In a shocking announcement, the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union wants to sue the State of Delaware over education funding. But the announcement was not made by the ACLU but rather a Capital School District Board of Education member at their meeting last evening.
Capital Board member Lois Engel, during the portion of their meeting where they gave updates, said she attended a meeting of the Delaware ACLU. She said they are planning to sue the state because of disproportionate education funding. Currently, Delaware has a Unit-Based funding formula which is based on the September 30th count of students. This provides funding for teaching staff, administrators, and specialists. Special Education funding is given greater weight in this system. The ACLU wants a weighted funding system which would give more funding to all sub-groups where students have higher needs such as English-Language Learners and students of poverty. In Delaware, the state funds education at a higher percentage than the local side. Federal funding amounts to about 10% of funding.
Engel also said the ACLU is looking for five or more parents from each district to serve as plaintiffs in this yet-to-be filed lawsuit. In reaction to this announcement, Capital Superintendent Dan Shelton said he, along with all the district Chief Financial Officers, believe the unit-based funding system is fair because it gives parity to all students due to Delaware’s unique education funding system. He explained that out of all the states in the USA, Delaware is the only state where the bulk of education funding comes from the state. He did add that he would like to see ELL students and low-income students receive greater weight within the existing system like special education students already have. Shelton said in other states, where instead of getting funding based on unit-count they have a weighted system, the districts get a huge pot of money and felt the money is not spent wisely. He gave an example of districts hiring cheap teachers over experienced ones.
Upon hearing this, I reached out to a few sources who confirmed these plans for me. Based on what I heard, I don’t believe this information was supposed to be made public at this point. But it was, and at a public meeting at that. Education funding is an issue that needs more discussion. Last year, the Delaware General Assembly completed a task force that was unable to give any substantial recommendations regarding education funding. The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission also wanted a weighted funding system in Delaware but the Delaware General Assembly did not move forward with the WEIC plan for Wilmington schools. The District Consolidation Task Force will assuredly cover this issue once again, especially the finance sub-committee. While property reassessment will come up the most, this sub-committee will have to take a look at how all Delaware public schools are funded.
The last Delaware ACLU lawsuit over education against the state was filed in 2014. The state and Red Clay Consolidated School District were parties mentioned in a suit over enrollment preferences in Delaware charter schools. That suit went to the Office of Civil Rights for the region. Nothing has moved forward with that suit in over two and a half-years.
My take on this? First, we need to reëxamine our state auditing system before we change ANY funding. Far too many charter schools and districts have found ways to siphon money away from kids. By state law, our State Auditor has to audit each school district but that office does not do it. They claim a lack of staff and funding by the General Assembly prevent them from being able to do this. This is called an unfunded mandate, something Delaware is chock full of. Second, we need to know who is really pushing weighted funding. If it is the Rodel Foundation, we need to be asking why. We need to know if this is just another way for charters to get more funding while traditional districts get less. In Delaware, many people jump on a bandwagon without knowing all the details. As history has proven in Delaware education, the devil is in those details. Third, does Delaware even have the capability of shifting to that type of system given that the bulk of education funding comes from the state? In states that have those systems, the bulk of the funding comes from the local side through collection of property taxes. Would Delaware taxpayers allow us to shift to that? Would the state actually lower their own state taxes to compensate for that shift in funding?
I agree changes need to be made. But I am leaning more towards Shelton’s line of thought. I have always fought for Basic Special Education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade and I agree ELL and low-income students should be given that greater weight as well. I think a lawsuit will make great headlines but it would further erode the public’s confidence in an already damaged area of the state: public education. Since the ACLU is apparently soliciting parents as plaintiffs to support a weighted funding system, I find myself questioning “why now”? Education is a beast without changing everything. Sadly, someone is always going to profit over kids in the classroom. Money is diverted away from schools and given to some vendor or corporation who comes out with a well-designed report with fancy recommendations. That is where the most money is being wasted in public education. We have become a data obsessed society and education is a feeding frenzy for the data whores.
*I published an article earlier this week where I was vehemently against the finance sub-committee of the District Consolidation Task Force’s morning meetings. Apparently I wasn’t the only one so look for changes in those meeting times to occur shortly. As well, Sussex County should be added as a location for one of the four meetings of the sub-committee.