Delaware’s budget crisis has taken quite a toll on education and the state as a whole. At the same time, student needs are growing, with some of our highest-need populations (low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities) increasing at a faster rate than ever.
With changing demographics and the expanding role of the public school system, students are going to need all the resources they can get. At the same time, alarming achievement gaps still remain, indicating we aren’t funding schools in a way that meets the unique needs of individual students and the added needs of English learners or students in poverty.
As schools and districts brace for possible programmatic and personnel cuts, there’s no time like the present to seriously reassess Delaware’s education financing system. Fewer teachers and less quality programming might save money, but it won’t deliver an excellent and equitable educational opportunity to all students.
In the last decade, Delaware’s high-need student population has increased sharply.
Over the past 10 years, total enrollment has increased by 11 percent—with huge increases in special education and English learners.
The low-income student population has dropped by more than 28,000 students after the state changed the methodology for determining low-income status. While the calculation determining which families are deemed low-income has changed, it does not mean that there are fewer students living in poverty.
Today, more than one-third of students are low-income.
In other words almost 50,000 out of about 136,000 students enrolled in Delaware public schools as classified as low-income, and nearly 20,000 are special education.
While it appears as that English learners populate a small proportion of the total student population—it’s important to remember that they are also the fastest growing. In fact, in some counties, English learners constitute nearly 10 percent of public school students.
Sussex County holds the highest proportion of low-income and English learners.
We know disadvantaged students need more resources.
We also know that investing in education benefits students—and society as a whole. This is especially true for students living in poverty, where an investment into evidence-based programs could have implications for student outcomes, according to a report on from the United States Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. English learning students are in the same boat, where more resources are needed for teachers and tools that can ensure their success. Also, while students with disabilities do get more funding, often a lack of flexibility in that funding still means that these students are being left behind.
In this budget crisis, we need to maintain investments in education now more than ever, especially for our most vulnerable students.
A plan to transition Delaware’s inequitable funding system is long overdue for students living in poverty and English learners. Delaware’s 70-year-old funding formula doesn’t account for the full range of student needs and simply doesn’t reflect the diversity of our modern-day student population.