Educators applaud additional $9 million funding for school districts

WILMINGTON — Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Department of Education announced Thursday that the state will provide $9 million in one-time funding to Delaware school districts and charter schools to prevent educator and staff layoffs due to enrollment reductions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Carney

To access the one-time funding, school districts and charters must certify they will not lay off educators or staff and that the funds will go toward student instruction, focused on those students who have been most negatively impacted by the loss of in-person instruction.

Based on enrollment levels, districts and charters will receive as much as $1.1 million in additional state funding to prevent layoffs.

“Our educators, school personnel, and school leaders have taken on the challenges of this pandemic and ensured children remain fed, educated and supported,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “We are pleased to make this funding available to districts and charter schools to ensure no staff members are laid off because of enrollment declines during the pandemic.

“We look forward to seeing students back in classrooms in a hybrid format in January, and I thank our schools for all the work they are doing to bring children back safely.”

The announcement comes during an academic year when Delaware has seen a decrease in public school students and a rise in home schools.

There are 18,170 Delaware students enrolled in either a single- or multifamily home school or a private school — an increase of 2,439 students between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

During the coronavirus outbreak, single-family home school numbers have increased significantly, jumping from 1,602 last year to 2,663 this year, representing a change of 1,061. With that increase, there are now 1,742 more Delaware students being home-schooled (for a total of 4,512) compared to last year.

This year marks the first time in at least a decade Delaware has seen a decrease in public school enrollment, with a reported reduction of 2,407 students between Sept. 30, 2019, and Nov. 13, 2020, according to data released by the DOE.

Dr. Susan Bunting, secretary of the DOE, said the additional funding is much needed for the school districts.

Susan Bunting

“This funding will give our educators and students the stability they need as they finish this unprecedented school year,” said Dr. Bunting. “Whether our children have chosen hybrid or remote learning for the spring semester, they will highly profit from the instructional consistency and learning support that the current staff offers.”

Ed Emmett, head of school at Positive Outcomes Charter School in Dover, said that the assistance could not have come at a more opportune time and tipped his hat to the governor and DOE.

“I am overwhelmed by this recognition of the issues facing schools,” Mr. Emmett said. “This critical support for our school will help ensure that we can continue to provide the increased assistance for our students that has been necessary during this unprecedented time.

“By providing for the unique challenges this pandemic has brought to our school’s budget, the state and Department of Education recognize that our faculty and staff are our most precious resource.”

When Gov. John Carney put together a budget for fiscal year 2021, a pandemic wasn’t part of the equation. When the budget was actually approved, the state essentially rolled the previous budget over, not funding beyond what was required.

That is why the school districts are relieved that the governor announced that financial help was on the way on Christmas Eve.

“We thank the governor and secretary of education for this funding, which will avoid the negative impact of the decline in enrollment due to this pandemic,” said Stephanie Ingram, president of the Delaware State Education Association. “At a time when educators have so much to worry about, this solution means they won’t have to worry about layoffs this year.

“Instead, educators can continue to focus on safety, health, instruction and student learning.”

Indian River School District spokesman David Maull said that in analyzing the reasons for the decrease in enrollment during the pandemic, “our available data indicates an increase in the number of students who have enrolled in private schools, an increase in the number of students who have elected home schooling and a decline in kindergarten enrollment.”

Dan Shelton, superintendent of the Christina School District and president of the Delaware Chief School Officers Association, said the funding will help answer some questions in what has been a year that is filled with uncertainty.

“Enrollment this year has been particularly transient due to the harsh realities our families have faced due to COVID-19,” said Mr. Shelton, who was previously the superintendent for the Capital School District. “We are pleased that the governor and Secretary Bunting have supported our educators with the funding needed to maintain our services and supports at their current levels.

“Our educators are working tirelessly to engage students in new ways, under changing conditions. This recognition goes a long way in helping to meet the needs of our students, staff and families as we navigate this pandemic together.”