Opportunity Funding 101
Money matters in education, as national research shows us. But how money is spent matters just as how much—as long as the how is driven by local context and needs. Now that the school year is underway and next year’s budget cycle is about to begin, let’s check in on the status of the state’s Opportunity Funding investment and put this progress into the broader context of school funding efforts to provide resources for low-income and English leaner students.
What is Opportunity Funding?
This year Governor John Carney proposed, and the legislature passed, a three-year, $60 million Opportunity Funding investment of targeted resources toward Delaware’s most disadvantaged students. This funding is an evolution of the administration’s previous Opportunity Grants initiative.
It marked Delaware’s first foray into some kind of per-pupil “weighted funding” mechanism to help schools better support students that data show need extra help, like low-income and English learner students. Through Opportunity Funding, every district will receive a per-pupil appropriation of $300 for every low-income student and $500 for every English learner student that they can spend as they choose (according to plans approved by the Department of Education).
The funding will run through the Office of Management and Budget to every Local Education Agency (LEA) across the state (districts and charters), which will receive a lump sum based on a per-pupil allocation reflecting its prior year’s EL and low-income student count. If student is low income and EL they get both amounts.
An additional $15 million of Opportunity Funding will specifically go to elementary schools with high concentrations of low-income and/or English learner students to support mental health and reading specialists.
How do these dollars compare?
According to data shared by the Education Trust and Education Resource Strategies at a recent Vision Coalition event, Delaware’s regional neighbors invest 30-99% more in their low-income and EL students.And research suggests systems should 100% to 200% more for these subgroups. With Opportunity Funding, the $500 and $300 per-pupil additions work out to about 2-3% more than the base per-pupil number.
What comes next?
Gov. Carney will develop a new budget this fall to recommend to the legislature in January. It’s highly likely that Opportunity Funding will be included in that draft budget, which the Legislature will need to pass again.
Meanwhile, a ruling on Delawareans for Educational Opportunity v. Carney is expected November 2020, which may prescribe additional solutions to the challenge provide adequate educational opportunities for disadvantaged students unless policymakers act sooner.
What “next steps” do advocates call for?
Generally speaking, advocates are calling this a good “first step.” Additional allocations that take into account the needs of students is indeed a step in the right direction, considering Delaware’s decades-old “unit count” funding system that largely treats all students the same (except for special education students) and provides only limited local flexibility.
To compare, Student Success 2025, the 10-year educational roadmap from the Vision Coalition recommends: “Increase funding system equity by factoring student needs into funding allocations, and update the system so that funding follows each student, enabling them to take courses from a variety of approved providers (e.g., other district and charter schools, distance learning, higher education organizations).”
Education Equity Delaware, a coalition of 31 organizations, agrees that “additional resources for students with greater needs” is a priority, and supports a gradual transition away from the unit system to a foundation formula.
However, “We can’t we fix these problems by simply adding more money to the current system,” the group warns. “Simply layering money on top of the current system will not address the fact that allocating units leads to funding disparities not only between districts, but within districts.”
What can I do?
Ask your district or charter leader how they are spending Opportunity Funds. Better yet, ask your local school principal what they need to support ELs and low-income students. Want to stay plugged into Delaware school funding news? Here are some ideas from Education Equity Delaware.