It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover. I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours. But some of my “must list” legislation passed. Some with changes and some intact.
House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate. Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready. But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective. He couldn’t grasp these facts. He said he would support the bill. But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working. The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes. The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry. The amendments added on can be seen here and here. Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass. In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes. But this was the compromise reached. Will Governor Markell sign the bill? We shall see. I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.
After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning. It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate. I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later. It passed soon after.
And the WEIC redistricting plan. I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes. A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging. This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year. The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018. But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:
Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline
Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!
As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.
In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”
Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.
While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.
I urge your continued resolve.
There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…“ That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either. We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now. But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried. I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22. Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters. I will see what this additional year of planning will produce. But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today. I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.
Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year. Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state. An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved. The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence. Good for them!
It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly. House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times. But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents. I respect and admire him for doing that. Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed. The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways. My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago. I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill. I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer. For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.
I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead. In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!
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