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Inaction on Wilmington school plan prompts budget backlash

Delaware Public Media


As a protest against the General Assembly’s failure to pass meaningful reforms for Wilmington school children, some House backers of a city schools redistricting plan voted against the $4.1 billion operating budget Wednesday.

Rep. Stephanie Bolden (D-Wilmington East), who represents much of the city, says she views the Joint Finance Committee’s choice to not set aside enough money to kick-start redistricting efforts as inexcusable.


“We’re going into the 63rd year of not having any progress for these children. I don’t understand what the problem is," said Bolden. "We are supposed to be neighbors in one state.”


House lawmakers signed off on the plan – which would shift students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay School District – but it’s hit a wall in the Senate that it looks unlikely to vault.


Bolden and others held a press conference earlier in the day to try and break up that logjam, but Senate opponents aren’t budging.


Gov. Jack Markell (D) only set aside $6 million to fund a $7.5 million plan in his proposed budget and lawmakers representing Red Clay fear that figure could climb exponentially higher.


Bolden says a lack of support from JFC swayed her vote.


“I know you have your bipartisan votes, but I just hope that you understand that what fails there can also trickle down here and as long as you continue to ignore the needs of children then you can expect the same thing.”


The spending plan still passed 31-8, with a smattering of bipartisan opposition ranging from the use of charter school funds to philosophical spending differences.


Both parties warn of waning revenues that are outpaced by ever growing costs related to Medicaid and state employee healthcare costs.


Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) says those two factors could come to a head next year.


“I feel that for a number of years we’ve been failing to plan and failing to plan adequately has put us in a dire financial situation in Delaware. I realize we have a balanced budget because we have to by statute, but once again, I just feel that this budget is just based on one-time money,” Briggs King said.


Some Democrats agreed, saying they’re trying to ferret out fraud in Medicaid and more deeply evaluating spending on other state programs.


Those efforts were applauded across the aisle with the hopes it could lead to a leaner budget.


Still, Rep. Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley) echoed a common Republican talking point that growing your economic base is critical to solving a sagging cash flow problem.


“We are a very small state and unless we actually bring to the state higher paying jobs, we will not be able to increase the [personal income tax], we will not be able to increase the revenues to the state.”


State senators passed the operating budget Tuesday and it now awaits Markell’s signature.

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