The Public Education Funding Commission would make recommendations to help improve how Delaware funds its school. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Senate moves to address school funding study with commission

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

The Public Education Funding Commission would make recommendations to help improve how Delaware funds its school. (Photo by Shutterstock)

The Public Education Funding Commission would make recommendations to help improve how Delaware funds its school. (Photo by Shutterstock)

After a couple of briefings on the landmark December 2023 report on school funding that says Delaware should invest up to $1 billion more into it, the state legislature is moving to take action.

Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 201, sponsored by Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin and chair of the Senate Education Committee, which ​​establishes the Public Education Funding Commission.

RELATED: Legislators briefed on landmark school funding report

That group will be tasked to continue the comprehensive review of public education funding, develop a roadmap of recommendations to implement improvements to the education funding system and serve as an ongoing body to review the funding annually and recommend updates and changes.

It’s a response to the American Institutes for Research’s (AIR) 200-page report that suggests an investment of  $500 million to $1 billion more in public education, which already accounts for about a third of the state’s annual budget.

RELATED: Adding $500M+ more into education likely matter for legislature

Notably, the report points out that the funding formula for Delaware – which is more than 70 years old – is outdated, doesn’t follow the resources and needs of students and doesn’t sufficiently provide enough for certain demographics like minorities, low-income and students with disabilities and special needs.

“In my 25 years as a public school teacher, I saw firsthand how the incredibly complex and inequitable system that Delaware uses to fund public education is failing to meet the needs of students and contributing to widespread burnout among educators,” Sturgeon said Tuesday.

Some of the inequities in funding led to a Delaware NAACP lawsuit which was settled in 2020. 

The NAACP argued that the funding system is unconstitutional because it is extremely unfair to disadvantaged students.

Two key outcomes of the lawsuit settlement were the creation of Opportunity Funding, which is tens of millions of dollars allocated each year for groups like low-income students, special needs students and English language learners. 

Another was state-wide property reassessments for all three counties, which haven’t been completed in decades. 

“During the last several years, we have passed numerous measures and have committed meaningful investments to support students of all ages and abilities. While these have been critical steps, the fundamental issue lies in how we fund public education in our state,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton, who is chair of the House Education Committee and co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, which helps make the state budget. 

The Public Education Funding Commission, she said, will help the state create a more equitable system that truly meets the needs of all students and educators. 

As for the AIR report, there are eight integral recommendations that this new commission will need to consider: 

  1. Increase investment in Delaware’s public education
  2. Distribute more resources according to student need
  3. Improve funding transparency
  4. Allow for more flexibility in how districts use resources
  5. Account for local capacity and address tax inequity
  6. Regularly reassess property values
  7. Simplify the calculation of local share provided to charter schools
  8. Implement a weighted student funding (or foundation) formula

“Over the last five years, the courts, independent researchers, and community members have all weighed in and consistently confirmed what our public educators have been telling us for decades,” Sturgeon said. 

The time has come for the state to stop kicking this can down the road and start working on real systemic reforms that will improve Delaware’s schools, she said. 

“The Public Education Funding Commission will do that by bringing advocates and experts together to develop a multi-year plan that the Legislature and Delaware’s next governor can follow to bring about the transformative changes that we all agree will be needed in the years ahead,” she said.

The commission will hold its first meeting by Oct. 1, 2024, and issue its first recommendations by Oct. 1, 2025, so the recommendations may be considered for inclusion in the governor’s recommended Fiscal Year 2027 budget.

SCR 201 now heads to the House, where it must pass by June 30 to send the bill to Gov. John Carney to sign into law.

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