By Dr. Tanya Hettler, Ph.D.
Center for Education Excellence, Caesar Rodney Institute
December 30, 2022
In the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from 2020, as provided in the report “K-12 Education Spending Spotlight: An in-depth look at school finance data and trends” released by the Reason Foundation, Delaware ranked 13th in the nation in the increase in education spending over the period from 2002-2020. This reflects an increase in Delaware per pupil spending of 29% from $13,387 to $17,235 (inflation-adjusted).
A Closer Look into Delaware’s Education Spending
Table 1 below is a closer look at Delaware’s increase in education spending over the 18 years from 2002-2020. Student enrollment only increased by 11%. Yet, every other area of spending increased at a significantly higher rate except for teacher salaries.
Table 1: DE’s Increases in Educational Spending from 2002-2020 (inflation-adjusted).
But even more shocking is that when we look at education expenses in 2002, we find that Delaware was already spending significantly more on education than most other states. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau (2020) shows that Delaware ranks as the 9th highest state in overall education spending.
Students’ Test Scores Continue to Drop as Overall Spending increases
Because overall education spending increased by 29% during 2002-2020, it would only make sense that there should be some improvements in Delaware students’ test scores. Sadly, there hasn’t been any improvement, which cannot be blamed solely on COVID-19 closures. Instead, there has been a consistent decrease in scores for both math and reading in both the 4th and 8th grades since 2013.
In 2022, Delaware tied for the worst educational performance out of all 50 states when considering Delaware’s rankings in both math and reading for the 4th and 8th grades. While Delaware spends like other Northeastern states, Delaware students’ test scores are tied with West Virginia and Oklahoma for dead last. It really can’t get any worse.
Delaware also had the largest decline in test scores in the country between 2019 and 2022-likely due to COVID-19 regulations and school closures.
Small Steps that will have a Huge Impact on our Students’ Futures
As is evident from this data, Delaware is in the top 10 for education spending in the country. Yet our students continue to perform at the very bottom compared to all other states. This is unacceptable!
We are failing our students if we continue on this same path. It is time for a systemic change to Delaware’s education system to improve our students’ success.
The ideas below are recommended initial steps that can have a positive impact and should be implemented by Delaware legislators immediately:
- Reallocation of education funds. The generous funds our schools receive from Delaware taxpayers need to be reallocated toward teachers’ salaries, with a special focus on starting salaries and hiring new teachers. Across the country, there are twice as many non-educators in schools than educators, and this ratio may be even worse in Delaware. Reallocating funds to teachers will allow a better teacher-to-student ratio and enable schools to hire and retain good teachers, thus improving educational outcomes.
- Adopting less restrictive teacher licensure requirements. Delaware has one of the country’s most restrictive educational accreditation programs. Changing this would allow more teachers to be hired quickly to meet Delaware’s current teacher shortages. According to the state’s “Join Delaware Schools” website, there are currently several hundred teacher vacancies. In Delaware, potential new teachers cannot become licensed unless they complete an acceptable teacher preparation program and pass both the education TPA and Praxis Subject Assessment aligning with the subject and grade they intend to teach.
These two suggestions can help begin to move Delaware from the bottom in educational performance so that we can perform more like the other Northeastern states we seem to be trying to emulate.