Vice chancellor rules against state, county request to drop part of school funding lawsuit

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A Delaware Vice Chancellor ruled against aneffort by the state and counties to dismiss a key claim in a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit over public school funding.

The state’s three counties unsuccessfully argued that they were not parties to the case. Under state law, counties collect property taxes.

The plaintiffs allege that state and county reluctance to reassess property has created inequities in the collection of taxes that are a sizable source of education funding in Delaware.

Plaintiffs argued that the lack of reassessment has led to the possibility of inequities that have left schools with less money than would be collected under a property tax structure where reassessment has taken place.

When school districts need money at times when property taxes and state aid fall short, the only option comes from referendum votes. The same is true for some building projects.

Government has traditionally drug in its heels on fears that reassessment would sharply raise taxes, although Laster noted that state law does not allow for an annual increase of more than 10 percent a year.

Delaware legislators and governmental units are known to brag about low property taxes and the lack of a sales tax as drawing cards for a state with a high income tax rate.

The lawsuit goes after what some see as an obsolete school funding formula that largely offers a set amount of aid per child and does not account for lower-income students who may need extra assistance.

It has been argued in some quarters that the system reinforces inequities in education. Under that argument, districts with poorer students struggle for funding to improve student performance, while the wealthier districts face fewer challenges and hence end up with more resources.

Plaintiffs filing the suit are Delawareans for Educational Opportunity a nonprofit association and the NAACP Delaware State Conference of Branches. Attorneys for Community Legal Aid and the ACLU represented the plaintiffs, with a number of private law firms representing state and county officials.

Named in the suit were the governor and state Secretary of Education, along with finance officers in each of the state’s three counties.

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