Scott Bill Would Further School Funding Flexibility

Legislation would allow school boards to raise operating revenue without referendum


DOVER – School boards struggling to improve or maintain the quality of their student curricula, technology resources and operational structures would gain additional flexibility to raise funds for those needs under legislation proposed by Rep. Darryl Scott.

House Bill 355, which will be filed next week, would revise a provision in current law that requires a school district to hold a successful public referendum before its board may approve any tax increases to fund non-capital budget expenditures. Under the bill, a school board could raise its local tax rate by up to 3 percent per year without referendum. Larger increases and revenue enhancements for the purposes of funding capital projects, such as new school construction, would remain subject to referenda in all cases. 

Rep. Scott, a former Capital School District board member and chair of the House Education Committee, said entrusting school boards with a modicum of taxing authority is reasonable, and would go a long way toward allowing local districts greater control over their priorities and their plans to maintain and improve the services they provide to students.

“School boards are popularly elected, just like the members of Levy Court or Dover City Council, and we take it for granted that those bodies have the power to raise revenues in their jurisdictions after careful debate and consideration,” said Rep. Scott, D-Dover. “Our school districts deserve more control over their own destinies, more opportunity to plan for what’s to come, and more ability to act when the interests of our children and their futures are at stake because of funding shortfalls.”

In the past 15 months, five Delaware school districts have sought incremental property tax rate increases to pay for operating costs, which are growing faster than revenues in most school districts across the state. Four of those districts saw their initial funding proposals rejected by referendum, often with help from groups that spread misleading information about the plans on the ballot and how the additional funding would be used.

“We’re talking about relatively small boosts in funding to keep pace with cost increases to transport students to school safely, provide the technological tools necessary to learn in a modern setting, and to preserve key educational programs that are helping kids achieve, but that aren’t fully funded through state or federal sources,” Rep. Scott said. “These are the issues school boards debate and discuss at every single meeting, and they need a way to better respond when needs arise. When referenda for these expenses are defeated, the students are the ones who suffer, and that should never be the case.”