Governor’s State of the State: On target, but we still need a funding fix
I recently shared my hope for what Governor Markell would say in his State of the State address on January 20. The Governor’s significant commitment to public education continues to encourage me.
In his address, he was clear about the urgent need to improve our schools and how education is everything in today’s globally competitive environment. He spoke about how the work we pledged to do a year ago—and that earned Delaware $119 million and the No. 1 rating in the federal Race to the Top competition—is well underway.
He spoke about his commitment to work with Education Secretary Lowery and many others to implement the impressive recommendations of the Delaware Early Childhood Council, so that our youngest and most needy children arrive in kindergarten ready to take off.
But he left out a crucial piece: how we must begin the processing of revamping Delaware’s funding system, now more than 60 years old, so that it is more simple, flexible and equitable. The large-scale changes we are embarking on require the significant startup funding we will be getting through Race to the Top, but those funds won’t last forever, so we need to begin planning now for how to sustain the supports our schools will need over the long haul. (See the LEAD Committee’s 2008 reports, here and here, for a look at how our system stacks up to the rest of the nation and how we can move toward a more fair, flexible, and cost-efficient funding system.)
Some might argue that education funding seems to be holding up, so why change it? We are in a bubble. States across the nation are making massive cuts to education. Thus far, we have avoided cuts to education, because state leadership has prioritized it and because the state has held over a substantial pool of federal stimulus dollars.
The time to migrate to a new finance system is when the system is relatively stable. It will take several years, at minimum, to move fully to a new system. If we wait until the federal money goes away we will face three critical problems:
- All the high-need students who are getting additional services now with federal dollars (e.g., for more instructional time) will lose those supports after Race to the Top funds end;
- Because Delaware’s system is one of the most centrally-controlled in the country, district- and school-level leaders will have almost no flexibility to use their limited dollars in ways that best meet their students’ needs; and
- Even if districts and charter schools want to share resources regionally to save money, they will be hard pressed to do so because of the inflexibility of Delaware’s funding formula.
Doing all of this will take time, and it is hard, yet the benefits to our students and educators, as well as to our communities and economy, will last for generations.