Norma I. Antongiorgi is a member of the Delaware Hispanic Commission Education Subcommittee and a member of the Board of Academia Alonso Charter School. She also served in the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee.
Delaware schools have not had adequate resources to address the challenge of effectively educating English Learners, and our EL programs lag behind other states. During the past two decades, the number of “English Learners” (ELs) in Delaware schools has increased by more than 400 percent.
There are currently more than 11,000 Delaware students for whom English is not their primary language. According to the Delaware Education Equity Coalition, 75 percent of ELs are native-born and Spanish is the primary language for most of these students. Fifty percent are low income and 14 percent need special education services.
Federal law requires public schools to accept and educate all students (including immigrants and native-born students) and requires schools to teach English to EL students.
I serve on the board of Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School, where more than 50 percent of our students are English learners. Our school offers students a dual-language learning program with instruction in their primary language, facilitating mastery of the overall academic curriculum. This additional support and the dual language focus engages teachers, parents, support staff and community to promote student success.
Delaware is one of only four states that does not provide specific additional funding to support English learners. If Delaware adopted the policies of surrounding states, each English learner would receive $4,000-$6,000 on top of a base per-pupil rate provided to all students.
Twenty percent of Delaware EL students receive no English language instruction beyond what is provided to native English speakers. The majority (60 percent) receive only two to three hours a week of English language instruction, including EL students who comprehend no English.
English Learners present large systemic academic achievement gaps. In 2017, the percentage of EL students proficient in eighth-grade reading was only 8 percent, and in math only 10 percent. The 2017 SAT scores found that the percentage of EL high school students proficient in reading, writing, and math was only 5 to 6 percent.
Only about 15 percent of Delaware EL students have access to dual language or bilingual programs.
Additional funding for English Learners must be addressed as part of an overall restructuring of Delaware’s education funding system, which was originally developed 80 years ago.
Delaware’s funding formula allocates fixed staff positions rather than allocating money based on student needs. Resource allocation is based on teacher compensation, not per-pupil funding, leading to inequity across the state.
The Education Commission of the States has documented the rigidity and inequity of position allocation funding. Only seven states maintain a position allocation funding system like Delaware.
The Education Equity Delaware Coalition is proposing a fundamental shift from the state’s current funding methodology to a “foundation funding” approach used by 35 other states.
Schools receive a guaranteed per-student base amount of funding annually. Weights can then be added on top of the base as supplements for English Learners, low income, and other high-needs students.
Delaware’s funding system predates many aspects of a modern education structure, including charter schools, competency-based education, dual/concurrent enrollment programs, nontraditional career and technical education programs, and other educational innovations. This out-of-date scheme makes it challenging to make appropriate adjustments for open-enrollment programs, student mobility, and reporting requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Current funding and accounting systems make meaningful comparisons between schools and districts virtually impossible.
However, there is hope for progress. A recent bill passed by the General Assembly (SB 172) will require transparency and consistency in financial reporting to provide a foundation for funding reform.
plethora of commissions, committees and reports have called for educational
reform in Delaware. Meanwhile, English Learners and other high needs students
continue to suffer from lack of opportunity.
Now is the time for Delaware to revise and modernize school funding, providing equitable resources to educate all students in the First State.