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School Funding Referendums: What Every Taxpayer Should Know

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

Five school districts are scheduled to hold a referendum between now and the end of April. A referendum is an opportunity for you to vote for or against raising your property taxes to support the schools in your district. All individuals over the age of 18 who reside in the school district are entitled to vote. The specific date your school district is holding a referendum, if they are one of the districts doing so, can be found at citizensforDelawareschools.org. Additionally, dates of town halls and other informational meetings are posted there as well.

As you consider whether to vote to increase the tax burden that you share for the students who live in your district, you may want to consider how the school is doing and how the district is proposing to spend your money.

If you have children in public school, you probably assume they are getting a good education. But what comprises a good education? It should be learning results. There are good people in the school system, teachers, administrators and coaches, but results are lacking. Indeed, most of our school districts are doing dismally when it comes to student learning.

There is a way to find out how the schools in your district are doing. The Delaware Department of Education website has a “report card” for each school. The website says it is provided “to enable parents and stakeholders to engage meaningfully in public education decisions.” Perfect! Enter a school in your district and see what results are displayed. I have to warn you – you will likely be shocked. Almost every public school gets a failing grade – most below 50%.

Let’s look at the districts that are asking you to vote to increase your taxes. A snapshot of Red Clay School District (referendum on February 28) reports 32% of students work at grade level in Math, and 42% do so in English. Colonial School District (referendum February 29) reports 15% are at grade level in Math and 26% in English. Smyrna School District (referendum March 9) reports 31% at grade level in Math, and 39% at grade level in English. Cape Henlopen School District (referendum March 26) reports 49% of students perform at grade level n Math and 55% in English. Finally, Appoquinimink School District (referendum April 23) reports 40% of students perform at grade level in Math and 48% in English.

The numbers can be numbing but put them in perspective. When was the last time your child brought home a 40 on a test and you were satisfied with that result? The sadder reality is that there are actually more than a dozen schools in Delaware with single digit proficiencies. That means that out of 100 students in an auditorium, 10 or fewer can read at grade level. Lack of competence in reading and math – in all learning – is harming our children’s opportunities for success. We need to insist on improvement.

This information is not intended to persuade you not to support your district’s effort to increase the money it has to spend. But certainly, you should know how well the district is performing its job, and insist, if you give it more money, that the school board outline how that money will help improve student performance. Attend the town halls and informational meetings and make your school administrators aware that you expect better student performance results. Look back over the history of your school district and see what the performance has been. In many districts, student performance has declined while spending has increased significantly. And then attend school board meetings and continue to ask about meeting their core mission.

A referendum gives you an opportunity to more directly affect funding and policy than any other election in which you might vote. Be informed, be engaged, and demand better in exchange for your vote of confidence. If you do not see improvement, then the opportunity to select new school board members comes in May each year. Be heard! Our students deserve our best advocacy on their behalf.

Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.

 

History and Science Should Negate EV Mandate

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

We at A Better Delaware have been clear about our opposition to Governor Carney’s electric vehicle (EV) mandate. Whether it is where you have to send your child to school or what type of vehicle you are “allowed” to drive, we don’t believe government should impose artificial restrictions on our choices as consumers. Additionally, as a practical matter, the mandate fails to account for the high cost of the vehicles, the shortage of charging stations, the limited range EVs can go on a single charge and the dangerous circumstances that these vehicles present on the road when they malfunction or are involved in collisions. There are claims that all these challenges will be met and EVs will be affordable, safe, and convenient “in time.”

Well, not so fast – in fact, not so 100 years fast!! Robert Bryce, a journalist who has written about energy issues for several decades and formerly served as a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has done some research, and written a well-documented article on the history of EVs. What he reports will cause you to wonder about the prospect of electric vehicles ever meeting the government’s projections.

