Commentary: Language in Delaware budget bill betrays taxpayers

In a blatant disregard for fiscal responsibility and Delaware law, for almost a decade, the Joint Finance Committee has inserted language into the annual budget bill to remove oversight and protections from the use of taxpayer money to fund charter schools.

One charter school that is under investigation for financial mismanagement has received millions in unaccountable funding, including over $750,000 in the past year. I have consistently opposed this use of taxpayer money with no accountability or understanding for how it is spent.\

This year, I filed an amendment to remove this language from our budget, but it was shot down by the House at the request of the Democratic leadership and the Republican caucus. Delaware deserves better than this.

The charter school transportation slush fund has been inserted into the budget “epilogue language” for the past nine years by the head of the Joint Finance Committee, originally by former Rep. Melanie George Smith.

Rep. John Kowalko

This year, the language was added at the last minute without any public discussion by current JFC chair Quinn Johnson. This addition into the back pages of the budget explicitly ignores current Delaware law that requires schools to return any additional money allocated to them for transportation costs.

Instead, charter schools (and only charter schools) are allowed to keep any “extra” money given to them by the state. They get to keep that money and use it with no oversight and no accountability to the taxpayers or anyone else.

Our state should not be operated with a disregard to fiscal responsibility. The amount of unregulated money not subject to any accountability or legislative oversight has reached staggering proportions in recent years.

In 2016, $898,026 was kept by charter schools in excess of their transportation costs. In 2017, that unregulated surplus grew to $1,262,930, and in 2018, it swelled to $1,418,707 in taxpayer money. Odyssey Charter, which is now under intense scrutiny for its spending and management performance, kept an excess of $299,001 in 2016, $598,405 in 2017, and a staggering $764,053 in 2018.

Each year, the JFC has exempted this funding from the ordinary fiscal controls that would prevent this type of unaccounted taxpayer money.

My amendment to restore oversight and legislative fiscal responsibility on behalf of Delaware families and taxpayers failed this year in a shocking display of disregard for taxpayer money.

The only members of the House who joined me were Representatives Kim Williams, David Bentz, and Andria Bennett. Please drop them a note of appreciation applauding their integrity and responsible judgment, and notify the dissenting House members of your disappointment in their failure to care about how your money is spent.

Democratic State Rep. John Kowalko represents the 25th District, which encompasses parts of Newark.

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