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Legislators criticize school enrollment funding swings

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Delaware Public Media
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State budget lawmakers sharply questioned education officials Wednesday over consistently underestimating public school enrollment over the past three years.

 

 

The state Education department underestimated enrollment by nearly 1,100 kids in the current school year – 79 percent of which are those with special needs.

 

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North) called the enrollment funding system “Harry Potter calculus” that needs to be far more accurate.

 

"It seems to me like we'd be able to get a little bit closer," McDowell said.

 

But Education Secretary Steven Godowsky responded the problem is limited  - noting the growth in the number of traditional students hasn’t been statistically significant in recent years.

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly," Godowsky said.

Students with special needs are required by law to have smaller class sizes and other costlier services, which kick in in 4th grade.

Godowsky says there are other factors making the number hard to predict as well.

“I think the other variable is the number of students and their families moving to Delaware to take advantage of our special education programs and that’s something that we can look at trends, but it’s hard to estimate.”

 

225 out of the nearly 1,100 new students moved from out of state.

 
The surge in enrollment is expected to cost $6.5 million to cover the current year, but state officials aren’t asking for any extra funding from the current base level to prepare for the 2017-2018 school year.

Delaware Department of Education officials are using the same projection formula they have for decades again, but anticipate an upcoming University of Delaware report will help make better future calculations.