According to Bryce, as early as 1915 (yes, you read that correctly), the Washington Post reported, “prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they are within reach of the average family.” In 1967, the American Motors Corporation (AMC – remember them, and the Rambler?) unveiled the Amitron, an all-electric vehicle with lithium and nickel batteries, which never went beyond the prototype stage due to “several technical issues and the high cost of battery production at the time”, according to autoevolution,com.

And, in 1980, the Washington Post wrote that by 2000, the electric car “could play a big role …in delivery trucks and two passenger urban commuter cars”, predicting a savings of a million barrels of oil a day with aggressive production.

This history serves to emphasize just how much the current optimism that electric vehicles will soon be competitive in the marketplace is at odds with the reality. The only difference between 1915 or 1980 and today is that the government is using its power to force manufacturers, dealers, and buyers of cars to follow their mandates.

As we and many others have demonstrated with facts and science, the EV models offered today are not commercially viable to the vast majority of consumers in this country. Although scientists and salesmen have been unable to produce a commercially viable electric vehicle in 100 years, government policy is to force us to buy whatever might be available, suitable or not, in 10.

But, if the government is serious about converting the fleets of cars and trucks in the US to electric, they are not acting in ways that make it feasible.

As reported by CNBC, the US led the world in lithium production until the 1990s but today China, our largest economic competitor, not only Is a source of lithium, but controls about half the processing and refining worldwide. Did the US run out of lithium? No, there are tons of it, in Utah in particular. But the regulatory restrictions make continuing production, mining, or refining so expensive there is no incentive to take the risks associated with a commercial enterprise.

Citing the regulatory requirements, among other factors, one company just suspended operations at a site near the Great Salt Lake after investing tens of millions of dollars in the project.

Much like the decisions regarding oil and gas, we are prohibiting our country from enjoying not only energy independence, but economic independence as well. We are required to enrich those who would welcome our decline because we restrict access to our own natural resources and purchase theirs.

And it is not just EVs. Cell phones, the new Apple Vision goggle, and the knock offs that will inevitably come to market, all depend on natural resources we could, but don’t, provide for ourselves. We are content to leave the mining, manufacturing, refining and the related environmental concerns to other countries. It is a short-sighted plan that does not create a stronger or more sustainable economy.

Governor Carney needs to pay attention to the history of EV evolution, the lack of success in furthering development of a commercially feasible vehicle, and the consequences of a mandate to purchase a product that enriches our economic competitors. He should lift the mandate restrictions and allow Delawareans to choose how they wish to travel and allow the market to provide the incentives to develop consumer choices.

Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.

 

The Same Old Song: Governor Carney’s 2025 Budget

By: Ruth Briggs King, Board Member, A Better Delaware

Governor Carney’s presentation on his proposed budget reminds me of the old song “here we go again.” It’s the same song, like a worn out recording we’ve heard over and over.

Can you imagine if you planned to spend more than you earn? Your family and friends would think you were nuts! It would be like stepping off a cliff without a parachute. But that is precisely the risk the Governor’s 2025 budget presents for Delaware.

The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) was established in the 1970s to provide sound financial planning for the First State. It projects less revenue next year for Delaware and its report should be of concern to all residents. Governor Carney cast aside DEFAC recommendations and proposed the largest increase in spending and the largest budget ever for Delaware. The Governor was intentional in presenting a whopping 8% increase over last year’s budget. Delaware is now projected to spend over six billion dollars next year. Ironically, last year’s budget was also an all-time high. Sadly, Delaware taxpayers will be on the hook to dig deeper into their pockets and do more with less while the state budget keeps adding to the cost of the government’s wish list.

The process is part of the problem. Each year the Governor’s budget contains ‘door openers,’ an assumption that everything funded in previous years will be the starting point for funding the agency the next year. Each year the doorway gets wider, and this means an expanded budget and increased spending. Significantly, rarely is there a cut in spending, or elimination of outlived programs. This year, DEFAC predicts Delaware revenue will not be sufficient to support the proposed spending increases. Clearly something must change. Taking the same path forward is not sustainable.

