State settles education equity litigation

2018 lawsuit sought more resources for disadvantaged students
October 19, 2020

The state of Delaware has agreed to pay millions of dollars more in early childhood assistance and other funding for low-income students after reaching a settlement Oct. 12 with the NAACP of Delaware 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,” said Dr. Freeman Williams, in a press release on behalf of the Delaware State Conference of Branches of the NAACP.

The two groups filed a 2018 lawsuit against the State of Delaware, claiming the state had been aware of a lack of educational resources provided to low-income students, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners.

Using Delaware's standardized test scores, the lawsuit stated disadvantaged students perform lowest in the state, and despite state-commissioned task force reports over the last 20 years, no significant changes have been made.

The agreement requires the governor to seek legislation bringing new financial commitments and structural changes to the way Delaware serves disadvantaged students. Increased funding includes:

• More than double Opportunity Funding – created with $25 million after the lawsuit was filed – to $60 million by the 2024-25 school year. After that, the $60 million will increase proportionally with student growth. Of the funding, $5 million will be reserved for mental health and reading support in schools with the highest concentrations of low-income and English learner students.

• By the 2023-24 school year, dedicate funding for basic special education students in kindergarten through third grade equal to basic special education funding for grades 4-12.

• Double funding for low-income preschool assistance to $12.2 million by 2023-24.

• Retain $4 million to support teacher recruitment and retention in high-needs schools beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

Systemic changes set forth by the settlement include:

• Adopting an ombudsperson program to assist individual students and families in resolving disputes or complaints concerning disparate discipline, inequitable access to school programs, and different or unfair treatment.

• Requiring school districts seeking voter approval for capital construction and major renovations to distribute an equity statement to explain how the capital project would impact equitable distributions of new and renovated buildings within the district.

• Hiring an independent organization at the state level to complete a holistic assessment of the Delaware public school finance system by January 2024 to consider funding levels, revenue, equity and efficiency.

“Delaware’s current educational resource allocation system does not recognize the additional needs of children living in poverty and English learners. That system is outdated and inequitable,” said Karen Lantz, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Delaware. “Our expectation is that this settlement will begin systemic changes that result in a fundamental shift in how resources are allocated, so every student in Delaware can get the education they deserve.”


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