The Laster Opinion slams the Carney Administration

Vice Chancellor Travis Laster delivered a body blow to the Carney Administration and all those “reformist” politicians out there that love to starve public education of funds in favor of private and charter schools.  And Governor Carney’s spokesman’s response invoked, unintended perhaps, a darker era.  More on that at the end.

But first some background.  Two organizations, the Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP Delaware State Conference of Branches filed a lawsuit in the Court of Chancery alleging that the State of Delaware and its three constituent counties were violating the State Constitution with respect to education spending.   The Education Clause in Delaware’s constitution states: “the General Assembly shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and efficient system of free public schools[.]”   The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that the State of Delaware, through its officers, which include the Governor, the Secretary of Education, the Treasurer and the three finance directors of the three counties, is failing to meet that constitutional commitment to children of low income families, children with disabilities and children whose first langage is not English.  All told, the number of students affected are approximately 80,000.

The State filed a Motion to Dismiss the complaint outright, and Vice Chancellor Laster denied that motion in the opinion below.

Vice Chancellor Laster stated the obvious in his opinion: “One reasonable and common sense inference supported by the allegations of the complaint is that Disadvantaged Students need more funding and more services than their more privileged peers.  In Delaware, however, the educational funding system generally provides more support for more privileged children than it provides for impoverished children. Put differently, schools with more Disadvantaged Students receive less financial support from the State than schools with fewer Disadvantaged Students. Likewise, school districts with poorer tax bases receive less funding from the State than school districts with wealthier tax bases.”

Such is the case when we only fund our schools through property taxes.   Laster correctly noted that school districts have to constantly hold low turnout referendums every three years on average to raise taxes to cover the costs, which are always increasing.   Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that our counties have not  updated property assessments in more than 30 years.

Further, Laster took the state to task for its argument that the constitution requires only that all students be included and that the system use “centralization to reduce administrative costs and yield economic efficiencies.”  Laster said that, according to that logic, the state believes that a “dystopian hypothetical” to be legal: “At the extreme, the State could corral Disadvantaged Students into warehouses, hand out one book for every fifty students, assign some adults to maintain discipline, and tell the students to take turns reading to themselves.”

Damn.  But not far from how some “reformists” see the state obligation to public education.

Governor Carney’s spokesman, Jonathan Starkey, says the governor and his office continue to review the ruling.  But then he made an odd comment to the News Journal via email:

Separate and apart from this opinion, Governor Carney has said since the day he took office that he believes all Delaware children deserve a quality education. He is committed to investing in Delaware’s schools, and providing additional support and resources for schools serving low-income children, English learners and students with special needs. The budget that the Governor signed on July 1 targeted additional funding to support students and educators in those schools.”

I know this is unfair to Mr. Starkey, but that highlighted phrase above, “separate and apart,” is just a strange turn of phrase used awkwardly.  Maybe I am alone, but it invoked the infamous phrase of Plessy v. Ferguson: “Separate but equal.”   I am sure that was unintended in this case, but the Governor’s education policies, and really that of all of his predecessors, follow the separate but equal philosophy.   Priviliged students of wealthy families living in high property value neighborhoods separated from the lower working class children from low property value areas.  But was not true then and not true now was the “but equal” part.   Those separated into privileged schools and disadvantaged schools are not treated equally.   The equality we seek is not busing disadvantaged students into privileged schools.  The equality we seek is equality of funding.

The Laster Opinion may finally set us upon the road to that goal.


Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

23 comments on “The Laster Opinion slams the Carney Administration

  1. thank you for the post!

  2. Thank You VC Laster for seeing thru the fog of lying, pretense and treachery.

  3. Rebecca Cotto

    Pretty sure the DE ACLU is leading this lawsuit.

    • cassandram

      ACLU-DE and Community Legal Aid are the lawyers for these two groups.

  4. cassandram

    I would remind everyone that school budgets were decreased by 35M session before last. This was the shared sacrifice of those who could least afford to give anything back. As far as I can tell, that 35M did not get restored this past session. The Governor is dribbling bits of it back to the system in the form of targets grants and other small funding mechanisms that let his Administration continue to claim they are continuing “investments” in the schools.

    • Not to mention that the Markell administration cut transportation funding to a percentage-based formula, rather than fully funding it. This was just absorbed by the local districts.

    • I’m not seeing a commitment by the current speaker or Governor to make sure schools are fully funded. Education is too important to politicize. Adequate funding and continuity are the foundations to public education. Public education never has “fit” into an eight year political cycle. Politicians should observe schools 10 times more than they should act on them once. Trust your public education teachers to do right for students.

      • cassandram

        There’s a “Hunger Games” philosophy about Delaware schools, where the strongest get the best and most resources. It’s always been politicized — responding to wealthier suburban parents with resources and attention and responding to poor and city kids with the cheap reform-dujour. Because at the statewide level there is no political advantage to treating poor kids well. The real flaw in this is that potential employers can see this too. And if we are not in the business of giving all of our kids a world class education, these employers will go someplace who have a better commitment to it.

  5. Vicki Seifred

    Let’s not forget how charter schools have re-segregated schools in Delaware not to mention that the Neighborhood Schools Act, Choice and magnet schools that have further changed the demographics of our schools, especially in New Castle County. Yet, how we fund schools was not changed. We still compared schools based on standardized test schools and all research proves that test scores are directly tied to socio-economic level. There has been enough talk in Delaware. Now is the time for action. Our neediest students can not wait any longer!!

  6. “Administration and all those “reformist” politicians out there that love to starve public education of funds in favor of private and charter schools.”

    Can someone tell me what public “funds” in the amount of dollars, are going to private schools? Thank you.

  7. Private schools get very little money from the state. They even have to fight for bus transportation funds and driver education! Charter schools are completely different!

    • They are referring to vouchers in this statement.

      • Ok, What vouchers? We get NO money from the State and pay tuition for private schools!

        • Who’s “we”? What private school are you referring to there?

        • Sheesh, will you just read the sentence you’re referencing. Ed reformers are in favor of charters and vouchers.

          And private school families shouldn’t receive transportation funds.

          • @Pandora, THIS is what I was referencing, you’re NOT reading:
            “Vice Chancellor Travis Laster delivered a body blow to the Carney Administration and all those “reformist” politicians out there that love to starve public education of funds in favor of private and charter schools”

            @Alby: Name any private school. Not including Charters, because they are not private!

            • You specifically said “we.” Please clarify. To what private school community do you belong? Do you have children in private or parochial schools? Do you think that private schools should get public money?

              You just throw things out there as if we should automatically give a shit. I see no reason to give a shit what you think, because you make no arguments to support any position, and when people infer one from your comments you typically deny holding that position.

              Can you even understand what I’m saying?

              • @ Alby
                Then why on earth, are you wasting your precious time responding? You total agrrrrr!
                Yes, any Parochial should get money or I should get a voucher, for at least the money I send to the state for school taxes! We save the State a great deal of money sending our kids to private/parochial schools. I know a number of teachers, who teach in the public sector and they have to put their own money in for teaching materials for their students, because the schools and the state won’t reduce the number of school districts and the “FAT” at the top! And that’s not my words, that’s coming from the teachers that I know.

            • Dear lord, you’re dense. Somewhere your old English teacher weeps.

  8. And if the State would stop trying to fund companies, they could fund the schools for better education!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: