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Redding Consortium lays out recommendations to address inequity in Delaware schools

Delaware Public Media

The latest group tasked with addressing long-term educational inequities faced by Delaware’s neediest students is moving ahead with its efforts.

The Redding Consortium for Educational Equity offered its interim recommendations to Gov. John Carney last week. 

Contributor Larry Nagengast offers a look at what the group is suggesting.

Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne and contributor Larry Nagengast discuss recommendations from the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity.

Hopes for a brighter future for Delaware’s neediest children will intersect with financial realities later this month as Gov. John Carney considers how many of the newest recommendations from the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity he can include in his next state budget proposal.

The consortium, established in 2019 as the latest entity to seek solutions to the state’s generations-long record of underachievement for schools with high proportions of low-income and minority students, last week issued a detailed report of “interim recommendations” for the governor to review.

The recommendations, described by the consortium as “critical interim measures,” carry an estimated cost of between $16 million and $32 million, which “would represent an increase of less than 2 percent of the state’s total education and early childhood budget,” according to the report’s opening message, signed by the consortium’s co-chairs, state Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman (D-Wilmington) and Matthew Denn, the state’s former attorney general, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner.

"These interim recommendations are only a fraction of what is truly needed for all of the state’s racially identifiable high-poverty schools."
Redding Consortium co-chairs Matt Denn and Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman

How Carney will respond will become clear in less than three weeks. The governor is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address on Jan. 26 and his budget address two days later.

Then the focus of the budget process shifts to General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee, which will conduct hearings and write a budget bill, which typically comes to a vote shortly before the Legislature adjourns on June 30.

The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) last month estimated that the state will have about $5.15 billion available for its budget for Fiscal 2022, which begins July 1. That’s a potential increase of more than 13 percent over the current budget of $4.54 billion, which includes $1.644 billion for education.

However, the consortium’s recommendations come on top of commitments Carney made in October to settle the state’s portion of a suit filed by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the Delaware NAACP that seeks to provide additional funding to benefit low-income children, English learners and students in kindergarten through third grade who have special needs. Those commitments, which must be approved by the General Assembly, would increase education spending by $10 million in Fiscal 2022 and by a total in excess of $90 million between Fiscal 2022 and Fiscal 2025.

“We are keenly aware of the financial uncertainty facing the state,” Denn and Lockman wrote, but “these interim recommendations are only a fraction of what is truly needed for all of the state’s racially identifiable high-poverty schools.”

Those recommendations, and estimated costs, include:

  • Expanding intensive home visitation programs targeted at mothers, infants and toddlers living below the poverty line in Wilmington, $600,000.
  • Funding for the state Department of Education to require and enforce developmental screening requirements in state-licensed child-care facilities, $180,000.
  • Providing high-quality, full-day prekindergarten services for 3- and 4-year-olds in the state’s highest poverty areas, $8 million.
  • Creating a “whole school professional learning package” in five high-need schools in Wilmington, $1.2 million.
  • Implementing comprehensive wraparound services, including before- and after-school and summer programs, plus school-based health centers at two to 10 schools in high-poverty areas, for $1.5 million per school for operations, plus $500,000 in one-time capital costs to set up the health centers. The first-year cost would be $4 million for two schools, or $20 million for 10 schools.
  • Developing a data collection system to better address race-related school inequalities, to help determine needs and monitor progress, $2 million for the first year and lesser amounts in the future
  • Beginning a “Grow Our Own” program to create a pipeline of future teachers for high-need schools, starting with a $100,000 allocation to publicize current initiatives, plus up to $4,000 per person in scholarships for participants in the programs.

As the successor to the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, the consortium is targeting most of the new or expanded programming toward students but Denn and Lockman point out that children in Kent and Sussex counties “face extraordinary barriers of race and poverty as well” and suggest that programs that work in Wilmington could be replicated elsewhere in the state.
The data collection and “Grow Our Own” initiatives, the recommendation report states, could lay the foundation for future statewide education reforms.

In their message introducing the recommendations, Lockman and Denn offer a succinct summary of the state’s failure to create educational equity over the past 20 years.

Next month, they wrote, will mark the 20th anniversary of the Wilmington Neighborhood Schools Committee’s report that warned that the state’s recently passed Neighborhood Schools Act could “illegally create racially identifiable high-poverty schools.” The results, they said, were “worse even than its forecast, and this remains true today.”

Subsequent “efforts have failed,” they wrote because they were “partial and intermittent,” with one “incomplete effort” after another “jettisoned for a new incomplete effort.”

"The challenges facing these students have been highlighted and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. which has had a disproportionate impact on students facing barriers of race and poverty."
Redding Consortium co-chairs Matt Denn and Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman

Lockman and Denn referred to the recent settlement of the school finance suit, describing it as a “welcome development,” but said the settlement “will not come close to providing the targeted resources needed for students attending and preparing to attend the state’s racially identifiable high-poverty schools.” And, they said, “the challenges facing these students have been highlighted and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on students facing barriers of race and poverty.”

Three of the consortium’s recommendations, if authorized, would accelerate the implementation of some of the commitments the governor made in the settlement of the school finance suit.

First, the settlement calls for doubling appropriations for the state’s Early Childhood Assistance Program, from $6.1 million to at least $12.2 million annually, starting in Fiscal Year 2024. The consortium would put $8 million a year into that program, starting with Fiscal Year 2022.

Also, the settlement calls for the state allocating at least $4 million annually, for Fiscal Years 2023 through 2025, to support teacher recruitment and retention in high-needs schools. The consortium wants to expand professional development initiatives at five high-needs schools, starting this year, at a cost of $1,2 million.

In addition, the settlement includes provisions for expanded Opportunity Funding, which provides additional services for low-income students, English learners and children in K-3 special education classes – services that can include mental health care and programming outside regular school hours. The settlement calls for Opportunity Funding of at least $35 million statewide in Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023, increasing to $50 million and $60 million in the two succeeding years, with indexed increases thereafter. The consortium’s recommendation would launch a combination of outside school time and in-school wraparound services in at least two schools, and possibly as many as 10, starting this September.

The consortium’s recommendations do not refer to several other items it has been considering that would not have an impact on the state budget.

One of those items is the revival of H.B. 129, a measure originally sponsored by former Rep. Earl Jaques (D-Bear) that would give school boards limited authority to raise property tax rates without calling for a referendum. Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington) a member of the consortium, will sponsor the revised version.

The proposal has drawn opposition from the Delaware School Boards Association, although it has the support of some individual school board members, according to John Marinucci, the association’s executive director. Marinucci contends that the legislation would give school boards “the ability to raise taxes without public input,” and says it could lead to politicizing school board elections, with voters choosing candidates based on whether they are for or against raising taxes rather than on their views on local education issues.

Another major item under consideration by the consortium is the possible restructuring of school districts in northern New Castle County. Ideas that have gotten some attention include eliminating the Christina School District’s jurisdiction over schools it now operates within Wilmington and creating a Wilmington-only school district, much like the one that existed before the start of court-ordered desegregation in 1978.

One of the consortium’s working groups had begun studying the issue in late 2019 but the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic last March required the school administrators and board members working on this project to divert their attention to remote and hybrid learning models, putting the restructuring issue on the back burner. The legislation establishing the consortium set an April 1, 2021 deadline for the State Board of Education to review and vote on a restructuring plan proposed by the consortium.

Early in the General Assembly’s session, legislation will be introduced to set new deadlines for developing a restructuring plan.

More details on the recommendations can be found in the “full body meeting materials” pages of the consortium’s website.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.
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