Delaware Education Funding: Which Schools Get The Most Per Student?

Are students in Delaware getting the most bang for their buck?  How much do districts and charters spend each year?  Per student?  In Delaware, education funding is one of the most complex things to understand when it comes to who gets what and what for.  Divvied up between three main sources: federal, state, and local funding, school districts spend a lot of money to educate students.  But is everything on the up and up?  For charter schools, who don’t have the added number of buildings and staff to contend with, do they really do “more with less“?  The answers may surprise you!

Now that Fiscal Year 2016 is in the history books, I was able to find what the average cost per student is for each Delaware traditional school district and charter school.  There are a few caveats to these pictures though.  The below figures are based on what each district and charter spent as expenditures in  FY2016,  based off information provided by the State of Delaware, regardless of the revenue source.  The number of students enrolled is based on figures as of September 30th, 2015.  While that may not seem important, it plays a huge role in Delaware education funding.  When Delaware Met closed last January, all those students went to surrounding districts or charters, adding to those district and charter expenditures.  A lot of the money Del Met received was already spent so the districts didn’t necessarily receive the full “cost” for each student.  While that is an extreme situation, things like students who receive an IEP after September 30th will always add to an increase in local funding while the state does not give any more funding for those types of things.  This is just the first part of a series of articles I am working on concerning what districts and charters pay for.  This introductory article is, however, the baseline of all that comes out after.

FY2016SpendingPerDistrict

Christina is tops and Delmar is on the bottom.  Note that this does not include the special programs under Christina.  This graph tends to run parallel with the number of students in a district with a few exceptions.  For the purposes of Red Clay, I took out the number of students that attend the charter schools they are an authorizer of.  The reason for this is because each of those three charters pay their expenditures separately through the Delaware accounting system.  As well, costs associated with the New Castle County Data Center, run by Red Clay and Colonial, are not factored in here because that entity is separate in Delaware accounting.

FY2016SpendingPerCharter

Like the traditional school districts, this tends to fall in line with the number of students.  Two very big exceptions are Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes.  Both of these charters predominantly serve special education students.  Newark Charter School is the biggest charter school in the state, thus they spend the most.

FY2016#ofstudentsdistrict

Once again, as noted above, Christina technically has more students when you don’t account for  the three charters in Red Clay.  Note the number of students in Cape Henlopen and the vo-tech schools.  This plays a big role in understanding the below pictures.

FY2016#ofstudentscharter

Many of these charters tend to be the older charters in the state with a few exceptions.  Note the very last charter school on this list: Positive Outcomes.

costperstudentdistrictfy2016

This is where things change rapidly.  Just being the biggest district does not mean you spend the most per student.  That designation goes to Cape Henlopen School District.  A lot of that comes from their local funding.  Citizens in Cape Henlopen rarely say no to a referendum.  The citizens of this area don’t seem to mind paying more for the education of students.  I was actually surprised in the Appoquinimink numbers.  The fourth largest district seems to pay second to the least amount per student.  Note how most of the vo-techs spend per student.  Taking the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place out of the 19 school districts, they are the only ones that are not funded in the same way.  For vo-techs, there no referenda.  All of their funding, aside from federal funding, comes from line items in the budget.  There appears to be a greater benefit for this funding method for the students at these schools.  For districts like Red Clay, Christina, and Capital, they have some of the highest number of low-income students in the state.  Capital’s low-income population is at 51%.  That aspect alone gives these districts additional federal Title I funding.

costperstudentchartersFY2016

Positive Outcomes spends the most per student even though they have the least amount of students.  Like Gateway, the bulk of their population is students with IEPs, so this drives up the costs associated with that population way up!  Charter School of Wilmington comes in last, but they also get a few perks the other charters don’t.  They share their school with Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Red Clay.  They have a very sweet rent payment to Red Clay.  As well, a lot of the services they share with Cab students don’t cost extra for CSW as they would in other charters.  CSW has the lowest amount of low-income students and students with disabilities in their student population by a very big margin compared to the rest of the state.  So in some respects, they should have the lowest per-student funding.  Great Oaks, which just opened this year, has a very high cost per student compared to their peers.  I have to wonder how much unused space they are renting out in the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington.  Delaware College Prep, which closed their doors on June 30th, won’t be on this list next year.  Many charters received modifications this year for an increase or decrease in their enrollments, so expect a lot of these numbers to change in a year.

