Quality Funding for Quality Schools
Yesterday I visited Elbert-Palmer Elementary School for the first time. It’s a classic-looking school that rises up from an entire city block in a residential area. Most beautiful to me were the faces of the students that greeted me and every other guest as we arrived. It was their first day of school, so they must have been asked to play the ambassador role just a few hours earlier, but they handled it with great enthusiasm and grace. Perhaps it comes easy to them because Elbert-Palmer is a home away from home for them; the new principal described the school as succeeding due to broad community support, and evidence of this was obvious even after just a few short hours at the school.
The occasion of my visit was to celebrate the second year of the state’s Academic Achievement Awards, which give five public schools each year $150,000 for significantly closing the achievement gap and/or exceeding their adequate yearly progress for two or more consecutive years. Race to the Top funding will enable the initiative to continue for four more years. The Lt. Governor, who spearheaded the program, announced the winners at yesterday’s event and gave brief updates on last year’s winners. This year’s winning schools are: Delcastle Technical High School (NCCVT District), Elbert-Palmer Elementary (Christina), McCullough Middle School (Colonial), Millsboro Middle School (Indian River), and Thomas Edison Charter School.
Each of these schools has done amazing things for their students, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they invest this award money to provide even more creative, meaningful supports. Award funds will be allocated based on decisions from a committee made of school staff, parents, and community members. This is very powerful – the school and its community have discretion to decide how the money will be used best to benefit the students in those buildings. Who knows that better than the principal, teachers, and families?
This is a core recommendation of Vision 2015 – give principals more flexibility over budgets so they can do more for their students. The Academic Achievement Awards program is an important initiative to recognize and compensate our most effective school communities and those who improve our highest-need schools. Yet our best principals need and deserve even more support and discretion. Delaware’s funding system is antiquated (62 years old!) and could do a whole lot more for our students. Initiatives like a funding flexibility pilot program – which was delayed this past year and the year before – and introducing needs-based funding remain a top priority and we look forward to working with our partners to gain momentum in the coming year. Until we provide more flexibility in how schools and districts use resources, we will continue to face challenges such as late teacher hiring and the inability to target resources to meet students’ needs.