Delaware parents, taxpayers, and lawmakers will have an easier time understanding local school spending under legislation signed into law today by Gov. John Carney.
Senate Bill 172 creates a framework of uniform, statewide reporting standards for building-level expenditures in Delaware’s public and charter schools, which the bill’s prime sponsor says could be the difference between good and bad education policy.
“This bill isn’t just about data,” said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “It’s about closing the achievement gap; it’s about student success; it’s about equal opportunity; and it’s about good policy. Everyone believes in transparency, but the devil’s always in the details. For a legislator, data can be the difference between solving problems and flying blind, but all the data in the world is useless if nobody can understand it. Adding consistency and context to our spending reports equips everyone – legislators, parents, and taxpayers alike – to understand how we’re investing in our schools and what our students need.”
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to report per-pupil expenditures at the school level. While reliable spending data is already available at the district level, Delaware’s school-level spending data is considerably murkier.
Any two Delaware schools might use completely different expense codes and formatting, which complicates efforts to compare school spending, to measure the impact of spending on student growth, or to identify inequities.
These discrepancies stifle transparency, obscure information on the equity and quality of Delaware’s education system, and obstruct policymakers and budget officials from making more strategic investments in education.
“We have a duty to keep improving the access and quality of education for Delaware’s kids, and increasing transparency for education funding will help us in decision-making and policy implementation,” said House sponsor Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, who chairs the House Education Committee. “Now with Governor Carney’s signature, this comprehensive information will be accessible to parents, taxpayers and schools so Delawareans can clearly see how we spend our education dollars.”
SB 172 specifically requires the Department of Education to:
- work with stakeholders like parents, business leaders, and school board members to develop a statewide approach for public and charter schools to report their school-level expenditures, as well as each school’s share of central office expenditures;
- accompany per-pupil expenditure data with information that provides context on differences in funding (e.g., student outcomes and demographics); and
- provide optional training to improve understanding of expenditure data.
“Current statewide funding and accounting systems make meaningful comparisons between schools and districts extremely challenging,” said Norma Ivonne Antongiorgi, a board member of Academia Alonso Charter School. “However, there is hope for progress. SB 172 will require transparency and consistency in financial reporting to provide equitable funding for all Delaware schools.”
Importantly, SB 172 is non-punitive legislation and does not dictate school budgets or penalize schools for comparatively high spending or low performance. The legislation takes effect today.