Did you ever wonder why Delaware’s economy is not growing? Increasing energy costs, expensive mandates, and labor issues impact not only state spending, but business revenue and personal income. Policies in these areas adversely affect Delaware’s primary sources of income – personal income tax, corporate tax, and lottery earnings.

During a previous budget shortfall, the legislature enacted the highest realty transfer tax in the nation. The promise that it, and other taxes that were increased at that time, would be reduced when our economy improved, was forgotten, and several attempts to reduce those taxes recently have failed. At the same time, however, we had billions of surplus funds and enacted millions of dollars of new spending.

One positive step has been the establishment of a smoothing fund, also known as a stabilization fund. Although his own party blocked it in the legislature, Governor Carney, to his credit, recognized it was a good idea, and has been supportive and consistent in providing dollars to this fund, which should exceed four hundred million this year. It may be the lifeline for next year to address the increased spending proposed in this budget. However, the provision is by Executive Order, and while this policy should outlast his term and encourage successors to continue the good practice, the legislature should codify this sound fiscal policy and not put politics over policy.

Let us get specific and talk about dollars and sense. Delaware’s budget is burdened with group health care costs as well as increases in Medicaid. Big medical costs are a huge burden for a small state. For many years Delaware incurred additional Medicaid costs. In the 2025 budget, Delaware’s health care costs are expected to exceed two billion dollars. Yes, one third of our budget goes toward health care costs. The prognosis is not promising for this chronic ailment that prevails over other needs. But changes in policy can help. The medical cost increases are symptomatic of the underlying issues of continually expanding Medicaid benefits, lack of pursuing fraud and abuse of benefits, and the burdensome mandates Delaware places on providers insuring Delawareans.

Another two billion dollars is directed to education. We are among the highest spending states on education, and among the lowest in student performance. Change is needed, but it is not more money.

The remaining two billion pays for all the other state services. That includes prisons, environmental enforcement, foster care, facility maintenance, and state vehicles.

Sound fiscal policy requires creativity, balance, prioritization, and sensible objectives. Sound policy is not simply more spending on the same old things.

Ruth Briggs King just retired from the Delaware General Assembly, where she served the 37th District, and the State, since 2009. She has extensive experience in finance, banking and organizational development and owns Workforce Solutions Today, LLC with her business partner. She recently joined the Advisory Board of A Better Delaware.

Former State Representative Joins A Better Delaware Board

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WILMINGTON, Del. – Former State Representative Ruth Briggs King has joined as an Advisory Board member of A Better Delaware, a non-partisan public policy and political advocacy organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and greater transparency in state government.

Jane Brady, Chair of A Better Delaware announced the addition of Briggs King to the board this past Thursday. “Ruth will be an excellent addition to our Board. Her background in medicine, education, and business will be directly relevant to ABD’s work in advocating for school choice, lowering individual and corporate taxes, and removal of Certificate of Need laws,” said Brady.

Representative King has precisely the expertise and experience I had hoped to bring to A Better Delaware when I founded it.  Her experienced hand in affordable housing, mental health and substance abuse plaguing Delaware will provide a critical voice for ABD in advocacy for practical solutions, “said Chris Kenny, Founder.

“I am so pleased to have been invited to join the Advisory Board of A Better Delaware,” said King. “Its work is legendary in Delaware, and I believe I can continue to make a real difference for our state in this role.”

King had honorably served the 37th Representative District and the state of Delaware since 2009. Her accomplishments include Delaware Teacher of the Year Nominee, inductee to the DelTech Walk of Success, and Sussex Central High School’s Hall of Fame. Currently, Briggs King serves on the University of Delaware’s Southern Delaware Advisory Board, as well as Delaware State’s Southern Delaware Advisory Board.

Ruth lives in Georgetown, Delaware with her husband, Stanley King. They have two adult sons and six grandchildren.