Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky is about to set off an education war unlike any Delaware has ever seen. If you thought the school district vs. charter school war was loud before, you haven’t seen anything yet.
In Title 14, the Delaware Secretary of Education has the authority to change the local cost per pupil. When a student choices out of their feeder pattern, or their local school district, a portion of that school district’s local funds follows the student to the charter school. To keep things in perspective, no Delaware Secretary of Education has touched this formula in the past 15-20 years. There are slight increases each year based on inflation, but they are nominal in comparison to what Godowsky is about to do.
For big districts like Red Clay and Christina, this will hurt them… bad. Any local school district that sends funds to charter schools will be affected by this decision. Every school in Delaware already created their FY2017 budget months ago. Each school district and charter set their budget on the expected number of students they anticipate having. This was based on the same formula that has been in use for years and years. When a district has a referendum, the funds generated from that referendum are earmarked for certain things. Godowsky found a way to circumvent those funds to directly benefit charter schools in Delaware.
On August 8th, Secretary Godowsky sent all the Chief Financial Officers of each district a letter. He asked them to list all of their restricted and unrestricted funds in their local budgets. Restricted funds are not used in the calculation for money going to charter schools or other choice schools out of district. These cover many things, like building maintenance, consultants, and food services as a few examples. These are district expenses that only affect the district. These aren’t services the student would bring to the new school. The school the student choices to should already have those services. Godowsky is moving budget allocations that were previously in restricted over to unrestricted. By changing the way this is done, charter schools will get more money while districts will have less. How much more? It will differ between district and how much local money they have. Even though Christina choices out more students, Red Clay has more money in their local share based on their tax base. But the districts will bleed. A lot of money. From what I’m hearing it could be anywhere from 10-15% more money going to the charters, depending on the district. Millions and millions of dollars. This won’t just be a Red Clay and Christina thing. Think Colonial, Brandywine, Appoquinimink, Smyrna, Capital, Caesar Rodney, Indian River… these districts will feel the pain as well. Any district that sends dollars to charters will send more.
So when your kid comes home from school this year in school districts, don’t be shocked to see something cut that you thought they would have already had. For charter school parents, they will be happy when their kid gets some new things they might not have had before. In other words, charter schools will be getting more while districts will be getting less. This will be in the double-digit millions. I don’t have exact amounts yet. But if your district pays a decent amount of money to charter schools, they will be paying a lot more.
Secretary Godowsky didn’t just wake up one day and say “I’m going to change the local cost per pupil formula this year!” This wasn’t even his idea. For this, we can thank the folks at Newark Charter School. When Christina won their third attempt at a referendum last March, the school immediately pounced on Christina for more money. Everyone wants more money, but Newark Charter School is relentless with their greed. Immediately after the referendum, their board discussed a meeting that was about to take place:
This trio from the bastion of discrimination and cherry-picking in Delaware, good old Newark Charter School, is Head of School Greg Meece, Board President Steven Dressel, and their Chief Financial Officer, Joanne Schlossberg. The Superintendent of the Christina School District, in an Acting Superintendent role, is Robert Andrzejewski. The Associate Secretary of Education is David Blowman. This was in April of this year, a month after Christina passed their referendum. Ironically, Newark Charter School’s May board minutes seem to have disappeared. I did read these board minutes when they came out, but I don’t recall specifics (I should have saved them). I know there was a lot of discussion about the school refinancing their bonds. In looking at Christina Board minutes and listening to their audio recordings, I did not see or hear any mention of “Bob A”, as their Superintendent is frequently referred to, and this strange group of people meeting. I would like to publicly, right here, right now, ask Bob A what happened at this meeting and be prepared to discuss at their next Board of Education meeting on September 20th. You don’t get a skate out of Christina free card Bob A.
Bob A did have a meeting with Newark Charter School earlier this year. He asked Meece to support Christina’s upcoming referendum. Meece flat-out refused. Even though their charter school directly benefits from Christina School District with their five mile radius requirement for students. Even Governor Markell and Senator David Sokola supported the referendum. Which was a bit unusual. But even that mystery will be cleared soon.
