Early Childhood and Teacher Supports Main Focus Areas this Legislative Session

July 7th, 2023

Category: News

Legislative Hall, Dover

Another half of a legislative session is in the books for Delaware. This year—the penultimate one in Gov. John Carney’s second term—lawmakers affirmed the governor’s budget, while paying special focus to supporting teachers, families with young children, and early learning programs.

As educators continue to take on more responsibilities to keep students on track, Delaware legislators introduced a slate of bills and budget items aimed at supporting their workforce—including better pay and mental health resources.

Overall, Delaware saw its state education budget increase 8.5 percent from Fiscal Year 2023 to FY 24 ($1,832,407,800 to $1,985,539,400), with increases going to support early childhood initiatives and much more. However, revenue forecasters were less positive with their outlook for the state budget in future years. Due partly to an ongoing commitment to the state’s stabilization fund, lawmakers did not fund many other initiatives beyond what was found in the governor’s recommended budget this winter.

Investments in Early Childhood Education

When a survey of hundreds of Delaware caregivers revealed that finding care for children under five is difficult, costly, and burdensome for families—advocates hoped for continued investments and improvements in early education. Gov. Carney continued his commitment to making early care a priority for his administration with three areas of the budget receiving additional funding.

Continued Increases in Child Care and Pre-K. When the dust settled this month, early learning advocates saw a 15-percent statewide increase in Purchase of Care rates (the subsidy that covers tuition for low-incomes families) and a 100-percent increase in funding for state-sponsored pre-K, a $6.1 million bump that will result in hundreds more children being served in early care and education settings. And, with these increases, lawmakers  saw to it that Delaware’s early learning ecosystem has more stable annual contracts and higher funding for higher quality standards.

While advocates like First State Pre-K fought for geographic parity this session, providers in Kent and Sussex counties still receive around 27 percent less in Purchase of Care funding per-child than New Castle County providers. And although special education rates went up about 16 percent statewide, child care settings receive on average only seven percent more to serve children with special needs, while K-12 schools receive up to 50 percent more. That said, there is still work underway to ensure families and child care programs can receive special education funding through a transparent, simple process to ensure children receive support services.

Despite Delaware’s progress, staffing shortages and growing costs have contributed to fewer openings statewide and fewer children being served by state funding (only about one in seven under age five). Why? Due to historic underinvestments, providers are offering fewer Purchase of Care-funded seats.

Equitable Approach to Special Needs Pre-K. HS 1 for HB 33 aligns the student-to-teacher ratios found in in pre-K basic special education with those in K-3 basic special education, adding additional resources to support high-need children.

[Read more: What’s New with Delaware’s Education Funding System?; Legislators Propose Overdue Improvements to Pre-K Funding]

To Address Learning Loss and Teacher Shortages, State Invests in Educators

Governor Carney led the effort to secure a nine percent salary increase for teachers in the final budget (the nine percent covers the jump in the state share of teacher salaries; about 30-40 percent of teachers’ salaries are covered by local district revenue).

Delaware currently ranks behind all of our neighboring states in both starting salaries and average salaries for teachers. We currently pay our starting teachers an average of $6,000 less than Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland and are in the position to get even further behind. By 2026, all Maryland school districts will be required to offer a minimum of $60,000 starting salary for all teachers. In average salaries, our state is $9,000 below surrounding states. This issue has also been a focus of groups like the Redding Consortium for several years. With this increase, Delaware’s starting salary will be roughly $46,800.

Teacher Apprenticeships to Provide Another Path to Teaching. HB 138 Establishes a Delaware Educator Apprenticeship Program to be developed by the Department of Education.

In apprenticeship programs, aspiring educators will find themselves in high-quality, industry-driven pathways that pay them and provide them hands-on work experience. Increased wages as the candidate progress are a foundational agreement in the apprenticeship. Candidates will be required to meet the student teaching and coursework requirements of teacher preparation in Delaware.

Teacher apprenticeships are just one piece of Delaware’s ongoing strategy to improve its teacher workforce. Legislators, district leaders, and nonprofits have collaborated on this intentional, aligned effort, which also includes teacher residencies and “grow your own” programs.

[Read more: Teacher Apprenticeships Coming to Delaware]

Progress Continues on Delaware’s Funding System

 Momentum continues to grow in Delaware for an updated school funding system. While partners like the Vision Coalition urge stakeholders to modernize to a student-centered funding system, state officials continue to do more than is required by the high-stakes lawsuit that settled several years ago.

Governor Carney’s Opportunity Funding initiative—which provides extra support for every multilingual learner (MLL) and low-income student—will increase by $15 million, bringing the line item up to $53 million—or about $400 – $500 more (4-5% more) per student. This figure represents $3 million more than what is required by the funding lawsuit settlement.

Rolling Property Reassessment. HB 62 requires rolling property tax reassessment every five years, bringing it up-to-date with other states. Ensuring that properties are regularly reassessed enables a more sustainable, sufficient revenue and accurate funding equalization process. Conducting regular property reassessment will be a step towards creating a more equitable funding system. This is a major improvement over the current state, previously there were no requirements for regular reassessment. However, Delaware is still behind our neighbors, Maryland reassesses properties every three years, and Pennsylvania reassesses annually. Nationally most states reassess every 1-5 years.

