Education Department seeks big spending hike

DOVER — Delaware’s Department of Education is requesting an increase of more than $100 million for its operating budget next year, an increase of 7.7 percent.

Education Secretary Steven Godowsky laid out the request to budget officials Wednesday in the department’s annual hearing as the Markell administration prepares a budget proposal for the eighth and final time.

A little more than a quarter of the $106 million requested hike addresses increased enrollment, much of it due to a higher number of special education students.

The department is seeing 532 special education learners enter school for the first time.

“This is at least a two-year trend. We’ve seen significant unit growth in the exceptional children special programs, and so as a result of that we’ve done a deeper analysis of the unit generation,” Dr. Godowsky said afterward.

“So again, we know how many students are coming from parochial schools, private schools, out of state, first time in Delaware schools, and so we’ve also sent our team in the exceptional children division out to review the unit counts and the justification for that.

“So we’re going to put all that information together and working with (the Office of Management and Budget) to get a clearer picture of what’s happening.

“Why is the migration to the more intense unit or complex units happening? Is it so significant from out of state that people move into Delaware because of the programs available? So we haven’t finalized that review but we definitely will do a more intense analysis.”

Another $9.2 million in the requested increase comes from step, or salary, increases for teachers, with an additional $6.4 million going to busing and $8 million being allocated for early childhood programs.

The department is also considering adding French as an option for the World Language Immersion program which currently allows elementary schoolers to spend half their day learning either Spanish or Mandarin.

With the state government facing a budget shortfall projected to be at least $200 million, the department also prepared a request that cuts its budget by $4 million.

“It will cut into programs, no doubt, and hopefully not people but we’ll definitely look at programs first, and some of the successful programs that we’ve talked about over the last few years would be at risk,” Mr. Godowsky said.

Should that come to pass, driver education for non-public schools would end.

Budget hearings will continue through Tuesday, with the Gov. Jack Markell’s recommended budget being unveiled in January.

While Gov.-elect John Carney will be taking over in two months, Gov. Markell will craft the budget while keeping his successor in the loop.

Once he is in office, the new governor could have a chance to make changes to the proposed spending plan.

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