Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote about the House Republican agenda for 2014, which included a passing reference on expanding access to charter schools. Note to Mr. Cantor: you should meet my hair stylist here in Wilmington. Not for a haircut (though her skills are excellent), but because she’s a great example of the impact of charter schools on a family.
Earlier this month she received news that her young daughter was accepted into the Odyssey Charter Lower School of Wilmington. She was thrilled and rightly so; there were 300 applicants for 20 slots.
When she first told me that she had put her daughter (let’s call her Emily) into the Odyssey lottery, I was a bit surprised. Odyssey, as the name indicates, was begun by the Wilmington area’s Greek-American communities, and it includes language classes in Greek. My stylist and her husband are blue-collar folks, never went to college, and have no Greek ancestry.
I asked my stylist, “You know they teach Greek there?” Her response: “It’s a great school, and that’s what matters most to me.”
Why does that matter most? Because she and her husband want Emily to have more opportunities and a better life. This is the bedrock of the American Dream.
Currently, Delaware has 22 operating charter schools with more on the way. This is impressive for a little state that has twice as many U.S. Senators than Congressmen (do the math) and one area code (302).
Many of these charter schools, like Odyssey, have a certain specialty. One of the most popular charter high schools is the Delaware Military Academy, an all-Navy Junior ROTC institution located in northern Delaware. An impressive 97 percent of their graduates go on to higher education and receive $5 million in scholarships annually.
DMA is so popular that a similar charter JROTC high school is in the works to serve students in the central and southern regions of the state.
Another suggestion for Mr. Cantor: how about encouraging land-grant universities (where the federal government already has an extensive role) to establish charter schools? Delaware’s got one: it’s the Early College High School at Delaware State University – an historically black land-grant institution.
Here’s one more: increase the number of charter schools operating on or near U.S. military bases. A few bases already have charter schools on site, or a public charter that has seats reserved for military families. The House Republican goal should be that all bases with military family housing have a charter school on site or one nearby with special access for children living on base.
Returning to the Delaware experience, if I’ve led you to think it’s easy to open a charter school here, you’d be wrong. While Delaware is more open than many states to the charter concept (even though it’s mostly a blue state), raising money to open a school and dealing with the state and county educational bureaucracies is a challenge.