2009 Legislative Recap
In a final push before the summer recess, several pieces of the Markell-Denn education reform agenda were passed by the General Assembly, notably bills addressing school performance awards, Delaware’s student assessment system, and financial oversight and transparency for districts. With the passage of these bills, policymakers are well-positioned to pursue an even more aggressive education agenda when the General Assembly re-convenes in January. Below is a re-cap on each of these efforts.
Senate Bill 68 enables the Department of Education (DOE) to implement a new assessment system—a computer adaptive test that will measure individual student improvement over time—based on the recommendations of Vision 2015 and those issued in 2006 by a legislative Task Force.
Teacher and School Performance Rewards, High-Needs Incentives
Senate Bill 151 creates a pilot Academic Awards Achievement program, which would use short-term federal stimulus funds to reward schools that close the achievement gap and exceed their adequate yearly progress goals for two or more consecutive years. While the intent of the legislation is good, Vision 2015 recommends school-wide performance rewards and individual incentives for teachers. We urge policymakers to build on SB 151 by creating incentives for high-performing teachers and for those who teach in high-need schools and high-need subjects.
Financial Oversight, Transparency, and Flexibility
House Substitute 1 to House Bill 119 aimed to provide more regulatory and financial flexibility to local school districts and establish better transparency, financial oversight, and accountability tools. However, the bill does not go far enough to provide “substantially more discretion with respect to expenditure of state funds,” as the summary states, and has been criticized for creating new compliance mandates with little corresponding local flexibility. There is still a long way to go to transform Delaware’s World War II-era “unit count” funding system and we will work with policymakers in the coming year to make the changes needed.
This package is a positive step, yet more must be done to make Delaware the first state in education. We cannot provide every child in Delaware with a world-class education until we give school districts more flexibility to innovate, provide individual incentives for excellent teachers, and get serious about turning around chronically underperforming schools.
In addition to these bills, the legislature also passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 24 urging the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Department of Education (DOE) to submit a competitive application for federal Race To The Top funding. The first application will be due in December 2009 with a subsequent opportunity in 2010. This resolution shows that Delaware is united and ready to pursue this powerful opportunity for our students.