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Settlement of Delaware education suit promises historic changes

Historic change to Delaware’s education system is one step closer.

Watch: Education secretary takes back-to-school questions from reporter Natalia Alamdari



Gov. John Carney and civil rights groups settled a lawsuit that accused Delaware education officials of sending more money to schools with affluent children than it does to schools with high concentrations of children living in poverty.  

The settlement kicks the issue to the General Assembly, which for two decades has not implemented state commissions’ suggestions to formally allocate more funding for low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

The plaintiffs wrote in their complaint that schools with high concentrations of those students struggle to afford enough staff to meet the children’s needs. 

The potentially landmark case in Delaware Chancery Court sought to have the state’s school funding system ruled unconstitutional, with civil rights groups arguing state officials knowingly fail to give all children an adequate education.

INITIAL FILING: Civil rights groups sue Delaware over education funding for low-income, disadvantaged students

They cited figures showing disadvantaged students are scoring far below state standards on state assessments

The settlement

In the settlement, reached close to three years after the lawsuit was first filed by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the Delaware NAACP, Carney agreed to make a number of budgetary proposals to the General Assembly — mainly, changing Delaware law to make weighted school funding permanent. 

The case had been scheduled to go to trial next month.

“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, who is also a New Castle County councilman, in a news release. 

Weighted funding takes into account additional needs and disadvantages of low-income and other students. Under the state’s current “unit count” system, school districts receive state funds based on enrollment numbers. Schools with high concentrations of low-income students tend to need more supports like reading specialists and counseling staff, but they do not receive the additional funding to cover those supports. 

a group of people standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Jea Street, president of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity, speaks during a press conference concerning ACLU Delaware's law suit challenging the state's allocation of resources to schools.

© Jason Minto, The News Journal
Jea Street, president of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity, speaks during a press conference concerning ACLU Delaware’s law suit challenging the state’s allocation of resources to schools.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Delaware was one of just four states that did not give additional funds for English language learners and one of 15 that did not provide additional funds for educating low-income children, plaintiffs said.

LAWSUIT: Delaware schools are leaving children in poverty behind

Carney first proposed Opportunity Grants in 2018, as a means of offering schools additional funding for high-poverty and English learners. The most recent round of Opportunity Funding, announced as the lawsuit was winding its way toward trial, would be doled out to schools over the course of three years, but was not formally written into law. 

EXTRA FUNDING: Gov. John Carney proposes expanding Opportunity Funding to $75 million