Delaware School Funding Settlement: What it Means

November 18th, 2020

Category: Funding and Equity

As has been widely reported, a settlement was announced last month in the ongoing lawsuit over Delaware’s school funding system. The agreement was reached between Delaware and civil rights groups Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP of Delaware.

What does it all mean? Here’s how the settlement could impact the state legislature, state budget picture, and advocate reactions.

What does the settlement do?

The settlement requires specific commitments to invest in education over the next few years. While you can view the full agreement here, highlights include:

  • Opportunity Funding: The settlement focuses on Opportunity Funding, an investment that Governor Carney first proposed and the legislature approved in 2018. Opportunity Funding provides schools with additional money for English learners and students who are from low-income families. The settlement proposes that Opportunity Funding become permanent and more than double resources to $60 million annually by the 2024-25 school year. The funding would grow to:
    • $35 million per year for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years
    • $50 million for the 2023-24 school year
    • $60 million for the 2024-25 school year
    • Following the 2024-25 school year, the amount would increase with enrollment of low-income students and English learners

 

The resources will be allocated to schools serving English learners and low-income students. Additionally, $5 million of the funds will be used for mental health and reading supports in schools with high concentrations of English learners and low-income students.

  • Assessment of Current School Finance System: The proposal requires that the state hire an independent organization to conduct an assessment of the current public school funding system by January 2024.
  • Investment in Early Learning: The agreement also proposes to double the Early Childhood Assistance Program funding to $12.2 million annually for Fiscal Years 2024 and 2025. This program is currently the state pre-K program for three- and four-year-olds in Delaware.
  • Investment in K-3 Special Education: Beginning the 2023-24 school year, funding for basic special education students in K-third grade must equal funding currently in place for special education students in grades four through 12.
  • Investment in Teacher Recruitment: Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, there will be an annual investment of $4 million to support teacher recruitment and retention practices and efforts in high-needs schools.

 

What comes next?

In order for the settlement to be official, the Delaware legislature must approve it. This means that Gov. Carney will likely introduce legislation for the General Assembly to review when session begins in January.

The good news? Delaware could be facing a projected budget surplus of $149 million if current assumptions stand. According to the most recent Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) meeting, state most revenue sources are stable as of October. While much uncertainty surrounded the state budget in early spring, DEFAC has a more positive outlook now that more is known, though the group will continue to monitor revenue projections. Stakeholders remain hopeful that the legislature will back the proposal and agree to invest desperately needed resources for students.

School funding is an issue that the legislature has studied and debated over years, and the settlement presents an opportunity for returning and new legislators alike to make change. Six of the newly elected members of the General Assembly ran on platforms that highlighted funding equity as a core education issue in Delaware. The 151st General Assembly will also be a younger, more diverse legislature—one that reflects the growing diversity of the student population and features many legislators who bring the perspective of an educator and/or parent.

How are advocates reacting?

Most can agree that additional funding for students is a good thing. Research supports this. There has also been alignment around the sentiment that the settlement is just the floor. Advocates and experts agree that more work must be done to fully reform Delaware’s funding system in order to better serve all students. The desire to go beyond the settlement and change the funding system is reflected in statements released from advocates in Delaware.

The funding advocacy coalition Education Equity Delaware said that the settlement does not go far enough. They note that “while we are supportive of more money for students with high needs, and recognize this settlement would provide much-needed resources to the students who need it most, this is just the floor.” The organization has been a strong advocate for an equitable funding system, citing Delaware as one of only eight states that funds schools based on adult needs rather than student needs. Delaware’s public education funding system is one of the oldest funding systems in the country making it what the coalition calls, outdated and inefficient.

Jea Street of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity expressed that “while we were not able to get everything we wanted in this settlement, it does provide support for children that is desperately needed in Delaware’s education system.” He also noted that “while this settlement is reasonable today, I must make it clear that the battle for fairness in public school education in Delaware is not over and advocacy for improvement will continue.”

The Redding Consortium for Education Equity applauded the work of the civil rights groups involved and said that the settlement “will make a tangible difference in the lives of our most disadvantaged students.” The statement also emphasized that “targeted funding can help fill some of the gaps in our system of education, but the structural inequities that prompted this case will persist until our General Assembly takes bold action to eliminate them.”

Many early childhood advocates also aspire for more. Currently, per-child funding in pre-K amounts to about 50 percent of K-12 funding. Even with the additional investment of $12 million from the settlement, Delaware would still rank 33rd in the country by today’s ranking in terms of access. High quality pre-K will take an investment of $14,000-$15,000 investment per child, which is similar to Delaware’s K-12 funding and neighboring states’ pre-K investment. Advocates believe that in order to ensure high-quality pre-K for all children, the state must invest about $160 million total (which could be done gradually over five years, for instance), allowing us to serve 80 percent of four-year-olds.

What can I do?

Author:
Kelsey Mensch

KMensch@rodelde.org

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