Gov. Jack Markell signs legislation to redistrict Delaware schools

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(Yellow school bus via ShutterStock)

The State of Delaware and educational leaders hope new redistricting laws can provide more education opportunities for students in Wilmington.

Two bills were signed by Gov. Jack Markell Tuesday. The laws are modeled after recommendations made by the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee to address educational challenges in Wilmington schools.

 

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, and others, removes Christina School District’s low performing Wilmington elementary schools to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

Redistricting in this area has not changed since a federal judge created the district lines 40 years ago as part of desegregating city schools.

“Forty years of using lines drawn by a federal judge is enough,” said Markell during the legislation signing at the historic Hockessin Colored School #107.

“We should respect the wishes of City children, parents, community leaders and their elected representatives, and seize this moment of opportunity–a moment when we have more attention on the needs of Wilmington’s children than at perhaps any time in decades.”

There have been talks over the past several months on how to improve Christina’s priority schools, which are the schools that received poor test scores. The state gave the district the option of closing the schools, converting them into charters or handing them over to an outside management company.

WEAC was created along with Markell’s announcement of the Priority Schools Initiative to better support students at the lowest-performing schools in Delaware. The redistricting plan was adopted as a way not only to transform those schools, but also to improve the education of students throughout the City.

Senate Bill 122 calls for the redrawing of school district boundaries in Wilmington, while House Bill 148 establishes the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, to advise the State on improvements from schools that have high concentrations of underprivileged students.

The legislation also attempts to prevent busing students from their homes, which made it difficult for families and the community to engage in its schools.

Tony Allen, chairman of the Committee, said Wilmington schools were trying to educate more than a thousand children without a uniform plan for several years. He said the new pieces of legislation are long overdue.

“House Bill 148 and Senate Bill 122 are not the silver bullet, but they do suggest that the time has come for a community to look at an illogical system of governance, funding, transitional needs and student performance that simply must change,” Allen said.

He said a plan will be developed that outlines where funding will come from for the new districts. Whether there will be more schools built or opened in Wilmington still is up in the air, Allan said.

WEIC also will create a transition plan to provide services to affected schools and students, and implement school district realignment. The plan must be submitted to the State Board of Education, which must act by December 31.  The General Assembly and the Governor will give final approval.

WEIC also will monitor the progress of implementation, and recommend policies and actions to the Governor and General Assembly to facilitate progress and to promote the continuous improvement of public education on dimensions addressed by the WEAC recommendations

“It is critically important that we take a comprehensive and strategic look at schools in Wilmington in a way that acknowledges the unique challenges and opportunities we have there,” Senator Henry said.

“SB 122 gives education officials an opportunity to redraw school district lines in a way I believe will yield a more well-connected network of schools that will better serve our children.”

Allen said going forward there needs to be improved funding in low-income neighborhoods, additional English language education, a streamlined government model and the channelling of existing resources that would best serve the interest of children and their families.  

“You need to account for the fact that largely low income black and brown children in the city of Wilmington have additional needs that traditional suburban students don’t always have,” Allen said.

 

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