Delaware’s students are about to enter their third school year since the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered schools and put many of our state’s learners at risk. With recent reports suggesting that only 42% of our students are proficient in math, and only 42% can read on grade level, learning levels are down between 10% and 15% in all categories. We’re looking at an unprecedented educational crisis. Parents, already concerned about learning loss, have a right to know–dollar by dollar and cent by cent–how a historic federal stimulus will be used by districts to get their children back on track. Because of this, DelawareCAN set a goal in 2022 to require codified state reporting guidelines on federal education dollars and a centralized information hub accessible and searchable to the public to help families see how federal funding is being spent to help their students recover.
In March 2020, Congress voted to allocate approximately $13 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Over phases, the federal government would eventually dole out over $180 billion in education relief. The money was distributed in three installments to district and charter schools across the country at the discretion of each state’s Governor’s offices and Departments of Education. Delaware received over $637 million. A breakdown by district can be found in PDF form on the Department of Education website.
With the receipt of funds, districts were required to submit plans for funding to the governor’s office. These plans helped to inform the Delaware ESSER plan that was ultimately submitted to the US Department of Education. District and charter plans varied in level of detail, with some being a 35-page deep dive into funding application and program implementation, while others were mere bullet points. Public access to the plans was difficult, as each was housed on a different site and in various forms. The process of gathering information was clunky and arduous, and parents were frustrated.
DelawareCAN chose to tackle this problem head-on by developing legislation that had, in other states, created a process by which districts and charters were required to provide parents and the public reports with how billions of federal dollars would be spent and the impact the money would have on student learning. We also asked that the information be centrally-housed on a website run by the Delaware Department of Education, so that parents could stay informed. We approached the DOE in winter 2021 with our proposal, and were thrilled to learn that they were working on a similar plan internally. We chose to work together, joining the conversation around design and implementation. After months of work, we are happy to say the new tool was released to the public earlier this summer.
The new tool allows users to input the district or charter they are seeking information about and the results will include the total amount the school had received, how much they have remaining in funding and the total amount that had been allocated to the specific activity area.
This is a great first step in increasing transparency not only for ESSER funding, but also for all federal education funding the state receives moving forward. Without easy and detailed public access to information, it’s difficult for parents to understand the overall impact of these dollars and be part of meaningful funding conversations moving forward.
While we are pleased with the new tool, it is important to note that this is only the first step in full funding transparency. To go deeper, we must understand the intent behind the spending and track specific student outcomes that result from federal funding. These are still only spreadsheets and line items. We need to ask school leaders more questions about the impact. We are encouraged by the proactive response in the current Department of Education administration but would like to see the process codified into Delaware law to ensure that subsequent administrations also follow this new protocol.
At DelawareCAN, we strongly encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with this new tool, and see how the money has been spent thus far. It’s time for meaningful conversations around education funding in Delaware. We’re on the right track, but there’s a ton of work ahead. Get informed and get involved. Our kids can’t wait.