- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

DOVER, Del. (AP) - House and Senate lawmakers reached a last-minute compromise on a controversial school redistricting plan aimed at helping low-income minority students in Wilmington as this year’s legislative session drew to a close early Friday.

While not obligating to pay for the redistricting plan, lawmakers agreed to give the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, which developed the proposal, $200,000 to continue its work. Lawmakers also agreed that any requirements for additional state funding would require further action by the General Assembly.

The failure of lawmakers to pass a resolution formally endorsing the plan, as required by state law, means any transfer of Wilmington students from the Christina School District to the Red Clay school district would not take place before the fall of 2019, a year later than previously expected.

“We always knew it would be a hard road,” said commission chairman Tony Allen.

Meanwhile, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell assured Wilmington-area lawmakers he would include at least $7.5 million to implement the redistricting plan in his final budget proposal before leaving office in January.

“While we have additional progress to make, after 40 years of busing students far from their homes, tonight we are closer than ever to our goal,” Markell said in a statement.

The agreement to provide interim funding for the redistricting effort came after lawmakers balked at a formal endorsement, citing the lack of details about the price tag and concerns that residents of the Red Clay district might be stuck with property tax increases.

“I do not think we’re ready to give final approval to the change in school district lines,” said Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere. “I think there is much more work to do.”

Blevins specifically cited concerns about how additional money for high-poverty schools and schools with high concentrations of English language learners and special-education students would be spent, and how it would get to the classrooms.

“There are a number of costs that I’m not sure have been taken into consideration yet,” she said.

Meanwhile, some downstate Republicans have said schools in their areas also need additional resources to serve economically disadvantaged students and should not be ignored in the debate over helping inner-city students in Wilmington.

Markell, who has put his political weight behind the redistricting proposal, said he would have preferred that it be implemented and fully funded this year, but that the compromise keeps the effort alive.

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