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Politics & Government

Education advocates seeking state funds for a variety of programs

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Delaware Public Media
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At the final budget hearing this year, many stakeholders in the education sector staked their claim for an increase in funding.

State budget officials wrapped up public hearings this week as they prepare Gov. John Carney’s recommended budget for 2023.

The Department of Education was the last department to present Friday, asking for over $126 million in funding added to their $1.7 billion budget.

One major item on DOE’s list is over $10 million to help address a shortage of bus drivers throughout the state, impacting the ability for some districts to get kids to school at all.

“Specifically the request includes $10.4 million to increase driver pay to $20 per hour,” says Kim Klein, associate secretary for operations support at the DOE. “And to provide paid training for bus drivers.”

The department is also seeking an additional $20 million to bolster mental health services in public schools, in part stemming from a new law requiring mental health services in elementary schools.

Budget officials also heard a litany of public comment, largely from educational organizations. All of them appealed to the state for extra funding to support programs such as early childhood services and collaborations with higher education.

They include State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) , who co-chairs the Redding Consortium. She wants more funding certainty for schools.

“These funds should become part of the state’s operating budget,” Lockman says. “In fiscal year 22, $7 million of the $10 million appropriated was appropriated through one-time funds. The unreliability of one-time funds makes it difficult for the state to incentivize schools or private bidders to undertake ambitious new programs — knowing that they might incur costs to establish such programs, only to see the state funds evaporate.”

Lockman presented her consortium’s budget recommendations for next year, which includes $12 million for free early childhood education programs, preventative health services and funding to combat high turnover rates among teachers.

Others echoed Lockman’ remarks on early childhood education, emphasizing the importance pre-k programs have on preparing young kids for public education, and setting them up for success.

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