New Delaware education chief calls for spending boost

DOVER — Delaware’s Education Department is requesting increases of about $87 million for the general operating budget and $5 million more for the capital budget.

Education Secretary Steven Godowsky, who officially was sworn in less than a month ago, made the pitch Monday at Legislative Hall as the first round of budget hearings wraps up.

Unlike several state agencies, the Education Department is seeking considerably more than a 1 percent budget hike. Fully one-third of Delaware’s overall budget goes to education.

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Steven Godowsky

The Department of Education is receiving $1.3 billion this fiscal year, and officials proposed a $1.39 billion budget for the upcoming period.

About $44.7 million of the requested operating increase would go to salaries, while another $15.8 million would cover projected growth.

Additionally, $9.5 million would flow directly to school districts and charter schools to support technology initiatives, safety measures and programs for non-native English speakers.

On the capital level, the requested funding would go to various districts across the state, including Caesar Rodney.

The CR District is planning renovations to nine schools and the construction of a new elementary school, with a referendum being approved by voters last month. The state would pay $59.1 million over a period of several years.

If the requested budget is adopted, the first $8 million would come in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Polytech is set to complete renovations in the upcoming fiscal year, with the state providing $4.2 million.

The Department of State, which also had its budget hearing Monday, is seeking a $440,000 increase in its $24.7 million current-year budget. That money would go to pay increases and higher health care costs.

Its capital request totals $14.8 million, up from $7 million this year. About $10.7 million would be allocated to libraries.

Also on Monday, Dr. Godowsky acknowledged criticisms levied at the department over the past year and pledged to improve relations between education officials and legislators.

Under former Secretary Mark Murphy, the Education Department was frequently in the spotlight for what many outside the agency saw as poor communication and a lack of focus on students’ well-being.

Some legislators, teachers and parents claimed that students were subjected to too many tests and their complaints fell on deaf ears — claims Dr. Godowsky acknowledged Monday after the hearing.

“I heard the issues, over and over again,” he said.

He already has spoken to many members of the Senate, who confirmed him in October and he said he intends to meet with other lawmakers over the ensuing weeks.

“That’s our big priority, that we communicate better, share information and get a good sense of where we’re going,” he said. He described himself as
“optimistic” that cooperation would be improved.

On the issue of one of the most charged bills from the past session, legislation allowing parents to opt their students out of standardized tests, Dr. Godowsky weighed in as opposing it. After much discussion, the bill passed the General Assembly but was vetoed by the governor. Legislators will try to overturn that veto next year.

“I support the governor’s position,” Dr. Godowsky said.

He also pointed to a study being conducted in an effort to identify all standardized tests given by the state, districts and schools and eliminate the redundant ones.

Delaware’s education system has seen heavy growth in the past few years, largely due to an influx of special education students and a decrease in private school enrollment. In the past, officials were able to regularly allocate 110 to 125 classroom units’ worth of funding.

However, that has increased to the point where the state may be at a “new normal,” Deputy Secretary David Blowman said.

To that end, the department is seeking 298 units of growth and for contingency.

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