[Read more: 9 Questions (and Answers) About Property Reassessment in Delaware]

Literacy and Equity Continue as K-12 Focus

With Delaware still lagging behind nationally on literacy rates—combined with the continued ripples felt by the COVID-19 pandemic—lawmakers and advocates spent considerable focus on reading, equity, and learning acceleration.

Task Force to Expand Mentoring and Literacy. HJR 1 created a bi-partisan School Mentoring and Literacy Task Force, designed to expand volunteer mentoring and literacy education in Delaware schools. Their report was released earlier this summer. The Governor’s Office has hired staff to focus here, and funding was added to the state budget to support background checks for school mentors.

In-School Advocate for Equity. HB 188 codifies the Equity Ombudsman program, which provides students and families encountering inequity in the school system with non-lawyer advocates to assist them, in the Department of State. The Parent Information Center (PIC) of Delaware is the state-contracted agency serving as ombudsman, while the Educational Equity Council provides oversight to program, which aims to provide broad review, analysis and recommendations for the improvement of student equity and outcomes throughout the system. PIC is a longstanding nonprofit that provides training, resources, education, and advocacy for families.

Changes to Interventions. HB 174 requires that any student who has had two out-of-school suspensions in a semester be referred to the school-based problem-solving team for both academic and non-academic intervention.

Making Postsecondary Success More Attainable for Students

 As Delaware continues to venture into a new frontier for career pathways and postsecondary success, state budget-writers added $5.7 million to the state’s popular SEED and INSPIRE scholarships ($4 million to SEED, $1.7 million to INSPIRE), which provide access to Delaware Technical Community College and University of Delaware’s Associate in Arts Program, and Delaware State University, respectively.

As the Delaware Workforce Development Board’s recently released strategic plan points out, upwards of 60 percent of family-sustaining jobs are going to require more education beyond high school, making investments like these all the more important.

Meanwhile, HB 116 requires public institutions of higher learning to grant credit for Advanced Placement exam scores of three or higher.

Other Bills that Passed

Due to increased attention and scrutiny around the dangers of lead exposure to children, several related bills were signed this session. HB 227 makes various amendments to the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act to improve compliance with its testing and reporting requirements. It also requires the Division of Public Health to share data with school nurses relating to whether an enrolled student has been screened for lead poisoning.

SB 9 creates a system by which all properties where a child who is found to have high blood lead levels live are promptly screened for lead-based paint and, where that paint is found, treated to abate or remediate the lead-based paint.

HB 192 addresses accountability around low-performing public charter schools.

HB 3 w/ HA 1 will provide for excused absences for a student’s mental or behavioral health and requires that any student taking more than 2 such absences be referred to an in-school behavioral health specialist.

HB 4, also known as Nolan’s Law, enacts a set of school policies following a traumatic event.

HB 229 removes the required window for submission of a final plan from the Redding Consortium to the State Board of Education and instead requires that the State Board act on any plan submitted by the Redding Consortium within three months.

SB 135 streamlines the functions of the Provider Advisory Board with the Delaware Early Childhood Council—part of a continuous statewide effort to streamline and simplify the early learning ecosystem.

HB 45 clarifies that developmental screenings will not be conducted if a parent declines them, or notifies the licensee that the child is already receiving early intervention or special education and related services.

SB 60 allows teachers paid absences for jury duty or when subpoenaed as a witness, while SB 61 allows teachers to use two days of accrued sick leave as personal days and extends bereavement leave.

Bills that were Introduced but Not Passed

Any bill introduced during this half-session is considered active and will be considered when the legislature resumes in January.

HB 200 would establish a mental health services unit for Delaware high schools, while HB 3 would provide for excused absences for the mental or behavior health of a student.

HB 6 would require the state to fund a mental health professional and mental health coordinator position for each district and charter school by the 2024-25 school year. These roles would develop partnerships with community-based organizations, work to establish collaborative relationships with the school, families, and local community, create an implementation plan, and undertake an assessment of the district’s mental health needs.

HB 5 would charge the Department of Health & Social Services to apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a State Plan Amendment that would allow for reimbursement of medically necessary behavioral health services without IEP or IFSP documentation.

HB 173 would allow for two floating holidays per school year that would not fall within a State recognized religious holiday.

SB 58 would continue public health emergency policies of waiving co-pays for families earning less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and reimbursed Purchase of Care providers for up to 15 absent days per month per child.

SB 59 would establish a statewide Purchase of Care reimbursement rate for all counties (aligning Kent and Sussex to the New Castle County rate).

[Read more: General Assembly Proposals Seek to Stabilize Child Care]

SB 188 would enact the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact (ITMC), a partnership that supports the mobility of licensed teachers across different states.

Known as “The Equity and Inclusion in Financial Literacy for All High School Students in Delaware Act,” HB 203 would require high schools to provide, at a minimum, a half credit course on financial literacy—eventually becoming a graduation requirement.

SS1 for SB 163 would update the state’s charter school law to provide charter schools the ability to hire the leaders they deem beneficial to the success of the school’s educational program and the needs of students and staff.

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