School choice applications for Delaware's public schools close next Wednesday, Jan. 11.

School choice applications close Jan. 11

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

School choice applications for Delaware's public schools close next Wednesday, Jan. 11.

School choice applications for Delaware’s public schools close next Wednesday, Jan. 11.

Delaware’s school choice application period is closing Wednesday, Jan. 11.

That means families who want to send their children to a school outside of their regular feeder pattern for the 2023-24 school year only have a few days left to submit their paperwork.

The good news: It’s mostly online. 

The First State is one of 13 in the country in which parents are free to apply to any public school – district or charter – they wish to send their children to rather than sending them to the neighborhood school associated with their addresses. 

The applications opened Nov. 7, 2022, and charters and districts have held various after-school presentations and engagement fairs to encourage families to apply to their schools during the two-month application window. Many districts created compilation videos to showcase their schools.

Out of Delaware’s 141,729 public school students, 25,039 applied to non-feeder schools for the current school year, according to data from the state Data Services Center.

Charter schools had the most applications with 12,968, followed by 8,756 to public district schools and 3,315 applications to Vo-Tech school districts.

Newark Charter had the most out of Delaware’s 22 charters, with 3,691 applications. Red Clay is the district with the most applications, 3,310.

The process to choice into schools was revamped and streamlined in 2013 when a new law  established an application window, standardized the forms and created a comprehensive portal on the state Department of Education’s site. It’s supposed to outline everything parents need to know about school choice.

Signing the choice forms does not guarantee a seat.

“Say you live in Brandywine but you want your child to go to a school in Red Clay. You have to get your application in by that second Wednesday of January, otherwise you’re not considered for the lottery or a seat at all,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of Delaware Charter Schools Network.

If a school has more seats available than applications, families may still apply past the deadline. 

“Sometimes new charter schools are still new, so parents aren’t too familiar with it yet,” Massett said. 

Massett said schools in urban communities such as Wilmington typically don’t receive too many applicants for kindergarten students, which typically means an abundance of available seats.

Some students may be put into a lottery if a school is over capacity, while other schools will waitlist. Schools that have a lot of applicants, such as the Charter School of Wilmington, might have both a waitlist and a lottery enter the waitlist, Massett said. 

Once a student is in, they’re in. There is no need to apply each year. 

While the lottery is random in most cases, some charter and district schools have preferences in their application process.

For example, Newark Charter School, EastSide Charter School and First State Montessori Academy have a five-mile radius preference, so students who live within that circle will be chosen before students who live beyond that radius.

Wilmington Charter and Delaware Military Academy are both authorized by the Red Clay  Consolidated School District, so students who live within Red Clay have priority to those schools. 

Some schools prefer students who have a specific interest, whether that be a passion for some area such as the military, science or arts, so Massett recommends checking a school’s website for more information before applying. 

All schools have a sibling preference, meaning if an applicant’s sibling already attends the school, they’ll be prioritized for a spot. 

“The preferences usually make a lot of sense,” Massett said. “​​Delaware Military Academy’s specific interest preference is interest in the military, and if you don’t want to go to school in a military uniform, you probably wouldn’t want to go there anyway.”

How a school choice lottery works

Here’s how it may work: Say a school with a specific preference has 100 open seats and 200 applicants. Fifth of those applicants may meet the preference criteria and are accepted. The remaining 150 will go into a lottery for the final 50 open seats. 

“But say there’s 100 spots to a school with a five-mile preference and the school gets 1,000 applications and 500 of those are in the five-mile radius, there’s a lottery with those 500 for those 100 spots,” Massett said. “Then, the other 400 who fit that criteria go on a waitlist, and the other 500 who aren’t in the radius enter the lottery just so they can make the waitlist.”

To apply to a district or charter school, visit the state’s school choice portal here and follow these recommended steps:

  1. Register a student in the school of residence, which is where a student attends based on their home address, using the school locator map.
  2. Visit school websites and attend school-choice meetings to learn more about available programs, upcoming informational meetings and application requirements.
  3. Complete the standard application form here. This link will also show families if a school has spots available or if its near capacity, at capacity, has a lottery or has a waitlist.
  4. Choice selection: After the choice window closes families will be notified of their application status by Feb. 28. 

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