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Groups sue Delaware over alleged school funding inequities

Jan. 17, 2018
The ACLU and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity contend that the state's funding formula favors the affluent over those in poverty.

Two civil rights groups have sued the state of Delaware to challenge its school finance system. The groups contend that the system provides more support for affluent children than it provides for those living in poverty. 

The Wilmington News-Journal reports the suit has been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity.

"For too long children from low-income families, students whose first language is not English, and children with disabilities have been left behind," says Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. 

According to the lawsuit, the state is failing students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English. Test scores for disadvantaged students are far below state standards set by the Delaware Department of Education.

State testing data shows 64 percent of low-income students, 85 percent of English language learners and 86 percent of students with disabilities did not meet the state standards in grades three through eight for English language arts, the lawsuit says. 

Seventy-four percent of low-income students, 81 percent of English learners and 89 percent of students with disabilities were below the state’s math standards in those grades.

“Despite the best efforts of teachers, families and school staff, the current education system fails too many Delaware children," ACLU-DE legal director Ryan Tack-Hooper says. "The state often provides more support to children who are well off than it provides to children living in poverty. The state must meet its constitutional obligation to adequately educate all students." 

Delaware does not determine the amount of money spent at each school on a per-student basis, but the lawsuit says "an analysis of teacher salary data at every school shows that, in at least seven school districts, the per-student expenditure at a school decreases as the percentage of low-income students in the student body of a school increases."

The lawsuit also mentions racial discrimination and outlines the history of desegregation in Delaware. It contends that the Neighborhood Schools Act passed in 2000 and the Charter School Act has led to re-segregation in some places.

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