A major proposed boost in education funding aims to ensure that students at Head Start in Northeast Wilmington and their peers at North Star Elementary grow up to have the same opportunities to be successful.
"That's the most important thing that we do, the most important obligation I have," said Gov. John Carney.
Carney is backing the funding, set aside by the legislature's Joint Finance Committee, which would add $75 million over three years to Delaware's budget for education, devoted specifically to high-needs schools up and down the state for a wide-range of initiatives. The funding must still be approved by the General Assembly as part of the budget process.
Announced in front of a crowd of students from New Castle Elementary Monday, June 3, 2019, Carney said no child can be left behind.
"[This funding aims] to make sure that every child--whether they speak English as a first language or not, whether they come from a complete family with the kind of support that we would hope for all of our children or not--have the opportunity to read at a third grade level when they get there and do math in middle school proficiently when they get there, and ultimately, graduate from high school ready to go out into the work force or higher education," said Carney.
Districts will have significant flexibility in how the money can be spent on with teachers like Lauren Schneider getting a say.
"This will allow us to rethink how we staff our buildings and provide the supports for better outcomes," she said.
She pointed to the success of reading specialists at West Seaford Elementary School, where she teaches.
"We were able to target...students and provide intense interventions that allowed students to meet with reading success. Additional monies will be distributed across these high-needs schools, and I'm hopeful that these resources will continue to allow us to effectively serve our students with the greatest needs."
Secretary of Education Susan Bunting spoke of the high-need for this funding in Sussex County, where she was superintendent of the Indian River School District, and worked to ensure her students had a shot at success.
"Our population of English learners grew from less than 1% to almost 33%, so I have a passion for learning for those challenged children," she said. "Actually, I developed a dream. My dream was that, some day, we would be able to provide extra learning time for those students, that we would be able to help them with extra support in the classroom with their vocabulary development, with their comprehension, with their concept-building, with all the things that we find in students who don't have as privileged a background as some of our other students might have."
Gov. Carney spoke directly to students in the crowd.
"This is a really big deal, students, you can start listening now, because it's going to help each of you be successful," said Carney. "I know you were listening, that was just a joke. It's going to help us get you to where you need to be so you can read as you should be and ultimately graduate from high school and do great things for our state."
One in five students suffer from a mental health disorder--another area where these dollars will be spent--and where early intervention is key. The Delaware State Education Association has advocated for putting more counselors, psychologists, and social workers in Delaware's public schools.
"Trauma can occur, and abuse, and neglect, and violence and can impact a child's ability to regulate their emotions, sleep difficulty, and even affect their immune system" said House Majority Leader Rep. Val Longhurst, who represents the Bear-area. "Children need to have their basic needs met first before we can concentrate on academics--that might mean a warm meal, a hug, or a counseling session."
She pointed to a successful program at Allen Frear Elementary School, implemented by third grade teacher Ashlee Upp, who was Caesar Rodney School District's Teacher of the Year.
"She would take time out of the classroom, and all the children had yoga mats, and when it was time, when everybody was a little wound up and rowdy, they pulled out their yoga mats, they turned down the lights, and they spent 125 minutes just talking and relaxing, then she turned back on the lights, and they were ready to go again. But she really dealt with them one-on-one, and it was amazing to see the progress that she was having in her classroom," said Longhurst.
More than $4 million of this funding will be devoted to basic special education in grades K-3. State Rep. Kim Williams, who's long been an advocate for special education, has introduced a measure to fund this for the past three years.
"This funding will help students close learning gaps and save money in the future," she said. "We realize that education today goes above and beyond learning out of a text book--it is holistic, supportive, and inclusive."
For Williams, this issue is personal.
"My children were identified with developmental issues early on, and I saw how important it was for them to get services to grow academically and emotionally," she said. "Today, my daughter just finished up her first year in grad school and just recently landed a job with a nonprofit environmental group, and my son is a senior who will be graduating from college next year, majoring in computer science."