In October 2020, our legal team, along with Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., and Arnold & Porter, reached an agreement with the State of Delaware on behalf of our clients, NAACP of Delaware and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity, in the Delaware Pulic Schools litigation — a case that closed on April 13, with a final agreement on the county track.
During litigation, we argued that Delaware was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide all children a meaningful opportunity to obtain an adequate education.
The terms of the agreement seek to remedy significant inequities and public school funding shortfalls. The agreement sets a new baseline for the state’s funding standards for English learners, children from low-income families and other special needs education.
Because of the agreement, the state must pass legislation to fund permanent resources necessary to support for English learners, low-income students and students with disabilities. House Bill 86 and Senate Bill 56 have been introduced in the General Assembly to meet some of the key requirements set by the agreement.
HB 86, as introduced by Democratic Rep. Kimberly Williams, would increase funding for K-3 students identified as requiring basic special education services in public schools over the next 3 years. Under our current funding system, additional funding is provided for children with basic special education needs in 4th through 12th grade, but no additional funding is provided for children with those same needs in kindergarten through the 3rd grade. HB 86 would extend those staffing and financial benefits to younger children. Securing funds to earlier grades to help identify students with disabilities and provide individualized attention and special services means children will receive the education they need to flourish.
SB 56, would increase state “Opportunity Funds,” a student-based funding mechanism providing additional resources for the benefit of low-income and English learner students. This program started as a $1 million grant-based program in 2018The settlement agreement provides that the Opportunity Funds are to increase to at least $60 million annually by the 2024-25 school year, and will increase with student growth in every subsequent year.
Each year, $5 million of the Opportunity Funds are reserved for reading specialists and mental health supports for schools with more than 60% low income students and/or 20% English learner students. Additionally, per the budget proposed by Governor John Carney, the state would be required to obtain an independent funding assessment by January 2024.
Passing HB 86 and SB 56 is necessary, but it isn’t the end. Our work to expand school funding and equity will continue. The settlement was a challenge to the state and the General Assembly to do more to secure resources to underprivileged students at our public schools.
These bills are the first steps to fully implement the settlement agreement which was designed to create the floor needed to help disadvantaged students in Delaware receive a true opportunity to share in the fruits of education.