On December 12, 2023, the Delaware Department of Education released the results of a new independent assessment of the state’s public school funding system. The assessment is the result of a legal settlement reached in 2020 with Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP Delaware State Conference, who filed suit in 2018 seeking more equitable school funding to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children across the state.

Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI), the ACLU of Delaware, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter represented the groups in the lawsuit, which sought to ensure that all Delaware children receive adequate educational opportunities, particularly low-income students, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners. As part of the settlement, the Governor agreed to obtain an independent, holistic assessment of the state’s funding for its public schools.

The new assessment, conducted by the American Institutes for Research, analyzed Delaware’s current funding system and compared it to those of other states. It also looked at the extent to which Delaware students receive equal educational opportunities as measured by target outcome goals, and whether resources could be more equitably distributed to help reach those goals.

The assessment found that “Delaware’s student outcomes lag behind those of other Mid-Atlantic states and have declined over the past decade, even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic,” and that “Delaware’s current outcomes do not meet the stated goals for student performance.” In particular, it found “[a]n alarmingly clear and negative relationship…between the percentage of low-income students served by schools and the outcomes they achieve for students.” It noted that schools with higher proportions of students with disabilities and English learners “also tended to have lower outcomes.”

According to the study’s authors, these disparities indicate that Delaware’s low-income and English learner students and students with disabilities “are not being provided an equal opportunity for academic success.” Their analysis found that current funding levels fall “far short” of the cost of serving these students appropriately. Further, they observed that “the current system does not provide resources based on the cost of required resources and programming” and that funding should be better differentiated based on schools’ level of student need. To meet target outcomes, their analysis showed a need to invest approximately $0.6 to $1 billion more in education relative to 2021–22 spending levels.

In order to appropriately serve all students and meet outcome goals, the assessment recommended the following changes to Delaware’s school funding system:

  • Significantly increasing the state’s investment in public education;
  • Distributing more resources according to student need;
  • Improving funding transparency;
  • Allowing more flexibility in how districts use resources;
  • Accounting for local capacity, addressing tax inequity, and regularly reassessing property values;
  • Simplifying the calculation of the local share provided to charter schools;
  • Implementing a weighted student funding state funding formula.

“We welcome the findings of this comprehensive study, which provides an important road map for improving equity and educational outcomes for all of Delaware’s children,” says CLASI Executive Director Dan Atkins. “We are hopeful that the Delaware General Assembly will act swiftly to implement the study’s recommendations, to ensure that each and every child in Delaware receives the education they deserve.”

An executive summary and copy of the full independent assessment can be found here: https://education.delaware.gov/community/data/reports/assessment-of-delaware-public-school-funding/