Now is the time to fix Delaware school funding (Maria Matos & Rodman Ward)
Maria Matos heads the Latin America Community Center; Rodman Ward III heads the Corporation Service Company (CSC). “We are energized by the newfound momentum for fixing Delaware’s 80-year old education funding system, which is overdue for an update.”
Judge Laster’s recent ruling is described as “another call for change.” See School Funds Lawsuit, 12/1/18.
And Judge Laster is “right,” as the school funding system was designed for problems of another time before technology and modern approaches transformed our classrooms. It’s simply not designed to deliver what we need, which is to give every child a fair shot at a quality education. Low income students (40% of students) and English learners (fastest growing population in the state) arrive at school with a unique set of needs. These children enrich our schools but we need to meet them where they are. Delaware is just one of the four remaining states that doesn’t provide extra funding for English learners, and just one of five states that adheres to a rigid “unit count” formula where funding is tied to school personnel. So thousands of these students attend schools that don’t provide proper English language instruction, mental health counselors or food closets (!). Schools should be able to make financial decisions based on the unique needs of their students.
Forget the patches, we want “lasting change.” And it’s coming because: (1) DE can do this. (2) There is increased legislative interest. (3) Grass roots and advocacy groups are more vocal and better organized. (4) Our coalition, along with the governor and state legislators, supported Senate Bill 172, which is designed to provide taxpayers and school leaders alike with school-level financial data for 2019 on a consistent basis across the state. Better data sounds like a good idea; would SB 172 provide it?
This is not simply a question of how much money we have, but also how it is spent. As Judge Laster said: “For many of Delaware’s public schools, an inverse relationship exists between the number of low-income students in a school and the amount of funding that goes to the school. The more low income students in a school, the less State funding the school receives.” Sorry, but that’s just backwards, and the same goes for English learners. Why should schools with a lot of low income and English learner students receive "less State funding" versus simply not receiving any extra money? Are the authors effectively demanding statewide distribution of school district tax money?