I’m disappointed that any elected official could be so flippant about the most difficult issue that has faced our Country and State for the last 230 years just so that a few well-connected politicians can have their own educational bureaucracy to control — we have too much bureaucracy as it is. I have a competing idea; one that I floated a few years ago.
How about making it easier to open Charter Schools in the City of Wilmington by providing start up funds for Wilmington-domiciled Charter Schools. Make it a magnet for educational innovation, creativity, and competition. With Wilmington’s economic climate shot to #ell, imagine the long term benefits to having the best educational results in the State?
(In full disclosure, I, unsuccessfully so far, have been trying to start a Charter High School in Wilmington for the last ~2 years — the trials and tribulations could fill a book).
Some History of Delaware’s educational system for the unaware…
In 1896, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racially separate facilities, if equal, did not violate the Constitution. According to the Court, segregation was not discrimination. Homer Plessy lived in the formerly very desegregated city of New Orleans (which after the Civil War became segregated like the rest of the South) was arrested for refusing to move from a seat reserved for whites only. This decision had huge ramifications for all aspects of life — specifically education. The Supreme Court had just ruled that separate schools were OK. That government could choose to segregate schools based on race.
In response to this, people of color and many whites strengthened “Colored-Only” schools and fought for resources unjustly denied their children. In the 1920’s Pierre du Pont, former CEO of the Dupont Company (and creator of Longwood Gardens) took matters into his own hands, spending ~$6 million to build about 90 “colored” schools in Delaware (including Howard High School) — in some cases, these schools were nicer than the generic “white-only” public school. However, these schools still did not have access to new school books and were underfunded. (This history is documented in a WHYY documentary that aired a few years ago).
Fast forward to 1954 when the Supreme Court unravelled the evil web created by the Plessy case in Brown v. Board of Education. The Court ruled on May 17, 1954 that separation was not equal. Millions of American children were denied an education because segregation was designed to keep these children, solely based on race, as poor, uneducated and subservient. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP led the effort to get Plessy and legal segregation overturned.
Anyone knowledgeable about Delaware’s checkered past in race relations knows that Delaware was a primary participant in this Brown v. Board of Education fight through Gebhart v. Belton. From the Library of Congress:
In 1950 Louis Redding filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sarah Bulah to admit her daughter Shirley to a nearby white elementary school, after the Delaware Board of Education refused to allow her to board an all-white school bus that drove pass their home. In 1951, Redding filed a second suit on behalf of Ethel Belton and nine other plaintiffs, whose children were barred from attending the all-white high school in their community.
After Brown v. Board of Education, Delaware went through an extended period of troubles within the education system tied to desegregation. According to Dr. Samuel Hoff:
In a series of decisions over the next five years, the U.S. District Court ruled on the substance of the complaint of the newly retooled Evans v. Buchanan case. However, the seminal decision relating to desegregation in Delaware came in the 1976 Evans v. Buchanan ruling by the U.S. District Court. Unhappy with the exclusion of Wilmington from desegregation efforts, the court proposed a plan with 10 to 35 percent minority student targets within eleven New Castle school districts and mandated inter-district busing on a substantial scale as a remedy to existing racial separateness. The breath of the busing plan-affecting a large metropolitan area-represented the first of its kind in the nation. Over the next four years, various federal courts rejected twelve separate attempts by the State of Delaware to delay, modify, or reverse the 1976 order.
In June 1980, the Delaware General Assembly passed a law relating to reorganization, taxation, and governance of public school systems in the area of the state subject to the 1976 desegregation order. In response, the State Board of Education created four school districts in New Castle County and petitioned the District Court to modify the 1976 ruling. A December 1980 ruling by the Delaware Supreme Court found the latter law to be consistent with the Delaware constitution. A 1981 U.S. District Court decision supported the four-district setup, which was opposed by the lawyers backing the plaintiffs in Evans v. Buchanan. In the final decision dealing with the Evans v. Buchanan case, the U.S. District Court denied a 1990 attempt by the Brandywine School District to deviate from previous court orders mandating desegregation.
In the 1990’s, Delaware under then Governor Thomas Carper created the opportunity for Charter Schools and broader school choice. A few years later, the State implemented the Neighborhood Schools act. These pieces of legislation attempted to provide more family choice — where parents not government could choose where their child went to school.
This long history leads us to where we are today.
“We need local control, and we are going to get it.” [said Councilman Potter]
We don’t need a new City of Wilmington bureaucracy in charge of education. The City’s budget is shot already. What we need is great school leaders who are accountable for the achievement of their teachers and students. If education lags, parents are smart enough to move their kids to another, better school. Give our families the freedom to do that.
Desegregation was not a mistake, and a local bureaucracy will not increase education for our children. Set our schools, our families, and our kids free. Give them educational choice that is creative, innovative, and accountable.