Top 5 Takeaways from Legislative Briefing on School Funding

March 15th, 2024

Category: Funding and Equity

On March 7, the state Senate and House of Representatives combined education committees held a joint legislative briefing to dig into the independent assessment of Delaware’s school funding system conducted by American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The AIR assessment, which was released in December and highlighted several areas of improvement for Delaware’s funding formula (read our recap here), served as the backdrop to a conversation that saw local and national experts field questions from local lawmakers. Speakers included Drew Atchison, a senior researcher at AIR, Bruce Baker, a professor and chair of the department of teaching and learning at the University of Miami, and Kenneth Shores, an assistant professor specializing in education policy in the School of Education at the University of Delaware.

Here are five top takeaways from the briefing.

  1. Delaware’s current system is inflexible and needs recalibration to better serve student needs.

Experts and lawmakers discussed ways to increase flexibility and transparency of the current funding formula. As the AIR assessment points out:

The presence of many formulas that allocate different resources and pots of money along with the uncertain translation of a unit into a funding amount creates a system in which understanding the sum of resources and funding that flow to schools and districts difficult, if not impossible, for most.American Institutes of Research

Increasing transparency and flexibility would allow schools and school leaders to better respond to their own school population’s needs and would bring more advocates to the table including communities and students.

Another key recommendation is to distribute more resources according to student need. From the assessment:

Delaware has greater student needs in terms of economic disadvantage and English Learners than comparison states and lower average student outcomes. Having greater student needs means that Delaware will likely need to invest greater resources than comparison states to achieve similar outcomes…Delaware has the highest percentages of ELs and students in poverty and the lowest income levels of the comparison states. In addition, Delaware has the second highest percentage of SWDs, trailing only Pennsylvania.American Institutes of Research

Compared to neighboring states, Delaware has higher rates of multilingual learners and low-income students. Yet the state doesn’t distribute resources in a targeted way towards those populations.

Ensuring we are distributing resources more equitably will allow schools and districts to target funding to our populations with the highest needs and provide the necessary supports for these students.

  1. Delaware’s funding formula is atypical—and not in a good way.

Delaware’s funding formula is unique in several ways.

We are one of six states that still use a resource based formula, in which funding is distributed by the staffing “unit” based on a school’s enrollment. But even within that umbrella, we are atypical.

Delaware’s state funding formula exists largely independently of local capacity, which leads to significant inequity at the local level and for taxpayers. A lot can be improved simply by fixing how Delaware allocates revenues. Delaware is the only state in the nation that does not redistribute state funding to offset inequities at the local level. Equalization is the portion of the formula that is intended to redistribute state revenues to offset local capacity, and the state is looking to re-evaluate this formula and make updates.

Most states set an allowable limit that districts can raise locally each year, leaving Delaware as the only state that requires districts to go to referendum for almost every needed increase to local revenue.

The below graph shows local revenues on the left, and state revenues on the right. In most states, state revenues make up for the fact that local revenues mostly go to non-low-income children by targeting funds at low income children. Per Dr. Kenneth Shores:

Once you get to Delaware, it’s the only state where state revenues are used to give money to non-poor kids and local revenues are used to give money to non-poor kids. This is like a backwards equalization plan that’s happening in Delaware. No other state looks like this.Dr. Kenneth Shores
  1. All districts would see increased funding with a new formula.

The report recommended a funding base and additional weights for a student-centered or “foundation” formula for Delaware to adopt. Along with this new formula and investment level (anywhere from $590 million to $1 billion total), every district would see increases in funding and increased flexibility with that funding.

  1. Where and how much money makes a difference: Research concludes more money matters.

Drs. Baker and Shores both shared decades of research that demonstrates that when schools and districts receive additional funds, they use them for evidence-based practices that benefit students. That includes increased staffing, investing in high-quality staff and professional development, and smaller class sizes.

These investments are demonstrably tied to improvements in outcomes including:

  • Increases in test scores
  • Increases in NAEP scores
  • Improved graduation rates
  • Lowered suspension rates
  • Higher teacher retention rates

 

  1. Change is possible—and Delaware is in the minority of states that have not made major change in the last three decades.

Thirty-eight states, spanning the political spectrum, have recently made changes to increase funding in their funding formulas and have found ways to fund the increased investment.

These methods include increases to property taxes, sales tax, implementing a statewide property tax, income tax or other solutions. While tax increases are never politically popular, none of these solutions involve taking revenue from other areas like health care, transportation, or other investments.

On average, these states increased investments at the rate of $1,000 per student per year, and made plans to sustain these investments. Currently Delaware is increasing investments at the rate of $1,000 per student every 10 years.




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Author:
Julia Zammith

JZammith@rodelde.org

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