Meece, backed by the Delaware Charter Schools Network I’m sure, successfully lobbied the Secretary of Education to change the local cost per pupil formula. By Delaware law, the Secretary of Education has up until September 1st of each year to do this. But if this wasn’t the final straw, get ready, cause it gets worse. Several sources are telling me this won’t just go into affect for this school year. Godowsky wants districts to pay for last year based on the new formula.
Districts are at a loss. They are in a frenzy and searching other possible remedies to address this education funding catastrophe. When was this decision made? I don’t have the answer to that one…yet…but I’m working on it. It has been in play since April according to the Newark Charter School May Board minutes. David Blowman, as the former Deputy Secretary of Education until earlier this year, oversaw the Charter School Office at the Delaware DOE. Since their Executive Director left in June, Blowman has been taking on the responsibilities as the authority figure in that area of the DOE until they find a replacement for Jennifer Nagourney.
I have to imagine that Meece had other help with this as well. Something this high up and controversial would have to fly by Governor Markell. I have no doubt in my mind Meece’s legislative buddy Dave Sokola had a hand in this as well. Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. I imagine the Delaware DOE will have to announce this by September 1st since this is the deadline for the Secretary to make these decisions.
This will create a war between school districts, charter schools, the DOE, the State Board of Education, and the Delaware Charter Schools Network unlike anything seen before. If this change in the way districts pay charters goes through, expect a lot of hardship on districts. Expect boons for charters. You will have to pick a side. You can’t sit there and stay neutral. Every Delaware candidate for public office is going to face this question. This isn’t going to be a situation where both sides can come to the table and stay neutral. This move by Godowsky is the knife in the back that will cause outrage.
All because one little man hates the Christina School District so much, and he continually runs his “great” school. The same school that continually benefits from the laws Delaware Senator David Sokola creates every single year. And from what I’m hearing, Sokola isn’t the only candidate running for office that is getting support from Newark Charter School. But the actions of this one little man will affect an entire state. If you thought the funding issues for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan were rough before, get ready for this whole thing to take on a whole new level.
I wrote earlier today about this with cryptic words. But make no mistake, Governor Jack Markell is leaving this in the lap of John Carney to deal with. Markell doesn’t give a crap about Delaware education. He has proven this time and time again. This is just one more of his final revenge tactics before he leaves office (he will have more if Jack lives up to his true self). Markell hates Christina. Watching him in the video supporting the district for their referendum… he looked like he would rather have a root canal. But it was very important their referendum passed. Which was why Sokola also supported it. If their referendum failed, Meece wouldn’t have been able to get the opportunity for his huge money grab.
This will affect every public school district student in the state. For years, education reformers true goals have been to privatize education. They found a very successful way to do it with charter schools. They suck money out of local districts until they are gone in some cities. But this time, I believe Meece overreached. The reputation of charter schools as greedy, money-sucking vampires of local school districts is now set in stone. All because of Meece. Remember this moment. Remember who started all of this.
District parents… I invite you all to attend the September State Board of Education meeting on September 15th. The meeting begins at 1pm at the Townsend Building in Dover. Bring picket signs protesting Godowsky’s actions. Give public comment and demand the State Board of Education take action on this abuse of power. Make your voice heard. Go to your local school district board meetings and tell them to not send this money to the charter schools. Go to the charter school board meetings and tell them they can’t get more while their children get less. I have no doubt the charter side will make a lot of noise. But only 10-12% of Delaware students go to charters. We have the numbers. We have the louder voice. And we have more voting power. Find out which legislators support the district side and which support the charter side. If they tell you they support both, they are useless. This war will demand strength in leadership.
When the dust settles on this, there will be casualties. The question that remains is how much more students have to suffer because of stupid little men like Greg Meece. We can’t tolerate this as a state any longer. We can’t have a third of our state budget benefitting charter schools and allowing our kids in school districts to suffer because of them. This has to change. The war began a long time ago, but take a side. And get ready to rumble!
I will be updating this story with new articles as they come out. This is going to be a long Autumn. With this action, Secretary Godowsky will replace Secretary Mark Murphy as the most reviled Delaware Secretary of Education in our entire history as a state.