One Delaware charter will close at school year's end, a second will live at least another year, and a third could be in big trouble due to financial malfeasance.
That was the takeaway from Thursday's eventful state board of education meeting.
The school slated to close is Reach Academy for Girls. Secretary of Education Mark Murphy decided not to renew the school's charter for the second time in as many years. In January, Reach received a one-year reprieve from a federal judge after the all-girl school argued it would be discriminatory to shut them down while an all-boys academy remained open.
With that year long injunction running out, Murphy said the New Castle County school hadn't made enough academic progress to merit a charter renewal.
"While the school saw nominal gains last school year, Reach Academy remains near the bottom of traditional district and charter schools in regards to student achievement," Murphy said.
The state decided earlier this year to revoke the charter of Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute, meaning there are now two Delaware charters scheduled to close at school year's end.
For a time, it appeared that number might be three. In November, the state's Charter School Accountability Committee recommended the state shutter Gateway Lab School, a Wilmington-based school that focuses on students with special needs.
Murphy acknowledged that the school hadn't met academic benchmarks, but said it should be evaluated under an alternative framework for one year due to its extraordinary student population. The state board of education upheld his recommendation of renewal by a 4-3 margin.
Board of education president Teri Quinn Gray was among the dissenters. She argued that, by any standard, Gateway's academics hadn't made big enough gains. "You see really no growth, no progress, in the proficiency rate," Gray said.
Gateway received thunderous community support in the lead up to Thursday's decision, including letters of approval from Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn and more than 20 other politicians.
The shock of the afternoon came when Murphy opted to delay a renewal decision for Family Foundations Academy, a charter school in New Castle. The Charter School Accountability Committee recommended the state renew Family Foundations' charter. The commitee's review included uniformly high marks for financial performance.
But that report, Murphy said, was conducted before the state learned of "potentially serious allegations of financial mismanagement." The state said it could not rule yet on Family Foundations' charter because it received a more-than 200-page audit on the school's finances just yesterday. The decision will have to come quickly, though. Delaware's school choice application deadline is on January 14, and if the state decides not to renew Family Foundations, the school's students will need time to pick new homes.
Earlier this week, multiple bloggers reported on a shorter version of the Family Foundations audit that had been made public. The more extensive audit, however, is said to contain further details on how school personnel used a state credit card.
The state has never closed multiple charters in one year, and closed just five total during the first 19 years of Delaware's charter law. There has, however, been a renewed focus on charter accountability starting with the implementation of a new charter school accountability system in 2012.