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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Lockman advances two education reform bills

June 17, 2019

DOVER – Freshman Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman introduced two bills this week aimed at improving education both in Wilmington and throughout the entire state of Delaware.

“Reforming Delaware’s education system is the single most important thing we can do to improve the lives of our neighbors – whether our communities are wealthy or poor, black or white, urban or rural,” said Lockman, D-Wilmington. “My colleagues have worked incredibly hard to improve that system over the years, but too many of our children are still not seeing the benefits. Whether it’s how we raise money for education, how we fund our schools, how we organize our districts, or any other education issue in this state, we know that we have to keep searching for better ways of doing things until our kids are getting the quality education they need and we are obligated to provide. This legislation alone will not solve those problems but it will help put us on a path to address some of the most complex issues we face in public education today.”

Senate Bill 148 seeks to create a new body tasked with spearheading the search for ways the Delaware Department of Education and the General Assembly can work together to improve educational equity and outcomes for students in Wilmington and northern New Castle County.

Named after a famed African-American lawyer who played a central role in the desegregation of Delaware schools, the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity (RCEE) would pick where the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission left off.

Created during the Markell Administration, WEIC spent two years developing an action plan that proposed weighted school funding for high-poverty schools, a redistricting for parts of Wilmington and new supports for impoverished children throughout the state. The Legislature formally offered support for those recommendations but ultimately was unable to provide the funding needed to make those efforts a reality.

WEIC suspended its legislative efforts in 2016 but the issues facing Wilmington students have remained constant. The roughly 11,500 public school students who live in the city are still performing far worse than their peers, with 74 percent failing to meet state standards in English/language arts and 83 percent failing to meet state standards in math.

The State of Delaware is now facing a lawsuit that claims the current education funding system based on property taxes is inherently unfair and the state is failing to meet its obligations under that system due to decades of neglected reassessments.

“To put it simply, when it comes to the education of Wilmington students, we are in a crisis. Every year we wait, every year we delay, our children fall further behind and face greater hurdles to being successful in life,” said prime House sponsor and fellow freshman Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington North. “We have an obligation to try to do something, and by bringing this bill forward, we hope we are laying out a template for action. We need to begin making decisions about what specifically to do, and we believe this is a prudent step in that direction.”

The 23-member RCEE – made up of superintendents, state education officials, state legislators, Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki, representatives from various minority communities and parents of school children – would begin meeting by Sept. 1 of this year and present its findings to the governor and the General Assembly once every fiscal year.

“Since WEIC issued its recommendations, we have a new governor, a new mayor, new state representation for the city in the Legislature and a new legal battle working its way through our court system,” Lockman said. “Yet we still have the same inequity that has plagued this state for generations. That is why we are pursuing systemic solutions we believe can improve the conditions for learning and reexamine the efficacy of prior policy decisions that continue to impact students and their schools.”

In the meantime, Sen. Lockman also is working to address an issue that has plagued the parents of Delaware’s youngest students for years: the lack of a uniform, statewide kindergarten registration process.

Three out of four Delaware parents or caregivers who responded to a recent survey described the kindergarten registration process as “hard” or “extremely hard,” while 98 percent of Spanish-speaking parents registered dissatisfaction with the current system.

“Registering a child for kindergarten is the first introduction most parents have to the public education system,” Lockman said. “It should be an exciting time. Yet, for many families, the initial experience is confusing and stressful due to conflicting rules and deadlines set by each of the 28 district and charter schools that offer kindergarten services. These families deserve better and we owe it to our constituents to find a solution that makes sense for everyone.”

Senate Bill 150 directs the Delaware Department of Education to develop a consistent kindergarten registration process that can be offered on a pilot basis for the 2021-2022 school year and rolled out statewide in the summer of 2023.

The bill would require that the new uniform registration process include both English and Spanish-language versions, both of which are accessible both online and in paper form. Schools would be required to offer computer access to parents seeking to complete the online version, which also must offer a seamless connection with a given department’s school choice website.

“As the mom of a new kindergartener this August, I understand how exciting and overwhelming it can be to prepare your child for this new beginning. Kindergarten registration should be a seamless process, so both the children and caregivers can be at ease during this monumental time,” said freshman Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle South, the prime House sponsor of SB 150. “We should do what we can to break down barriers and make kindergarten registration an easy experience so our children can be the best prepared when they enter the classroom. By establishing a uniform registration process, this legislation is a substantial step forward to achieving that goal.”

Senate Bills 148 and 150 both cleared the Senate Education Committee last week. SB 150 is currently scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor on Tuesday.