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Department of Education covers settlement funding with state lawmakers

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Joe Irizarry
/
Delaware Public Media

The Department of Education took time going over the $42 million increase to their budget with the Joint Finance Committee Wednesday.

The Department of Education spent almost three hours taking questions from members of the committee.

 

A portion of DOE’s funding request is to pay for programs agreed to in the recent settlement of the state education funding lawsuit, including ramping up Opportunity Funding and setting aside $1 million towards hiring an ombudsman for each county.

 

State Rep. Kim Williams (D-Stanton) says she’s concerned the money won’t be spent wisely if the ombudsman program is put in the hands of out-of-state contractors.

 

“We need to make sure that we have highly qualified people who actually know what they’re doing so they will be able to provide resources to our families and make sure that these tax dollars do not get used in ways that aren’t helping families," said Williams.

 

As part of the settlement, the ombudsman program is required to be a non-state government entity.

 

The program would contract out an independent team to investigate and resolve disputes regarding educational inequities across all public schools.

 

State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) honed in on Opportunity Funding, noting most of it is being spent on mental health services, where there's been a large inequality gap.

 

Christina School District Superintendent Dan Shelton says it’s gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“We’re moving more or less towards how we’re supporting families, not just individual students," Shelton said. "We’ve seen that in the pandemic specifically it’s really come to light how much family support we give.”

 

A few committee members and other lawmakers joined the meeting to hammer home the importance of House Bill 100, which would increase access to mental health services in Delaware elementary schools.

 

Lawmakers say this kind of investment in mental health is needed so much more because of how students and their families' mental health has suffered through the pandemic.

 

Roman Battaglia a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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