Our View | Education, economics fueled Delta Program decision

We take no issue with the State College Area School District’s move to expand its Delta Program to include fifth- and sixth-grade students.

And we were pleasantly surprised that the district acknowledged that the move was motivated by both educational and economic opportunities.

The Delta Program has been offered to students in grades 7 through 12.

Housed in the Fairmount Building, Delta provides what district leaders call their “small school of choice” option.

The district hopes the Delta expansion will keep some students in its classrooms rather than having them shift to local charter schools that also offer smaller classrooms and intimate learning environments.

From an educational standpoint, Delta has benefited from learning across grades in small-group situations. But not all material that is appropriate for seniors is also good for much-younger learners. Adding a true middle-school level to Delta allows for splitting students by age when necessary.

But there is more at work here than reading and writing.

State College leaders who pitched the Delta proposal to the school board noted the existence of three brick-and-mortar charters within the district and considered costs associated with having young people elect to do their learning outside public-school classrooms.

In 2012-13 school year, the district paid more than $1.5 million for students in fifth through eighth grades enrolled at Centre Learning Community Charter School, Nittany Valley Charter School or Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania.

That number is expected to rise to nearly $1.7 million in 2013-14.

The charters do not serve senior high-aged students. The Delta proposal said transportation costs were not included in the budgeting.

“School choice is a reality,” said the Delta expansion proposal, which was written by Superintendent Bob O’Donnell; Jon Downs, director of educational alternatives; and Jason Perrin, the district’s supervisor of elementary and middle level education.

“As families are offered an increasing number of educational options, school districts find themselves in a much more competitive environment,” the proposal said. “In a large school district such as SCASD, many families seek schools that have a smaller feel and flexibility in their operational and educational models.”

The proposal said there are 115 charter school students in grades 5-8 this year, plus 226 in kindergarten through grade 4.

The Delta Program currently has 15 students in grades 7-8, and would cap enrollment for the middle-school grades at 80.

The Delta Program was started in 1974 for students in grades 9-12. The 7th and 8th grades were added in 1982.

“It is clear that some families in our community value schools that provide a smaller setting, flexibility, and alternative practices,” the Delta proposal said. “We believe that SCASD should offer a program to meet the needs of these families, allowing parents to maintain enrollment in their local school district while also having access to all district resources.”

The Delta expansion plan got unanimous approval from the State College school board.

Charter schools reached by the Centre Daily Times did not express concern about losing students to the expanded Delta Program.

Mark Toci, lead teacher at Centre Learning Community, was skeptical, saying, “If the goal is to pull kids from one place to another, it’s misguided.”

State College district administrators clearly recognize that the charters are now entrenched in the learning landscape of the region and represent competition for the public school system.

And while we favor broad choices in learning environment for parents and students, we welcome any changes that might enhance learning while saving taxpayer money.

We appreciate that school members noted publicly the financial realities of the Delta Program change.