Delaware Senate calls for commission on education funding

By Logan B. Anderson
Posted 6/30/24

The Delaware Senate voted Tuesday to create a committee to review how public schools are funded.

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Delaware Senate calls for commission on education funding


DOVER — The Delaware Senate voted Tuesday to create a committee to review how public schools are funded.

The current formula used in the First State is more than 70 years old and focuses on school censuses and not what each student needs, according to the sponsor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 201, Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Woodbrook.

Her measure would develop a group of legislators, educators, community leaders and other advocates to research how educational facilities receive funding and make recommendations. It would be called the “Public Education Funding Commission.”

Sen. Sturgeon, also the chair of the Senate Education Committee, hopes the initiative will drive reform.

“In my 25 years as a public school teacher, I saw firsthand how the incredibly complex and inequitable system that Delaware uses to fund public education is failing to meet the needs of students and contributing to widespread burnout among educators,” she said.

“Over the last five years, the courts, independent researchers and community members have all weighed in and consistently confirmed what our public educators have been telling us for decades,” she continued. “The time has come for us to stop kicking this can down the road and start working on real systemic reforms that will improve Delaware’s schools.

“The Public Education Funding Commission will do that by bringing advocates and experts together to develop a multiyear plan that the legislature and Delaware’s next governor can follow to bring about the transformative changes that we all agree will be needed in the years ahead.”

The current funding formula is based on enrollment and on how much money is needed to provide education to a “unit” made up of a set number of students, with little regard to the level of need among the children who make up that population.

The state and federal governments provide about 70% of the funding, while the rest is generated through district-level property taxes set by voters during referendums and collected by the counties.

SCR 201 stems from legal action over the last six years. In 2018, the Delaware NAACP, Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and others filed a lawsuit arguing that, by ignoring individual student need and local funding capacity, the state’s public school fiscal system is unfair to the disadvantaged and violates the state constitution.

In 2020, Carney administration officials settled the lawsuit, by agreeing to permanently allocate additional state funding based on the number of low-income and multilingual learners at a given school and expand special education funding in kindergarten through third grade, among other changes.

Part of the settlement created an independent assessment of the education funding system, which was completed in 2023. That review, according to Sen. Sturgeon, declared that the settlement did not go far enough to address students’ needs.

Therefore, the proposed Public Education Funding Commission would be composed of 31 members, including legislators, cabinet secretaries, parents, educators, principals, district administrators and advocates.

If now passed by the House of Representatives, SCR 201 would require the commission to hold its first meeting no later than Oct. 1 and issue its first set of recommendations within a year, so they could be considered in the governor’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2027.

“During the last several years, we have passed numerous measures and have committed meaningful investments to support students of all ages and abilities. While these have been critical steps, the fundamental issue lies in how we fund public education in our state,” said the resolution’s co-sponsor, Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newport, who also co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee.

“The Public Education Funding Commission will help us create a more equitable system that truly meets the needs of all students and educators. I commend Sen. Sturgeon and all the stakeholders for working on this issue and look forward to the work of the commission.”

The resolution is now awaiting consideration in the House.

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