A long-awaited report release from the American Institutes for Research on school funding has shown that Delaware needs to allocate anywhere from $590 million to $1 billion more into education.
That’s between a 27% and 46% increase from the multi-billion dollar investment the state already has in public education, which is typically about a third of the state budget.
Drew Atchison, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, presented to a crowd of educators, advocates, parents and legislators the findings from the report, which cost Delaware $700,000.
One of the main recommendations of the report is to transition to a weighted funding system, rather than the current resource-based system that converts student enrollment into “units” and bases part of the funding on the experience level of teachers.
Some problems arise from this, including the fact that students with disabilities, English language learners or low-income students do not receive the additional funding ti support their specialized needs.
The report focused on three areas: adequacy; equity and wealth neutrality with emphasis on transparency, flexibility and stability.
In its recommended weighted system, each student receives a base amount of funding, and then gets a multiplier if they are low-income, an English language learner or have a disability.
Then, there is an effective weight – an adjusted weight accounting for the proportion of students for which a given weight applies.
For example, a low-income weight of 1.81 for a school where 31% of students are low-income results in an effective weight of 1.20, whereas a school where 70% of students are low-income would have an effective weight of 1.51.
Neighboring state Maryland uses single weights for economic disadvantage, students with disabilities and English learners, multiplied by the base amount.
New Jersey uses multiple economic disadvantage weights differentiated based on concentration, with the base amount differentiated by grade level.
Another issue with the current funding formula, Atchison noted, is some districts cannot raise local funds as much as others because of lower property values and a higher population of impoverished families.
The state usually funds around 70% to a district or local share of 30%. But richer districts utilize more local funding – about $2,000 more per student on average.
Because Delaware’s current resource-based formula follows teachers more than students, low income districts tend to have the least experienced teachers for a variety of reasons.
Atchison and other advocates have said there’s a direct correlation between the amount of money invested in education and student outcomes.
And while Delaware historically has been in the top 15 states of funding per student, the outcomes fall much short of the state’s goals to have 76% of students proficient in English language arts and 70% proficient in math by 2030.
Just 40.76% of students are proficient in English language arts and 30.91% are proficient in math, according to the Delaware Report Card.
Also, more than one out of five students are chronically absent, which means they miss 10% or more of the school days in an academic year.
Response to Release
The driver behind the report was the 2018 ACLU lawsuit, settled in 2020, that found that Delaware students are not adequately educated, specifically because certain student populations were not getting enough funding.
Delaware’s constitution says the state will provide an adequate education for students, although it doesn’t specify how.
“Our state has an obligation to provide an adequate education to our students, and today showed examples of the state denying a constitutionally adequate education to our students,” said Dwayne Bensing, the legal director of ACLU Delaware.
“And then the question is, what does the state do to conform with those obligations? So right now there’s a price tag of $500 million to a billion dollars and our students are worth it. And not only are they worth it, the Constitution requires our state to act on it.”
There were several questions from audience members relating to policy and how these funding recommendations would be put into law, which Atchison said was not part or the purpose of the research completed.
Still, legislators are likely to be divided by party on how much additional funding to pump into the system and how local schools and districts will be allowed to use that money.
“I think there’s merit to a lot of what was proposed, but the challenge is how do we best use the money that’s already in our educational budget to meet these needs,” said Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover. “I don’t think the goal should be to raise new revenue or find ways to increase new sources of funds.”
He said Delaware should focus on how to best use the $2 billion – one-third of the state budget – that is dedicated to K-12 education.
“We all want the best outcomes, there’s no question about that, but right now we’ve got some systemic problems baked into our system that aren’t just centered around school funding,” he said, “but more specifically, how we’ve overwhelmed the classroom instructor to where policy has injected itself into that environment and has actually harmed the ability for the teacher to do what they’re hired to do.”
He said schools need to get back to teaching the basics of math and reading.
“When you look at our educational system and you look at our scores, our best and brightest are still excelling because they’re always going to excel,” he said. “What’s happened is we’ve lost our middle ground. Our middle ground, because of this overcook nature of what we’re doing in our classroom, our middle ground is now added to our lower ground.”
Secretary of Education Mark Holodick – who told the crowd he had just gotten the report Monday to read through – said he doesn’t see any immediate or huge changes.
Most of the changes seem likely to come through legislation, unless the matter goes back to court and a judge compels the change, a possibility that Bensing hinted at.
Bensing argues that the report’s recommendations aren’t a suggestion but an “indictment” on Delaware for not providing adequate education, which legislators must correct.
“I think there has to be a forum for conversations to get feedback from students, parents, and other stakeholders who need to have an understanding of this report,” Holodick said. “What we also need is feedback and an awful lot of thought put into what makes the most sense for Delaware, and I don’t think we can afford to rush that.”
Holodick said changes could be staggered, with incremental steps happening in the Democratic-dominated legislature, which in recent years has passed education-related bills at a high clip.
Because of the ongoing statewide property reassessments, there might need to be more change to account for the changes in property taxes once the assessments are completed, which should definitely be completed for all three counties by the end of 2025 at the latest.
While $500 million to $1 billion is no drop in the bucket, Holodick said the legislature has found ways to shift funds before, including Opportunity Funding that Gov. John Carney pushed as part of the education funding lawsuit settlement..
“We have dedicated significantly more funds to public education through opportunity funds, and this administration has prioritized public education without question,” he said. “In my time as Secretary the last two years, and well before that, this governor has directed additional resources to early childhood, opportunity funding and more with support and a lot of leadership from the General Assembly.”
To read the full report, click here.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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