As Legislature Wraps, Lawmakers Focus on School Climate, Child Care, and Holistic Supports for Students and Educators

July 2nd, 2024

Category: News

Legislative Hall, Dover

The 152nd General Assembly—the last one convened under Gov. John Carney—is officially in the books.

As promised during his final State of the State Address, Gov. Carney’s recommended pay increases for educators passed the final budget. Overall, Delaware saw its state education budget grow 8.6-percent over last year, with $171,658,500 added to support increases for early childhood initiatives and much more. The total state budget jumped 9.3 percent, adding $522 million to the $6.1 billion budget.

On the postsecondary front, Delaware added $5.4 million to its free college tuition programs, the 19-year-old SEED scholarship ($3.3 million) for Delaware Technical Community College and University of Delaware and the INSPIRE scholarship ($2.1 million) for Delaware State University.

In a legislative session that some insiders classified as collaborative and bereft of fireworks or major disagreements on legislation, other major topics ran the gamut from hospital costs, bail reform, artificial intelligence, to Delaware’s official state cocktail (the Orange Crush).

For more coverage, read recaps by Amanda Fries for DelawareOnline, Tyler Micik of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, and WDEL.

Career Supports for Current and Future Educators

Last year, the Public Education Compensation Committee (or PECC, created by Senate Bill 100 of the 151st General Assembly) recommended an enhanced salary structure for school staff, which Gov. Carney included in his FY25 draft budget. This means that classroom educators will be on track to a $60,000 starting salary by 2028, one year behind the timeline for a $60,000 starting salary in Maryland. All classroom educators will be receiving a two percent raise along with a flat $1,875 applied to their annual salaries for the next four years.

This committee and the budget also included raises for several other categories including administrators, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals and bus drivers. Delaware continues to advance its educator recruitment, compensation, and retention strategies—foundational pillars of any education system.

Streamlining Educator Prep and Training. SS1 for SB 252 requires the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) to perform audits of educator preparation programs to ensure they are complying with the evidence-based literacy instruction requirements known as the Science of Reading. Programs in compliance will be rewarded with a distinction to be named later, while programs not in compliance will be required to undergo corrective action.

SB 304-1 (legislation taking action on last year’s SCR 13) streamlines non-academic, professional development trainings and ensures that educators are not overburdened with repetitive, unnecessary, or ineffective training requirements.

HB 332 addresses the state’s successful Teacher Academy pathway, a high school program that trains future teachers and supports recruitment of young people into the profession. HB 332 officially codifies the Teacher Academy pathway, making it a central part of DDOE’s ongoing strategy, with the goal to connect aspiring educators with their next career steps—including higher education, work-based learning, and courses that can advance their pathway to becoming an educator in Delaware.

These experiences build on the three high school pathway courses already required and will be available to students in their fourth year. At that late stage in their pathways journey, many upperclassmen students have already burned through all available coursework and work-based learning opportunities.

The bill directs the Department of Education to support expansion of the Teacher Academy, provide standard curriculum, and ensure coursework is articulated to higher education institutions. The goal is to build intentional connections with Grow Your Own initiatives, apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships, and yearlong teacher residencies—and to support students to secure scholarships to continue their education.

HS 2 for HB 252 incentivizes new graduates of Delaware’s teacher residency programs to stick around in Delaware schools, essentially counting their residency year on the state’s educator pay scale, which rewards educators for years of service.

On a similar note, SB 187 gives pay-scale credit to educators for graduate degrees they earned before becoming an educator. Once an individual is employed as an educator, in order to receive credit for any graduate degrees earned after that time, such degree must be in the subject area in which the educator is employed. Approximately 6,674 of 9,841 Delaware educators hold a master’s or doctoral degree (many of which earned their degrees while serving as an educator).

Child Care Budget Increases, Bills Focus on Child Safety and Workforce

With only about 16 percent of Delaware children under age five served in publicly funded child care, early childhood advocates continued to push this past year for more investments in this critical developmental window for children.

In response, the final FY 25 budget included a $10.4 million increase to Purchase of Care, the state subsidy that covers tuition for low-income families. The legislature also approved a Purchase of Care rate increase, bringing it to 100 percent of the 50th percentile of the 2024 Market Rate Study, effective July 1, 2024. This rate will be consistent across the state, eliminating glaring disparities between counties. Although still not funding the true cost of care (the federal benchmark is the 75th percentile of the current market rate), Delaware providers overall will see a 15-percent increase on average, with larger increases in Kent and Sussex counties. Subsidy reimbursement rates previously reflected 2021 market rates, which were out of date and did not cover the cost of care or quality.

