School Funding Equity is in Our Lawmakers’ Hands — Will it Make a Difference?

A settlement has been reached in principle. Now the legislature and governor must put it into practice.

 · June 1, 2021

This commentary is part of the Delaware Justice Team series, a podcast and written media partnership between the ACLU of Delaware, the Delaware Call, and the Highlands Bunker podcast.

In October of last year, the ACLU of Delaware (ACLU-DE) and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) reached a settlement with Governor Carney in their landmark lawsuit: Delawareans for Educational Opportunity v. Carney.

ACLU-DE and CLASI had a strong fundamental argument: Delaware has a constitutional obligation to provide all children an adequate education. The court agreed.

The agreement that ACLU-DE and CLASI reached with the state last year sought to bring legislative solutions to significant inequities and public school funding shortfalls, especially for English learners, low-income students and students with disabilities. 

Because of the agreement, the state must pass legislation to fund permanent resources necessary to support those students who experience the worst of the funding shortfalls, and so far, the 151st General Assembly has delivered.

This session House Bill 86 and Senate Bill 56 have been introduced and one has propelled forward in the General Assembly. Both of these bills promise to meet some of the key requirements that last year’s agreement outlined, increasing funding for K-3 students with special needs and increasing the state “Opportunity Funds.”

HB 86, introduced by 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. This bill was approved by the House Education Committee and is currently awaiting consideration in the House Appropriations Committee.

SB 56, introduced by Sen. Laura Sturgeon, would increase state Opportunity Funds, a student-based funding mechanism providing additional resources for the benefit of low-income and English learner students. The settlement agreement requires 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. This bill sailed through the General Assembly and is on its way to the Governor’s desk for signature.

The big question that remains is will these bills make a difference. And the simple answer is: absolutely.

Securing funds to earlier grades through HB 86 will help identify students with disabilities and provide individualized attention and special services, which means children will receive the education they need to flourish.

SB 56 will deliver, too. The additional funds that will be secured when this bill is signed into law will more than double the amount currently available for English learners and low-income students. Additionally, $5 million of these funds will be reserved for mental health and reading support in schools with the highest concentrations of low-income and English learner students.

Passing and signing HB 86 and SB 56 into law aren’t the only steps to increasing equity in our education system, but they are solid first steps that will make a real difference by helping disadvantaged students in Delaware receive a true opportunity to share in the fruits of an adequate education.

About the Author

Javonne Rich, policy advocate at the ACLU of Delaware, is a founding board member of the Delaware Alliance Against Sexual Violence, with an extensive background in providing advocacy and clinical counseling for communities impacted by a myriad of social challenges including criminal justice involvement, child abuse, violence, and trauma. Read more from Javonne Rich.