FY2016Combined

To answer the boast of Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network of “charters do more with less” is not an easy thing to do.  Judging by the above graph, we can’t say that for every charter school.  As well, we don’t even know how much goes towards each of the many coded allocations of expenditures for Delaware schools.  It can be done, but the average citizen is not going to do that.  We can say with certainty there is absolutely no consistent way schools pay their expenses.  Yes, there is a guide all districts and charters are expected to follow, but very few, if any, do it by the book.  To try to fix this and properly code each transaction into it’s correct coding group can be done.  It would take years to do for each fiscal year.  Furthermore, there are a plethora of different factors that affects the funding a district or charter gets: how much experience teachers have, the populations of high-needs students (students with disabilities, low-income status, English Language learners, etc.), even down to their transportation funding.  The bigger the district, the more administration they have.  This plays a big factor into expenditures.  But there is also, what I view, as wasteful spending.  Things that don’t really make sense given the context of what education should be about compared to what far too many power-hungry adults think it should be.

What these graphs do not tell us is how much money is being spent per student in different categories.  That is what happens next with this series.  For example, even a category like Student Body Activities can vary widely by charter or district.

I would like to thank a gentleman named Jack Wells for the inspiration behind this article as well as the rest of this series.  This would have never come about, under any circumstances, had it not been for the work he has conducted for years.  Jack is a Red Clay citizen with no children in the district.  But he is very concerned about making sure Red Clay and all Delaware students are getting what our citizens pay for: a good education.  For those who know Jack, he is like a dog without a bone.  He will keep digging and digging until he finds out what is really going on.  No FOIA is immune to Jack, and he will find that last unturned stone.  I am honored to be a part of Jack’s email group where he digs into a lot of this stuff.  Jack Wells and I talk a lot on the side.  Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.

Our State Auditor, Thomas Wagner, seems to have vanished and doesn’t want to answer the questions coming from Jack and I over the past month.  Many are wondering why this is for an elected official who still has more than two years in his term.  What will it take for him to adequately oversee education spending in our state?  There is far too much silence coming from that State Department, and it has me worried about what is going on behind the scenes.  Some people might be panicking.  That’s okay.  Panic away!  If you are doing something wrong, you have cause to be concerned.

Eventually, if I’m still alive, I would like to do the same thing for each school in each district.  But that involves a lot more research than I now have time for!

Delaware Horror Story Part 3

As David reached out his hand, the woman said, “No David.  You mustn’t.  You must never harm your grandfather.”  David knew what a father was but what made someone grand as a father?  The elderly man had bright blue eyes and white hair.  David had blue eyes as well.  But the lines on the old man’s face were deep, as if each year left a mark on the man.  The woman was young.  She had long red hair and deep green eyes.  She didn’t speak the same language as the man did at first, but he sensed some of it in her normal language.

“David, my name is Astrid.  And this is your grandfather, Jacob,” the woman said.  It was dark outside.  The streets were not normal.  Instead of being flat, they had round rocks.  David looked down at them, questioning why.  “These are cobblestones David,” Jacob said.  “From a time long before you and I.  We are in a country called Sweden.  And now we are in their city called Stockholm.  And this is one of the oldest parts of the city still standing.  We are in Gamla Stan, which means Old Town in our language.”

David looked at Jacob with a puzzled look.  He still didn’t comprehend this “grandfather” thing.  Jacob pulled out a picture of his father, when he was 14 years old.  “This is my son, William.  He is your father.  That makes me your grandfather.”  Jacob understood.  This old man was his father’s father.

The earliest memory David had been one of the magic place.  It was like a place with constant evolution.  One minute it would be snowing and the next it would be bright and sunny and warm.  This is where David lived most days.  He was comfortable there and it filled him with happiness.  The adventures he had in this place were beyond the imagining.  This was David’s home.  He didn’t like it when he dreamed of the real world.  He was in this real world dream now.  There were always questions and nothing made sense.

David heard of this man Jacob.  When he dreamed of the real world, he would hear his mom and dad talking about him.  His mother would tell his father he needed to let it go and they had to concentrate on David.  He remembered one time when his mother told him, “David, one day you will need to wake up.  You will have to become one with the world and survive.”  When David got to the mountain, he dreamed about the real world the whole time.  He wasn’t able to be home, in the land where nothing stayed the same.  To dream was to survive.

“Astrid,” said Jacob. “David looks very confused.  He needs to eat.  We need to take him down to the bistro before the roll call begins.  He may look normal now, but if anyone sees the number on him, they will know.  We didn’t do all of this just to lose him now.”

Astrid reached out her hand to David.  David trusted her for some reason.  She seemed familiar to him but he couldn’t place it.  He touched her fingers as they curled around his.  David looked up at her.  An empty stare with no emotion.  He wanted to tell her how he felt.  That she was okay to him.  But he couldn’t.  Not unless he was home.  When he dreamed of this place, he could never talk.  Just watch.  And listen.  And absorb.  And react.  He felt trapped, like the Beast of Leaftear at home when the creature was defeated in the Battle of Leaftear Ending.  The Beast threatened them all.  He wanted to take over the city of Leaftear and kill them all.  David saved the day when he beat the Beast at a game of Kaleidoscope.  The Leaftearians knew they didn’t have the physical strength to beat The Beast so they relied on their greatest hero in a game of wits.  Afterwards, the Beast sat in his cage for all time and never made a sound.  It ate food, it breathed, and it would even snore at night sometimes, but no words ever came out of his mouth.  That was how David felt when he dreamed of the real world.

