Delaware School Funding Report: What Happens Next?

February 8th, 2024

Category: Funding and Equity

At a Glance...
-Delaware advocates and lawmakers are poised to act on the recommendations of the highly publicized school funding report published in December.
-Several strands of progress are underway to revamp the current funding system, including changes to property value reassessment and teacher salaries.
-Community members continue to engage and inform Delaware’s next steps, including events hosted by the ACLU and the General Assembly.

As we wrote last month, Delaware is positioned at a unique crossroad with its school funding system. Long in need of updates, the topic has gained significant renewed attention and interest in the wake of the independent assessment conducted by American Institutes for Research (AIR).

Meanwhile, state officials have consistently done more than is required by the high-stakes lawsuit that settled several years ago, and the community has become increasingly engaged in the conversation on how to best serve our students.

Legislative Interest

Last legislative session, lawmakers enacted key pieces of legislation and budget decisions to push the state toward streamlining and modernizing the way it funds its public schools.

Updating Delaware’s property values emerged as a key component in the lawsuit. Local property tax is a critical part of any school district’s budget, and prior to the lawsuit, home values hadn’t been updated in decades. HB 62, signed into law in August 2023, implements rolling property reassessment every five years, ensuring schools will receive the most accurate amounts of local funding.

HS 1 for HB 33, which aligns special education pre-school “unit count” funding ratios to those in K-12, was also passed, bringing Delaware closer to providing its youngest learners with the services they need.

The Public Education Compensation Committee (PECC), established by SB 100 in 2022, presented its recommendations to a joint House and Senate education committee on January 11. These recommendations include increasing teacher salaries over four years to reach a $60,000 base salary, and increases for administrators, secretaries, custodians, food service employees, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and IT employees.

As the News Journal reported, Governor John Carney’s annual recommended budget closely aligned to PECC’s recommendations.

Gov. Carney’s Opportunity Funding—a version of weighted student funding that funnels extra money to schools based on their population of low-income and multilingual learners—has continued to increase, even above the required amount by the lawsuit. Currently, the bucket of Opportunity Funding sits at $53 million, $3 million above the required amount. For fiscal year 2025, the required amount raises to $60 million.

Coalition Efforts

The Vision Coalition of Delaware hosted a series of events throughout the last year, bringing the community together to engage in learning and conversation about Equity in Education with national and local experts.

Throughout the series, attendees learned about not only how Delaware’s funding system works, but how it compares to other states.

National education experts underscored the research-backed notion that money truly does matter in education funding, especially when additional funds are targeted to address student needs. Increased funding is shown to significantly impact student outcomes in the classroom and in other areas including lifetime earnings, years of education, and other metrics.

Not only does the amount of money matter, but how money is distributed matters as well. Local educators Margie Lopez Waite (CEO of Las Américas ASPIRA Academy) and Dorrell Green (superintendent of Red Clay Consolidated School District) shared that Opportunity Funding has been essential to getting more targeted funds to students with higher needs, including multilingual learners and students from low-income backgrounds. Most of these funds have been invested in additional support staff, out of school and wrap around programming and additional learning time, which are all supported by strong evidence.

The Vision Coalition also co-hosted a session with the Department of Education to release the funding assessment from the American Institutes of Research. To learn more about the details of the report, read our recent blog here.

Teacher Pay and Local Revenue

Teacher pay is another central component to school funding, and the combined efforts of Gov. Carney, the General Assembly, and the Public Education Compensation Committee will lead to salary increases over the next several years.

Several states have maintained robust salary schedules for teachers alongside a student-based funding formula.

Concerns about Local Share

A large part of education funding is acquired through local share, roughly 28 percent. As operating costs continue to grow, there are concerns about being able to keep up without districts having to go to referendum. Other states do not rely on referendum the way we do and allow districts to levy taxes as needed to meet target funding numbers, only requiring referendum to raise funds above that amount.

Moving Forward

While advocates will continue to learn and explore ways to modernize Delaware’s funding formula through events and engagements, formal action can’t happen without lawmakers leading the way.

On March 4, Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and ACLU Delaware will co-host a discussion on the AIR report and potential next steps.

On March 7, the state Senate and House of Representatives combined education committees will hold a joint legislative briefing to dig into the AIR report and its recommendations. Community members and advocates are encouraged to join the discussion and share their thoughts with their legislators and candidates for office.

Property value reassessment continues to unfold through the three counties, and the results are starting to come in: Kent County results were released earlier this month, while New Castle and Sussex counties are expected in 2025.

We have an opportunity to do good by our kids and get resources in an equitable manner where they belong. Good things are happening: Opportunity Funding helps get resources to students that are multilingual learners and those who come from low-income families. It is helpful, but not enough.Delaware Sec. of Education Mark Holodick



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Author:
Julia Zammith

JZammith@rodelde.org

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