Delaware reaches settlement in education equity lawsuit, agrees to increase funding
DELAWARE – The state of Delaware has reached a settlement with Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the Delaware NAACP.
“The settlement is great news for Delawareans and students in Delaware’s public schools,” says Mike Brickner with the ACLU of Delaware.
The Delaware ACLU believes funding disparities in schools relate directly to property taxes. They say the state’s schools are primarily funded through property taxes but many of those assessments have not been updated for decades. They believe that’s left students behind, specifically those who live in areas with low income or low property taxes. This settlement is an agreement to increase funding for student populations that need more resources.
“It gives us a chance to level the playing field without the assumption of blame,” says James Simmons with the Delaware Department of Education.
The education equity lawsuit was filed in 2018. It claimed the state was aware for many years that there were unequal resources for low income students, students with disabilities as well as English learners but did nothing to change that.
Simmons says this settlement is not about pointing fingers but rather moving forward to fix the funding inequities. “I think it’s a funding formula not necessarily that it’s an issue to say we should or shouldn’t have been funding it differently. I think we’ve got to look at how we fund it and not point fingers at how we say someone was shortchanged if that makes sense.”
This agreement requires Governor John Carney to fight for legislation that will help disadvantaged students. Some changes listed in the agreement involved doubling Opportunity Funding by the 2024-2025 school years as well as doubling the funding for preschool programs for low income families.
“It means that more of these vulnerable students who were not getting the quality education that they need are going to have the funding to be able to to compete out there in the world and have a quality education,” says Brickner.
The agreement also involves adopting a program that will deal with complaints related to topics like disciplinary issues and racial injustice in schools. Brickner says the ACLU is currently working on a related lawsuit that targets school funding at the county level.
Brickner says this settlement creates a “floor” for school funding in Delaware and believes it will help raise the bar when it comes to school funding as student populations grow. The ACLU also believes it will allow the legislature to increase the funding as they see fit.
Some of the systemic changes listed in the agreement are:
- $25 million in Opportunity Funding, which was instituted on a temporary basis after the lawsuit was underway, used to enhance services and provide additional resources to English learners and low income students, will become permanent and more than double to $60 million by the 2024-2025 school year. After that, the $60 million will increase proportionally with student growth.
- Opportunity Funding resources will be allocated specifically to the schools serving English language learners and low income students, in proportion to the number of those students at each school. $5 million of these funds will be reserved for mental health and reading supports in schools with the highest concentrations of low income and English learner students.
- Funding dedicated to basic special education students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade to equal funding currently in place for basic special education students in grades 4-12 by the 2023-2024 school year.
- By the 2023-2024 school year, the Early Childhood Assistance Program, which funds preschool programs for low income families, will double its funding from $6.1 million to $12.2 million.
- A $4 million annual commitment to support enhanced teacher recruitment and retention in high-needs schools beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.
- An ombudsperson program will be adopted to assist individual students and families in resolving disputes or complaints concerning disparate discipline, inequitable access to school programs, and different or unfair treatment.
- School districts seeking voter approval for capital construction and major renovations will be required to distribute an equity statement to explain how the capital project would impact equitable distributions of new and renovated buildings within the district.
- The State will hire an independent organization to complete a holistic assessment of the Delaware public school finance system by January 2024, which shall consider funding levels, revenue mechanisms, equity, and efficiency.