On an 8-6 vote, House Bill 50 was released from the House Education Committee. It’s next destination: The Delaware House of Representatives. There is one man who controls this, Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. He can control when the bill is voted on in the House.
In a long and contentious committee meeting, representatives from both sides of the legislation gave testimony on why they felt their voice had merit. Most of the public comments wanting the bill passed were parents, teachers, Delaware PTA, DSEA, and many legislators. The opposition included Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, Delaware State Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, State Board Executive Director Donna Johnson, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick. the president of the Metropolitan Urban League, Jea Street, the head of school at First State Montessori School and others.
The heart of the debate though was between the sponsor of the bill, State Rep. John Kowalko, and the Chair of the House Education Committee, State Rep. Earl Jaques. For nearly an hour, the two went back and forth with Jaques barreling questions at Kowalko, and Kowalko either answering or utilizing the services of the House Attorney to give legal advice. In this battle of wills, Jaques came off as very condescending as if this was a personal battle between himself and Kowalko.
After all the public comment was over, the bill was finally up for a vote. A motion was made by State Rep. Michael Ramone to table the bill. This is done usually to save the bill instead of a no vote in committee which would kill the bill. However, there were not enough votes to table the legislation. Only six were in favor of this. Ramone then made a motion to release the bill, and after seven votes, it was unclear what Ramone’s vote was, but he indicated that as the person making the motion to release the bill, that was his yes vote. Jaques made him raise his hand as yes, and the bill was released.
I gave public comment, but due to a time constraint of two minutes, I had to cut much of my speech, but a copy of the full speech was given to each committee member for the public record, as well as a copy of the change.org petition to support the bill. This petition will continue with an updated version. If you have already signed the petition, you do not need to sign again. But please get the word out!
Governor Markell did not show up, but his Education Policy Advisor Lindsay O’Mara did. At one point during the committee meeting, she was stopped from talking with State Rep. Mike Ramone, which is one of the House rules. According to some chatter I heard prior to the meeting, Ramone was the wildcard with this vote. But he came through in the end.