Lawmakers also increased eligibility to access Purchase of Care to families earning up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Previously capped at 185 percent, or around $55,000 a year, this boost will allow more families to access state-funded care. Delaware remains the lowest among its neighbors in terms of family eligibility, with our neighboring states all providing care to families at 250 percent or above.

Delaware’s public pre-K program, Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP), saw $3.4 million added to its budget, which equates to about 200 more seats available to Delaware children.

Child Safety. SB 295 strengthens the current screening process for child care workers. A recent string of tragic incidents at child care centers occurred in part due to lack of qualified staff and lack of strong background checks.

Currently, employers at child care centers are required to submit “service letters” to the Department of Labor that includes information on current and past employees. The bill mandates a few updates to this reporting process, requiring these letters specifically include:

  • Information about engagement in prohibited acts (like rough handling and physical abuse, yelling, sexual abuse, denying children basic needs, or restraining children beyond holding them), as outlined in Delaware licensing regulations
  • Concerns the previous employers would have about the employee providing care to children

 

Streamlining pre-k access for providers and families. SB 305 contains a suite of updates that simplifies Delaware’s complex system of child care that creates burdens for parents and providers. These updates—which include changes to definitions, regulations, governance, and more—pave the way for broader state-funded child care expansion by removing requirement to only serve children in poverty and streamlining competing requirements.

Funding Commission to Formulate Next Steps

In passing SCR 201, legislators took the next step toward restructuring school funding by forming a commission of stakeholders to draft the roadmap forward. As we’ve written, these actions stem from the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Delaware and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity in 2020. The new commission will bring together legislators, educators, and community members to discuss the AIR report recommendations, learn from experts, and create a roadmap for how best to implement the recommendations in a hybrid form specific to Delaware’s context. The roadmap will be created in 2025.

Also stemming from the lawsuit, the state added $10 million to Gov. Carney’s Opportunity Funding initiative (bringing the fund to $63 million total in targeted supports for low-income and multilingual learner students). This figure represents $3 million more than what the settlement required as well as the last year of set increases. Moving forward, the intention is that Opportunity Funding will grow in accordance with low-income and multilingual learner student growth.

Student Supports, Mental Health, and Safety Prioritized

Mental health and wellbeing continue to be a major area of focus in the post-COVID-19 education world. Poor mental health impacts many areas of a student’s life, including school and grades, decision-making, and their physical health. In the final FY 25 budget, Delaware added $17.3 million to support mental health services.

HB 200 adds mental health staffing “units” (staff like counselors that schools can hire) for Delaware high schools. These units have already been funded in elementary and middle schools. High school students need mental health supports beyond what the current staff can provide—and soon schools will have more staff to accommodate the need. Although ratios are improving, counselors and social workers continue to have a large caseload.

Many students rely on school to provide nourishment for the day, and HS 2 for HB 125 guarantees free breakfast and lunch for all students who are eligible for a reduced-price meal (when the family’s income is between 130 percent and 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level). Related, HB 263 prohibits schools from barring a student from participating in a school-sponsored extracurricular if the student has an outstanding debt for unpaid school meals.

Other Bills that Passed

HB 354 gives priority to children of active military (plus reserve and National Guard) members in school choice and charter enrollment.

SB 311 provides more flexibility for charter schools to hire administrators.

HB 401 requires the Delaware Division of Public Health to provide the results of lead screenings or tests to school nurses and require contracts or computer upgrades to include lead results.

HB 382 requires that public school students receive a vision screening, including a test for color blindness, in kindergarten.

SCR 119 creates the Student Behavior and School Climate Task Force, tasked with examining the extent of and solutions to challenges involving student behavior and school climate throughout Delaware.

HS 1 for HB 5 w/ HA 1 frees up additional funding for schools to use on school-based behavioral health services.

SB 286 Codifies the Delaware Hispanic Commission, which was formed under former Gov. Jack Markell and continues to be a powerful voice for the Hispanic community.

SB 20 removes the requirement that a public school district employee who donates leave time to another employee must donate two days of leave for the other employee to receive one day of leave.

SB 188 enacts the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, adding reciprocity among participant states and reducing barriers to license portability and employment.

HB 312 allows school boards able to take finance trainings online as opposed to in person.

HB 23 creates higher education financial assistance for students experiencing foster care.

HB 309 updates the definition of child care facility to reflect the move of the Office of Child Care Licensing from the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families to the Department of Education.

HB 367 sunsets the Provider Advisory Board, which was created in 2011.

HB 116 requires public institutions of higher learning to grant credit for advanced placement examination scores of three or higher.

HB 368 add a third center-based early care and education provider to the Delaware Early Childhood Council.




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Author:
Rodel

info@rodelde.org

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