Cover: Evaluation of Delaware's Opportunity Funding and Student Success Block Grant Programs

Evaluation of Delaware's Opportunity Funding and Student Success Block Grant Programs

Second Year

Published Jan 27, 2022

by Sy Doan, Heather L. Schwartz, Rebecca Ann Lawrence, Lynn A. Karoly

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Research Questions

  1. How much have LEAs spent of their total Opportunity Funding and SSBG allocations? How did their planned versus actual use of the funds compare?
  2. What investments did LEAs and schools make with Opportunity Funding and SSBG?
  3. What barriers to implementation did LEAs encounter?
  4. What best practices did LEAs identify for low-income and English learner students?
  5. How have LEAs adapted their use of Opportunity Funding and SSBG to the coronavirus pandemic?
  6. Which aspects of Opportunity Funding and SSBG do LEAs wish could change?
  7. What did implementation look like in practice?

This is the second of three annual reports evaluating the implementation and effects of two Delaware weighted funding programs for disadvantaged K–12 schools during the 2019–2020 to 2021–2022 school years: Opportunity Funding and the Student Success Block Grant (SSBG). The authors also examined best practices and coronavirus pandemic adaptations for Opportunity Funding and the SSBG in 2020–2021, as reported by local education agency (LEA) leaders.

In fiscal year (FY) 2021, the two programs allocated a total of $32.9 million for K–3 special education, mental health and/or reading specialists in high-need schools, and flexible funding based on the count of high-need students. Opportunity Funding and SSBG made up 1.0 percent of LEAs' overall spending in FY 2020 and 1.3 percent in FY 2021. The two programs are slated to make up 2.4 percent of spending once Opportunity Funding has grown to $60 million in 2025, assuming that other sources of funds remain stable. LEAs spent an average of $202 per pupil of Opportunity Funding or SSBG in FY 2021, while LEAs spent an average total of $15,497 per pupil.

Key Findings

  • Forty out of the state's total 42 LEAs participated in the Opportunity Funding program in FY 2021, and all 43 qualifying schools hired an SSBG reading interventionist.
  • The combination of Opportunity Funding and SSBG made up 1.3 percent of LEAs' overall spending in FY 2021. By 2025, when Opportunity Funding grows to $60 million, the two funds will make up about 2.4 percent of LEA spending, assuming that LEA spending remains stable.
  • LEAs left about one-quarter of available SSBG and Opportunity Funding unspent in FY 2021.
  • With their Opportunity Funding, LEAs have placed a greater focus on family-facing services that go beyond the four walls of schools. Many LEAs in Delaware have hired family interventionists, therapists, counselors, or social workers to help address food insecurity and issues that can prevent children from attending school.
  • Of the various investments, staffing made up the large majority of Opportunity Funding and SSBG spending in both FY 2020 and FY 2021.
  • When asked about their most effective uses of Opportunity Funding, LEA leads tended to highlight the scale-up of pilot or pre-existing initiatives, suggesting the importance of Opportunity Funding for providing stable year-on-year funding for schools to grow and expand upon existing work.

Recommendations

  • The Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) should investigate the reasons that some LEAs left greater-than-average allocated amounts—i.e., more than one quarter of Opportunity Funding—unspent in FY 2020 and FY 2021 to learn whether there are barriers to spending that can be solved.
  • Given staff turnover in district central offices, the DDOE should continue to annually provide a short refresher training to LEA leads about the Opportunity Funding and SSBG programs, including the timing of funding allocations and eligible uses, so that LEAs can incorporate this information as early as possible into their planning cycles. The DDOE should consider expanding the number of LEA staff that receive this refresher training to include all those involved in the Opportunity Funding application development process from both charter and traditional districts.
  • Delaware certification programs should seek to expand recruitment of candidates for social workers, school psychologists, and other shorthanded certifications fields, given LEA leaders' perceptions of the effectiveness of these services and the likely continued focus on mental health and social and emotional learning services, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • LEA leaders should direct Opportunity Funding and SSBG funds toward scaling up existing English learner– or low-income–related investments with evidence of prior success in their schools and districts.

Research conducted by

This study was funded by the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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