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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

State agrees to spend millions more on special education to settle lawsuit

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The Delaware General Assembly will need to approve additional funding to formally settle the suit, or it goes back to court.

 

The state of Delaware has agreed to spend tens of millions more a year on special needs students to settle a lawsuit currently pending in Delaware’s Court of Chancery.

One catch: The Delaware General Assembly has to vote to pony up the cash.

A press release from Gov. John Carney’s office characterized the agreement as an investment in Delaware schools, high-needs students and educators to help close the achievement gap.

Those targeted are low income students, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners, said a press release from Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP of Delaware, who sued the state with the help of the Delaware ACLU, Community Legal Aid Society and he national law firm Arnold & Porter.

 

That lawsuit had two tracks. One targeted state spending, and the settlement approved by the Delaware Chancery Court Monday settles that portion of it. The settlement must be approved by the state Legislature. If not, the suit goes back to court.

The lawsuit’s other track targeted county-level property taxes, which haven’t been re-evaluated in decades, claiming that was hurting school appropriations and the education of Delaware’s children. The court ruled earlier this that taxes must be re-evaluated, but more proceedings will be needed to determine how and when that will happen.

Read the state settlement here.

The lawsuit, filed in 2018, claimed the state had been aware for decades that resources provided to low income students, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners were not adequate and had done nothing about it.

 

New money for those groups will include:

  • More than double funding for Opportunity Funding to $60 million annually by Fiscal Year 2025, and make the weighted funding program permanent. Funding will increase automatically with enrollment beyond 2025.  The steps are $35 million in fiscal year 2022 and 23; $50 million in fiscal year 2024; and $60 million from fiscal year 2025 on. 
  • Double funding for the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) from $6.1 million to $12.2 million.to expand access to affordable early education by 2023.
  • Provide full funding for K-3 basic special education, consistent with grades 4-12.
  • 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.

 

When the state Opportunity Funding appropriations reach $60, the actual amount of cash reaching schools could be closer to $80 million with local matches and will be based on enrollments. the press releases said.

The amount a school receives for a low-income student and for a English learner student will be equal by 2025. If a student is both, the school will get both allocations for that student.

Ninety percent of the allocations will go to the school earning it, unless a school district votes to reallocate some of that money to something like district-wide supports or specific high needs schools.

Both sides hailed the agreement.

 

“In any negotiated settlement neither side gets everything they want. While we were not able to get everything we wanted in this settlement, it does provide support for children that is desperately needed in Delaware’s education system,” said Jea Street, of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity. It is a group of parents and others interested in education.

“In that regard, the settlement and the relief it provides is reasonable and appropriate during the current crisis created by the pandemic,” Street said in a statement. “While this settlement is reasonable today, I must make it clear that the battle for fairness in public school education in Delaware is not over and advocacy for improvement will continue.”

Carney’s press release said that the Opportunity Funding provides targeted funding – for the first time in Delaware’s history – for low-income students and English learners statewide. 

“It’s important to make clear that both parties viewed this case and these settlement negotiations as an opportunity to make real progress for Delaware’s children,” said Carney, who has repeatedly said the most important thing a state does is educate its children. “This is a path forward to support our most disadvantaged students and families – and one that will help close the persistent achievement gap in our schools.

 

Carney also said, “But our work is just getting started,” because now the Delaware General Assembly has to vote the funding through. “I believe legislators of both parties will see the merit in this proposal.”

State Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek, said he’d been out campaigning all day and had not read the details, but was happy to hear about the settlement and happy the Legislature would have a say in the results. A member of the House Education Committee, he said he didn’t like the idea of long-running court proceedings that can last years and ultimately hurt the schools and students the suit is meant to help.

“I like having some kind of fixed mechanism and I know what it is and that we can move forward from here,” Ramone said. “I’m happy we’re at a point where maybe we can all agree to get this thing done and get it done for the kids.”

Others reacting to the settlement:

Dr. Freeman Williams, on behalf of the Delaware State Conference of Branches of the NAACP: “We are happy that an agreement has occurred between the state of Delaware, the NAACP and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity. This agreement has the potential to provide greater instructional program equity and equal education opportunities for disadvantaged students within Delaware’s public school system.”

 

State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman  D-Wilmington — “Every student – regardless of zip code or background – deserves a high-quality public education. And yet, Delaware’s current education funding formula fails to account for the simple fact that in order to succeed, children with the greatest needs require the most support. That is the reform we are all working towards and the settlement announced today marks a potential step forward in our efforts to create a funding formula that is truly equitable for all students. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to fully discuss the details of the proposal with my colleagues, parents, educators and taxpayers in the weeks ahead.”

State Rep. Kim Williams — “As a mother of two children who were identified very early as developmentally delayed, I know firsthand how important it is to have teachers in place to provide quality services. Research has proven that early identification and intervention are critical to a child’s overall success. By the time a child reaches third grade, they should be transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. If we are committed to fundamentally improving the quality of education in our state, then we must make a commitment early on.” 

 

Dr. Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University — “In 2015, while serving as Chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, WEAC received input from thousands of Delawareans up and down the state – parents, lawmakers, educators, community partners, politicians alike. That input continued when WEAC morphed into the Commission. At that time, not one person said that the last 60 years of K12 education for students from economically distressed communities was sustainable,  appropriate, or fair. The settlement reached today proves the point and represents a principled commitment to what I believe is a fundamental American right — every child’s access to a quality education.  In the spirit of the indomitable Louis L. Redding, Chancellor Collins Seitz, and many more, may we forever be compelled to a higher purpose and greater sense of responsibility for our fellow citizens – particularly the most vulnerable among us.”

Dr. Susan Bunting, secretary of the Delaware Department of Education — “This agreement will continue our work to support the Delaware students and educators who need our help the most. “Through our Opportunity Funding program, low-income students and young English learners already are receiving additional support, and that work will expand statewide. We will provide new services for young students with special needs, and early childhood education. Our team at the Department of Education looks forward to working with educators to make a real difference for Delaware children with these additional resources.” 

 

Javier Torrijos, chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission — “On behalf of the Delaware Hispanic Commission and the many English Learners and their families, we want to thank Governor Carney and Secretary Bunting for their leadership in bringing the much-needed permanent funding for children who are at risk in Delaware. Children of poverty and English learners need the resources to keep pace with their peers. School districts will be able to look at long-term programs and provide the resources to meet these students’ needs.  We are extremely grateful and after many years of advocacy we see this as a major victory for all Delawareans and more importantly the future of our children and this great state.”

 


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