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DE Dept. of Ed asks for nearly $1.5 billion budget

Delaware Public Media

The number of kids enrolled in special education programs at Delaware’s public schools continues to grow, adding tens of millions of dollars worth of budgetary pressure on state lawmakers.

From September 2015 to this year, nearly 1,200 new students filed into public schools – many of them needing special education options.

That’s going to cost the General Assembly an extra $12.2 million, on top of a $16 million buffer built into the budget to help absorb future unexpected growth.

Over the past few years, new enrollees have eaten up that buffer. State Education Secretary Steven Godowsky says his department has been trying to find why.

“Is it so significant from out of state that people are moving to Delaware because of the programs available? We haven’t finalized that review, but we definitely will do a more intense analysis,” Godowsky said.

Delaware doesn’t offer extra funding for special ed students before they hit fourth grade, with part of the budget crunch originating there.

Much of the new spending would fund mandatory teacher salary increases.

Officials also want $2.7 million to grow popular language immersion programs where students spend half the day learning either Chinese or Spanish starting in kindergarten.

“World language immersion programs have been really well received and I think several districts definitely want to expand their offerings,” Godowski said.

He notes that money will go toward expanding existing immersion programs and launching them in districts where they aren’t currently available.

New languages, like French, may also be offered.

The agency also wants to revive Gov. Jack Markell's proposal to boost bandwidth speeds in public schools, costing $3 million.

Some programs could also face cuts, such as publicly funded driver education classes at private schools, saving taxpayers $1.2 million.

In all, Godowsky requested nearly $1.5 billion for next year’s budget – a 7.7 percent increase over current spending.

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