(Dover, De.) Delaware should move quickly to update its system of public education funding so schools can better meet the learning needs of their students, according to the Report on Education Funding in Delaware recently presented to Governor Ruth Ann Minner. Prepared by the Leadership for Educational Achievement in Delaware (LEAD) Committee at the Governor’s request, the study is a major step toward realizing the Vision 2015 goal of world-class schools for every Delaware student. The Rodel Foundation provided support for the study.
Noting that almost two-thirds of Delaware’s public education expenditures come from the state, the report found that current policies prevent state education dollars from being generated fairly, distributed equitably and used cost effectively to serve the diverse needs of students.
For example, Delaware is one of only 11 states that have not adopted a foundation funding formula which provides a base amount for each student and then adds funds for each student who requires more support. Instead, Delaware’s 59-year-old system distributes most state funds to districts and schools in the form of units - commitments to pay salaries for specific numbers of teachers and other estimated costs, based on enrollment counts in student categories such as elementary, middle and high school and “mild,” “moderate” and “severe” special education. Aside from a modest supplementary allocation, Delaware’s current system does not provide additional funds for the highest-need students, including those who live in poverty, English Language Learner (ELL) students and gifted and talented students.
Despite a process that calls for the state to equalize funding for communities with lower local property tax revenues, the LEAD Committee also found wide disparities in per pupil funding from district to district. In addition, the committee pointed out that the assessments currently used to determine local property taxes are outdated and no longer reflect actual property values. It has been 25 years since property values were reassessed in New Castle County, 22 years in Kent County, and more than 30 years in Sussex County.
Based on its research and deliberations, the LEAD Committee identified 12 recommendations to strengthen Delaware’s education funding system. These include calls for:
- improvements in the current property tax assessment system, based on more frequent, rolling assessments of property values;
- an allocation system based on a formula weighted to address the individual needs of students enrolled in each school;
- increased flexibility for districts and schools to determine how their resources are used; and
- a simple, understandable accounting of how districts and schools use their education dollars, along with a straightforward electronic summary accessible to the public.
“We know that a fair, equitable and transparent funding system is an essential step toward preparing all of our students to succeed in the knowledge-based workplace of the future. This report identifies where we need to improve our system, and shows us a clear and detailed agenda for change,” says Marvin N. “Skip” Schoenhals, the LEAD committee chair and Chairman, WSFS Bank.
“All students deserve the opportunity to learn to their full potential, and as a state we want them to have the supports they need to succeed. The LEAD Committee has done a valuable service by recommending how Delaware can raise and distribute its resources effectively, bringing us closer to this goal,” says Valerie A. Woodruff, Secretary of Delaware’s Department of Education and vice chair of the LEAD Committee.
Governor Minner established the LEAD Committee in June 2007 in part to study Delaware’s methods of funding public education and recommend steps to improve the equity and efficiency of the system. The committee’s 18 members include leaders in education, state government, business, and private philanthropy.
Acknowledging that implementing the recommendations will involve confronting some long-held assumptions and balancing diverse interests, the report characterized the committee’s work as essential for a stronger system. “With representatives from so many sectors serving public education in our state, our committee drew on a range of perspectives as we deliberated these complex issues. In the end, we were guided by our overriding shared commitment to providing a quality educational system that serves every Delaware student,” says Woodruff.
“This report is more than a research study. We see it as a plan for action,” added Schoenhals. “Just as Delawareans across our state have come together to support Vision 2015, we hope and expect that all those public and private entities will now embrace these critical steps toward making world-class schools a reality in our state.”
With this new study, the LEAD Committee completes the third task in Governor Minner’s original charge. In January 2008, the committee presented its Cost Efficiency Report, which identified almost $160 million annually that could be redirected from the state’s $1.6 billion education budget to programs that directly improve teaching and learning. The committee also provided input into a more user-friendly dashboard of key measures of student performance in every public district and school and the state. The Cost Efficiency report is available at http://www.doe.k12.de.us/reports_data/lead.shtml and the 2008 school year dashboards can be viewed at http://profiles.doe.k12.de.us/SchoolProfiles/State/Default.aspx.
To view the full Report on Education Funding and appendices, please visit the Department of Education’s Web site at http://www.doe.k12.de.us/reports_data/spec.shtml
Delaware Department of Education
401 Federal Street, Suite #2
Dover, Delaware 19901
Phone: (302) 735-4035
Fax: (302) 739-4654
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