Delaware education spending rising as enrollment, test scores drop

(The Center Square) — Delaware is pouring more taxpayer money into education than most other states, but the spending hasn’t dramatically boosted enrollment or student test scores, according to a new report.

The report by the Caesar Rodney Institute, a Delaware-based libertarian think tank, found Delaware has increased per pupil spending by nearly 30%, or $13,387 to $17,235 a year, between 2002 and 2020, while enrollment only rose by 11% over that period.

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, covering 2020, shows Delaware ranks as the ninth highest state in overall education spending, the group noted.

Meanwhile, Delaware also had the largest decline in test scores in the nation between 2019 and 2022, which was likely due, in part, to COVID-19 regulations and school closures.

“Delaware is in the top 10 for education spending in the country, yet our students continue to perform at the very bottom compared to all other states,” Dr. Tanya Hettler, director of the institute’s Center for Education Excellence, wrote in the report. “This is unacceptable!”

In 2022, Delaware tied for the worst educational performance out of all 50 states when considering Delaware’s rankings in both math and reading for the fourth and eighth grades, according to the group.

“While Delaware spends like other Northeastern states, students’ test scores are tied with West Virginia and Oklahoma for dead last,” Hettler wrote. “It really can’t get any worse.”

Teacher pay has also failed to keep pace with the increased spending, the report’s authors noted, saying it only increased by 11% from 2002 to 2020, while a majority of the new money, or about 49%, going to school operations and maintenance needs, administration, pupil support services and transportation.

The group based the report, in part, on data from the Reason Foundation’s latest “K-12 Education Spending Spotlight” report which found school spending increased in most states in 2020, even as enrollment has declined or stagnated.

The institute made several recommendations to improve the situation, including easing requirements to attract and retain new teachers and reallocating existing education funds to boost teachers’ salaries, with a focus on new hires.

“Across the country, there are twice as many non-educators in schools than educators, and this ratio may be even worse in Delaware,” the report’s authors wrote. “Reallocating funds to teachers will allow a better teacher-to-student ratio and enable schools to hire and retain good teachers, thus improving educational outcomes.”

Hettler said the recommendations will help move Delaware “from the bottom in educational performance so that we can perform more like the other Northeastern states we seem to be trying to emulate.”

“We are failing our students if we continue on this same path,” she said. “It is time for a systemic change to Delaware’s education system to improve our students’ success.”