****************

William woke up to a loud pounding on his door.  “MEF #313056, you have ten minutes to get dressed and shower.  Breakfast at 0500.”  William grabbed the towel and uniform and made his way to the showers.  They smelled like ancient mildew but the water coming out of the showers felt like hot on a warm summer day.  He got dressed and went to the Convening Room on the sub-levels.  The Colonel gave the daily orders to the MEF.  William received his: “Disinfectant Recognition”.  Inside the packet was a list of instructions for the duty.  William felt his stomach turn inside out.  He remembered this technique from an old television show he watched on something called YouTube.  Some show called Breaking Bad.  The body would be placed in a barrel with acid.  It removed any trace of identity from the victim.  The 12 families called this “extra assurance”.  Not that any parent of one of the Specials could ever claim the body or sue the MEF.  Most of them didn’t even know about the Mountain.

William didn’t know if he could go through with this.  He had to find David in here, or find out if…  the thought was too much for William to handle.  At times like this, William’s self-instinct took over with a fight or flight mechanism.  To escape the impending feeling of a loss too terrible to cope with, William would count to 32.  He came this far and he knew if he couldn’t find the location of his son here he never would.  One of the guards came into the room and whispered to the Colonel.  William couldn’t hear it, but he heard the letters AU at the end of it.  The Colonel shouted “That is impossible.  What do you mean he is gone?  That doesn’t happen.  Not here.  Find him.  NOW!”

“We have a new problem,” claimed the Colonel.  “One of the Specials is missing.  An autistic boy, 12 years old, blonde hair, blue eyes.  #112877AU.  He disappeared two days ago.  There will be no disposal today.  All non-molding staff are to actively search for this boy and find him.  The first person to find him will get an extra hour for lunch or dinner.  The first daughter of the Markell family is coming to the Mountain later today and we are ruined if word gets out we can’t account for one of them.”

****************

Jax sipped the water very slowly.  At 103 years old, she knew she didn’t have much time left.  She had to make sure they understood.  There wasn’t much time left before the purging videos came out.  She carefully placed agents into the Mountain to show the world what was happening there.  Even though the people couldn’t see them, the word would spread.  Fifty-five percent of the population, either dead or on a timetable for execution.  She looked out the window to see what used to be Legislative Hall.  Spread out over the entirety of the Green, it was home to the Markell family of Delaware.  One of the Twelve.  The rulers of the world.  She missed her friends, those who fought so gallantly to prevent this.  She remembered the dying breath of the unions when President Markell signed the order.  By that point, the unions were just minions of the Twelve anyways.  She had been kicked out years before it was official.  During the Red Clay-Christina riot, she watched as the Markell guards beat her friends into submission.  She did not escape unscathed.  A bullet tore into her left kneecap with such velocity it would never be the same again.

Delaware became an island unto itself during the Great Icescape Melt of 2042.  The Markell family built the polymer walls stopping the waters from taking over.  It was too late for Southern Sussex County.  The wall stood south of Milford with nothing but a liquid graveyard to the south of it.  That was the last time she saw her friend, the blogger.  He went down there to find someone, but no one ever saw him after that.  But he left very careful instructions for her.  About what to do if anything ever happened to William, his grandson.  It was Jax who supplied William with the knowledge of what came before.  The device was a treasure trove that explained everything.  All the information the people in power conveniently laughed at and ignored until it was too late.  She missed the resistance.  They came so close.  It would have stopped everything that came to pass.  They let him in thinking he had changed, that he was no longer brainwashed by the Markells.  They were wrong.  Trusting Earl was the worst mistake Jax ever made…

Part 1

Part 2

Editor’s note: I began this story last fall.  It became very dark, very quickly.  Faster than I could take.  As the Every Student Succeeds Act became a reality, I saw this potential future unfolding right in front of me.  A system designed to offer so much promise to the unsuspecting, but laced with poison.  Right now, regulations coming from ESSA are being discussed by politicians, policy-makers, educators, and corporate education reformers throughout the country.  For those who have followed this blog, some of the names in here are very familiar.  But the reality is that every single state has those who opposed what is happening to public education.  This is a story of the last heroes of Delaware in a potential future.  It is meant to be a warning sign of grossly exaggerated proportions.  One hundred years ago, someone could have written a similar story of a whole group of European Jews who were summarily executed just for their faith.  Many would have laughed and ridiculed such a notion.  Not in our time… history is filled with such apathy towards itself.  It is merely a cycle of cascading events with a rise and fall, over and over again.  It is also filled with those who try to fight the future and prevent the same cycle from repeating itself.