Siblings of students getting preference also limit openings. A lottery is held for the remaining slots.

The school has also been criticized for allegedly “skimming the cream” of top students in the Christina School District and becoming, in essence, a taxpayer-funded private school that now offers grades K through 12. Supporters defend the boundary, claiming the racial makeup reflects the composition of the surrounding community and is not an example of what critics see as de facto segregation.

The school does enjoy strong community support and is viewed as a drawing card for those thinking about relocating in and around Newark.

Charter school operators have flocked to the Christina District, home of Newark Charter, which has seen shrinking enrollment.

The public district has been starved for funds for school maintenance and new buildings due mainly to a state aid formula that pays a set amount per student and favors fast-growing districts.

Christina property owners have seen rising taxes to pay for operating expenses, thanks to a successful referendum.

The district has also suffered from a revolving door of superintendents, including a couple who left the district with financial issues. In the past few years, there has been more stability at the top post.

Newark Charter is one of the most successful charter schools, with the ability to raise funds for expansion. However, it has stopped short of replicating its success with a school in an area with a larger minority population.

The bill is sponsored by John Kowalko, D-Newark, a longtime progressive critic of the five-mile limit.

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