Lawmakers sidestep Wilmington redistricting
In the waning hours of the 148th General Assembly, state lawmakers punted on making meaningful education reforms for Wilmington students until next year.
Efforts from the House to move forward with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s plan failed mightily in the Senate, which instead approved two new bills pushing off any action until the spring.
Only six Democrats in the Senate voted for the initial resolution to move kids from the Christina School District to the Red Clay School District.
For senators who opposed it, it simply came down to who would pay for it and how much the plan would cost to implement it.
“If we give additional money to high poverty schools and ELL schools, how will that money be spent? How will it get to the classroom? How will every child come forward and achieve better?" said Senate Pro Tem Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere), who sponsored the new bills and also represents parts of Red Clay.
Those residing and representing Red Clay say they don’t want to be saddled with what could be a tax hike to accommodate a huge influx of students from Wilmington.
Other methods WEIC pushed to boost funding include reassessing property statewide, which hasn’t been done in several decades, and allowing school districts to raise property taxes without a referendum.
Now, WEIC will have to refine and flesh out its roadmap over the next year, and lawmakers gave them $200,000 to do so.
Gov. Jack Markell (D) says the fact that the commission is still alive gives him hope.
“It could’ve gone in a very different direction. It could have died and, having been part of a lot of these conversations, I am encouraged by where it ended up,” Markell said.
WEIC chair Tony Allen agreed, saying forward momentum of any kind is still progress, despite the significant rebuke from the Senate.
“You’ve got to think of this as not two years in the making, you’ve got to think of it as 62 years in the making. There were a lot more folks before me and my commissioners who were toiling for a long, long time before anything was done.”
In the past, Allen has said the first year’s implementation bill would run $7.5 million, but it’s unclear if that figure will hold next year.
Regardless, Rep. Charles Potter (D-Wilmington North), who’s been a vocal backer of the plan, says he doesn’t care how much the tab would be.
“Let us just keep working for what’s in the best interest of our young people. There’s no price tag too expensive because we spend money on everything else.”
House lawmakers amended out a requirement for WEIC to work with Christina and Red Clay to finalize the plan, and with it, any concrete timeline for more complete recommendations.
It's unknown when those will surface.