CRI News

Delaware Schools Need Accountability, Not More Money

By Dr. Tanya Hettler, PhD

Center for Education Excellence

January 5, 2024



On Monday, December 12th, 2023, the Delaware Department of Education(DDOE) released an Education Funding Study that cost taxpayers $700,000. This study was produced by the American Institutes for Research(AIR) as part of the State's required response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups in 2018 to improve equity in Delaware's K-12 schools. 


Before we analyze this costly study obtained by the State, let's quickly review Delaware's poor student performances as a reminder of why educational change is clearly needed.


According to the Nation's Report Card, Delaware students are:


  • 3rd from the bottom in fourth grade math, 
  • 4th from the bottom in fourth grade reading, 
  • 5th from the bottom in eighth grade math and eighth grade reading.


Additionally, according to Delaware's state website


  • 53 Delaware public schools have been placed on "improvement plans" by the DDOE due to consistent underachievement, and
  • 17 Delaware public schools have fewer than 1 in 10 students who can read or do math at grade level.

Lack of Money is Not the Problem


These poor academic outcomes are not due to a lack of funding (see Graph 1 below). Delaware's academic outcomes have decreased over the past 20 years, while education spending has increased. 



Graph 1.




The Study Recommendations


The AIR Education Funding Study suggests that greater transparency and flexibility are needed in our education system. We agree with these two suggested items. Education in Delaware does need greater transparency and flexibility. 


However, we strongly disagree with the AIR study suggesting that Delaware increase its education spending by $600 million to $1 billion more - this is not the answer.


Delaware is already one of the country's highest spending states in education. There is little agreement on exactly where Delaware ranks compared to other states because there is little agreement on how much Delaware actually spends per student. In fact, in the AIR study, three different amounts are quoted as the per-pupil spending in the state. Depending on where you look, Delaware has the 8th to 13th highest spending on education out of all 50 states. 


Delaware already spends 1/3rd of our total state budget on education. Yet we are now being asked to increase this spending by $600 million - $1 billion per year. This is a 27% - 46% increase in spending. This would put us even closer to the very top of the country in education spending. All the while, we are at the bottom in outcomes.


Additionally, the AIR Education Funding Study does not address any substantive changes that should be made to how schools are run or what and how teachers teach. It only states that more money should be spent.



Accountability is What Delaware Schools Need 


In Delaware, there are no consequences for schools that perform poorly. In fact, poorly performing schools are rewarded by receiving extra funding! If the suggestions in the AIR study are implemented, there would be even less motivation for schools to improve.


In contrast, some states have implemented an Accountability Clock system. The accountability provided by this type of system makes schools stand up and take notice because they are required to improve performance within a designated time frame. This system also requires poorly performing schools to make better use of the funds that they already have to educate students. 


Instead of increasing education spending in Delaware, we should incentivize our public schools to perform better with the large amounts of money they already have.


Schools that are performing poorly should be required to develop a written plan and make it easily accessible to the public. This plan should be followed up on after one and two years. If, after two years, there has been no improvement, then a school should be absorbed into a nearby school. 


NOTE: A bill similar to this idea has already been proposed in the Delaware legislature and is waiting to pass in the Senate in this next legislative session. This bill, known as the "Single Digit Proficiency Bill,"is as described above but lacks target performance levels as spelled out in the federal standards of the Every Student Succeeds Act.


Delaware taxes will likely increase due to the property tax reassessments resulting from a related ACLU court case. Do Delaware citizens want to give up more of their hard-earned money to a poorly performing school system during a period of inflation? Or would we rather hold our already expensive education system accountable to make better use of the funds it already has?


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