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Fair & Efficient Funding

About a third of our annual state budget, $1.18 billion in 2013, supports public education. This level of funding makes Delaware the 12th most generous state in the country when it comes to supporting public schools and the 11th highest in percent state contribution.

Unfortunately, the mechanism by which Delaware expends those dollars was established during the World War II era and has long been obsolete. Consider how much has changed since then—and the student needs that couldn’t have been anticipated.

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Funding for Children, not for “Units.”

Delaware is one of only a few states where education funding follows “units,” or staff positions, rather than reflecting the needs of individual students. Our funding system was built on the structure of schooling in the segregation-era 1940s under the assumption that all children learned the same way.

The model is an impediment to innovation such as distance learning opportunities, and does not adequately reflect the far-ranging needs of our children—from those receiving special education services to English learners.

Greater Funding Flexibility at School & District Level

Moving toward greater funding flexibility at the school and district level requires maintaining sufficient funding levels. Our funding has plateaued, funds to districts have not been returned to 2008 levels, and many of the state funding sources are going down or are not expected to be stable in the future.

Most states reassess property taxes every two to five years. Delaware has not reassessed property taxes in decades, contributing to inequities in state sources of funding for education. Districts are expending great effort and facing growing challenges to pass local referenda to support the needs of schools. Establishing sustainable revenue sources is critical to reaching the changes outlined here.

As spending increases and revenue slows, we need to make the expenditure of those dollars easily understood by taxpayers so that they can encourage maximizing the use of every dollar.

If we don’t prioritize investments in our education, students feel like it’s less worthwhile.

— Halim, age 17

PROGRESS UNDERWAY:

  • Greater flexibility to enable educators and schools to meet the needs of special needs students by shifting needs-based funding from dozens of categories into three more flexible ones
  • LEAD Committee studies (2008) that identified ways to reallocate $158 million in Delaware’s education budget and put forward recommendations for how the state could move towards a funding system based on the unique needs of students

Recommendations

Ensure Funding Responds to Individual Student Needs

  • 1

    Increase funding system equity by factoring student needs into funding allocations, and update system so that funding follows each student, enabling them to take courses from a variety of approved providers (e.g., other district schools, distance learning, higher education organizations).

Increase Equity and Flexibility

  • 2

    Conduct property reassessments on a consistent, rolling basis to enable a more sustainable, sufficient revenue and accurate equalization process.

  • 3

    Allocate a larger portion of district/school funding in flexible funds so that district and school leaders can expand the ways they educate children to meet specific student needs, rather than in one-size-fits-all categories.

Build More Transparent Systems

  • 4

    Create incentives at the local and state levels to increase efficiency, particularly for sharing of services such as technology or professional development across districts and public charter schools. Publicly share district and school budgets as well as key district/school financial performance metrics in formats that are accessible to the public.