State Board of Ed. narrowly OKs Wilmington redistricting, with conditions
A plan to redistrict students from struggling and long-segregated schools in Wilmington won conditional approval from the state board of education Thursday.
After hours of contentious discussion, the board voted 4 to 3 to send the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission's proposal forward with two contingencies.
The first is Department of Education's approval of Christina School District Priority School plans.
The second is involves keeping the plan from becoming an unfunded mandate.
"Currently, it says that a suspension of the timetable for implementation is contingent upon there being necessary and sufficient resources provided throughout, that the state board 'shall' suspend the timetable," explains WEIC chair Tony Allen. "They'd like that to read 'may.'"
Allen says the board doesn't want to be locked in to pausing the redistricting if funding dries up -- but he thinks they're on the same page with local districts about handling the financial burden, and can hash it out before the plan goes to the General Assembly.
In a statement, board president Teri Quinn Gray says the board's "due diligence" led to "thoughtful and responsible action."
"I call this another step on a long, long journey that started in 1954."
“While we may not all agree on every aspect of the plan, we believe it represents a significant step in the right direction," she says. "Students throughout our state face significant challenges -- whether they live in poverty or are part of our growing English Language Learner population – they need additional supports. Many of these concerns will begin to be addressed with implementation of this plan.”
The WEIC plan seeks to end decades of segregation and inequality in struggling Wilmington schools by transferring operation of the Christina School District’s five city schools to Red Clay School District.
And the board's approval came after weeks of delays and requests for more information that Allen says strengthened the plan. Now, he's cautiously optimistic.
"I call this another step on a long, long journey that started in 1954. So we've taken another step, and it has some conditions that we will have to review," he says. "But my sense is that movement is always positive. I think we got some movement today."
"I felt like there was a lot of fire and power in [the parents' and students'] words, and it mattered."
He adds that about 75 parents and students showed up yesterday to show their support.
"That was a lot of what you heard, was there are some systemic issues that are happening, and if we don't solve them it'll be much harder to solve the problems that result from lack of proper education, particularly in disadvantaged communities," Allen says. "So I was buoyed by that spirit, I felt like there was a lot of fire and power in their words, and it mattered. It really, really mattered."
But he recognizes they'll face far more scrutiny in the legislature.
"I think it is a big journey for us. I don't expect an easy process with the general assembly," Allen says. "But I do think there is a continued notion and need that something must be done, really, with respect to low-income students across the state, but certainly with respect to Wilmington."
Allen has also established a $100,000 fund and partnership with the University of Delaware to work on analysis and reform around the WEIC plan. He's a UD alumnus, and sits on its board of trustees. Eventually, he says the partnership will expand statewide.