Dollars and Sense: Keeping Pace in a Changing World
As members of the Rodel Teacher Council, we have spent the past year researching personalized learning. In a truly personalized setting, students are at the center of their learning: Their work is meaningful, tailored to their needs and interests, and accessible anytime and anywhere. Our research continued and we began to see how elements of the current system would need to change in order to allow for a truly student-centered environment. One of the biggest areas of need is our current state education funding system.
Our state funding system needs to change because with innovative approaches like personalized learning, students should have the opportunity to take classes from educators in different districts, states, or even countries. The current funding system doesn’t support that. Our state funding system needs to change because the current process for allocating funds is based on a static count taken once during the school year, even though we know from our experience that our students and their needs evolve constantly. Our current system is not responsive to that. Our state funding system needs to change because it’s not student-centered, even as our schools are trying to become more focused on individual students. For instance, as teachers, we know that the smart use of technology in classrooms can actually make the learning process more equitable by providing all students with access to personalized materials and expertise on a student-by-student basis, but as a state we need to ensure that equitable resources are provided so that all students can benefit from those opportunities.
Through our research, we learned that at the state level, education dollars in Delaware are currently allocated in terms of staffing “units,” which are disconnected from the actual needs of students—thanks to a funding system that was established in the middle of the last century. With the current unit system, there is also little flexibility at the local level in terms of how state education dollars can be spent, limiting the ability of local educators and communities to make innovative decisions to better meet individual students’ needs. As Richard Culatta, current Chief Innovation Officer for the Rhode Island Department of Education and former Director of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education has said, “The least equitable thing we can do is treat all students the same.” In our classrooms, we must recognize that each of our students has unique needs and as teachers we must be prepared to address them. That’s the case with our instruction, and it’s also the case with our state education funding system.
It’s time for the state of Delaware to modernize its education funding system to keep pace with and support the innovative work already happening in schools across the state. Funding allocations should be responsive to individual students’ needs, interests, and goals—not based on units. It’s time to recognize the changing needs and evolving practices in Delaware’s public schools by modernizing Delaware’s state education funding system.