Wilmington redistricting plan passes House

Delaware Public Media | by James Dawson

Efforts to redistrict Wilmington schools overcame a significant hurdle Wednesday as House lawmakers signed off on a resolution and bill allowing progress to continue.

Democrats overruled Republicans who tried to block the legislation in vain over concerns that the state couldn’t afford the implementation plan.

Overall, proponents say moving students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay School District will help move kids closer to their schools, potentially boosting parental involvement and test scores for minority children.

“The need to fix the schools is a true need, the need to adjust the funding for the schools is a true need, and the need to have children treated in an environment where they can get great educations is a need. I get all that,” said Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley). “Who’s going to pay for it?”

The bill didn’t lock in the General Assembly to a specific funding model, but House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne) says a bill will eventually have to be paid.

“It’s not binding, but it says that it’s suggested, and therefore, needed somewhere, some day, some time, for this program to become active,” Hudson said.

At one point, leadership halted debate when GOP lawmakers tried to bring up how to fund it, saying it was off-topic.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission has called for controversial ways to bankroll their efforts, including allowing districts to raise taxes without a referendum and reassessing property values statewide.

Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South) joined with the majority, saying regardless of the cost – which WEIC has tagged at $7.5 million – it should move forward.

“Quite frankly, it’s time for us to step up and face the reality of what we’re doing to the children in this state – throughout this state – that live in poverty and live in crime-ridden areas.”

Rep. Kim Williams (D-Stanton), a former Red Clay School Board member, was the only Democrat to vote against the two measures enabling redistricting, while also holding off on funding the plan.

Movement has come in fits and starts in nearly every phase of the proposal, with opposition in the Senate looming large.

Rep. Charles Potter (D-Wilmington North), the chief sponsor of the redistricting resolution, says breaking down the opposition in the upper chamber is his next goal.

“There’s work to be done and that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to keep working, keep working, we’re never going to stop. We’ve got to get this done. Now’s the time,” Potter said.

Collecting enough cash is also a potential barrier, as Gov. Jack Markell (D) and the Joint Finance Committee only set aside $6 million to pay for the plan.

WEIC chair Tony Allen says they need a minimum of $7.5 million to implement it and would suspend efforts without the full amount.

The commission can suspend the plan until 2018. After that, any redistricting efforts would have to restart from the beginning.

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