Study Recommends Major Updates to School Funding System: A Look at the AIR Report
Educators, researchers, and advocates have long agreed Delaware’s school funding formula is in need of updates and modernization.
Per the lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Delaware and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) were contracted by the Department of Education to carry out an independent assessment of the Delaware school funding formula. AIR’s charge included conducting a full analysis of Delaware’s current system, presenting a comparison of Delaware’s system to that of similar states, and providing recommendations on how to improve Delaware’s funding formula to make it more equitable to all students.
In December 2023, the Delaware Department of Education in partnership with the Vision Coalition hosted an event for AIR to present its findings. The event, held at the Dover campus of Delaware Technical Community College, brought over 150 educators, students, parents and other Delawareans together to hear the results of the research. Watch a recording of the event here.
AIR’s report examined Delaware’s system from several angles, including equity, adequacy, transparency, and flexibility.
Delaware spends marginally more on schools serving higher populations of low-income students; however, this positive relationship is largely achieved through higher spending for students with disabilities.
Overall, Delaware’s current formula does not do enough to support low-income students and multilingual learners. Delaware provides fewer financial resources and experienced teachers in schools with higher low-income and multilingual learner populations.
Delaware also has a higher relative concentration of low-income and multilingual learners compared to our neighboring states. Consequently, we will need to spend more than our neighbors to meet the same educational levels they achieve.
Delaware’s state funding formula largely inhibits local contributions to school funding. State funds, which make up the vast majority of overall education funding, aren’t enough to make up for the difference in local funding streams.
More flexibility and transparency is needed in the system. While the basic concept of Delaware’s unit-count system is fairly easy to understand, there are many layers of additional formulas, grants, and other funding streams that add complexity and inflexibility to the system.
How Does Delaware Compare to Other States?
The report compares Delaware’s school funding system to Maryland’s, New Jersey’s, Virginia’s and Pennsylvania’s. All of these states utilize foundation formulas that begin with a base per-pupil amount, then add multipliers for low-income, special education, or multilingual students.
All of the comparison states except for Virginia spend more on public education than Delaware. And all of them outperform Delaware on fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading benchmarks.
Methodology and Recommendations
AIR researchers utilized two different models to determine their goalposts for things like “adequacy” and “equity.” The Education Cost Model approach utilizes a formula combining a set of empirical factors to determine target per-pupil costs. The other approach is the Professional Judgment model, wherein experts estimated values of various cost factors and added them up to get a per-pupil cost. AIR utilized both methods (shortened to ECM and PJP) to create their recommendations.
(Read more about the group’s methodologies on pages five through seven here.)
Using these models, AIR researchers determined the financial bases and weights for a potential student-centered funding formula.
When viewed by district, the per-pupil increases recommended by the AIR report looks like this:
The report included eight key recommendations.
- Increase investment in Delaware’s public education
- Delaware would need to invest an additional $600 million to $1 billion to meet the recommended adequacy standards.
- Distribute more resources according to student need
- To bring all students up to the recommended adequacy standards, resources need to be distributed more equitably, specifically for students from low-income backgrounds and multilingual learners.
- Improve funding transparency
- Allow for more flexibility in how districts use funds
- Account for local capacity and address tax inequity
- Regularly reassess property values
- HB 62, signed into law in August 2023, implements rolling property reassessment every five years.
- Simplify the calculation of local share provided to charter schools
- Implement a weighted student funded (or foundation) formula
Stay up to date on resources and analysis collected by the Vision Coalition here.