***UPDATED***Delaware Approves $20.7 Million So Markell & Sokola Can Have Safe Bike Rides But Ignore Special Education Funding Bill?

markellcyclingThis is the heart of what is wrong with Delaware.  In an article by Bike Delaware, the group brags about how the General Assembly approved $20.7 million for bike trail improvements in Delaware.  Meanwhile, students considered to be basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, go for a sixth year without special education funding from the state.  Pork indeed!  Now before bicycling enthusiasts come at me, I fully support bicycle safety and awareness.  While I don’t ride a bicycle these days, I think it is important for further safety for the sport.  But not at the expense of children in public schools!  And we can say this is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget.  But money shifts around ALL the time at Legislative Hall.

We are especially grateful for the leadership of State Senator Dave Sokola, the co-chair of the committee that wrote the capital budget, and Governor Jack Markell. It’s not a coincidence that Senator Sokola biked to work yesterday (about 60 miles) and Governor Markell biked to work today (also about 60 miles).

I have no doubt it isn’t a coincidence!  And by mentioning how Sokola is the co-chair of the committee that writes the capital budget, you might as well throw out the words “conflict of interest”.  Are we really saying, as a state, that despite all the arguments about education funding and how we will “commit to doing better next year” that our General Assembly approved $20.7 million in taxpayer funds for what amounts to a select special interest for a hobby?  But the legislators who question this kind of nonsense are considered “unpatriotic” by people like State Rep. Melanie Smith…

This is a disgrace.  How much longer will high-needs students continue to go without while fat-cats like Senator David Sokola and Governor Jack Markell can bike to Legislative Hall?  While I was not always supportive of the WEIC plan, I think that was much more worthy than bike trails.  We have schools that desperately need restoration and improvements, but paths for cyclists are more important?  What the hell is wrong with this state and when will our legislators finally step up and say no as a collective body to this insanity?  We have homeless people, increasing violence in our cities, and jobs that don’t pay as much as they used to.  We have police that aren’t getting the funds they need to effectively do their jobs.  But this is okay?

House Bill 30 would have guaranteed funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade with the designation of basic special education.  Based on a unit-count system, these children get no state funding in these grades.  It is one of the most transparent and visible flaws in Delaware education funding.  But I suppose it is okay to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable of children so people like Jack Markell and David Sokola, whose very agendas and laws have further demeaned these children multiple times, can get more out of their bicycle hobby.  What a joke!

What kind of Governor bikes sixty miles to work?  What if something happens to him?  Is that in the best interest of the state to have your Governor biking to work on a hot day?  Do his bodyguards have to bike with him?  Do they get extra duty hazard pay for that?  Since we don’t have a Lieutenant Governor and something happened to Jack while bike-riding, who steps up then? Schwartzkopf?  Good lord!

I can think of many different ways we could have allocated these funds in a “tough budget year”.  The Delaware Joint Finance Committee and the folks on the Bond Committee need to open their eyes and see what they are doing to this state.  Meanwhile, cyclists across the state rejoice!  While students suffer…

Updated, 7/5/16, 2:35pm: On Bike Delaware’s Facebook page, the group responded to comments made on there about this article with the following:

80% of this money comes from the federal government for transportation system (capital) investments. The federal government does not permit this money to be spent on schools (or anything not related to transportation). It’s deeply unfair to criticize Governor Markell and Senator Sokola for failing to spend these federal transportation dollars on schools. Neither Governor Markell or Senator Sokola have any authority to re-program this money this way. (They can spend it on walking and cycling projects rather than new roads but they can’t spend it on schools or libraries or hospitals or anything not related to transportation.)

To which I responded:

Be that as it may, it is just more pork. Even more distressing this comes at a federal level when IDEA Special Education funding at a federal level is at 37.5% of what it should be when the law was reauthorized in 2004. While that has absolutely nothing to do with Bike Delaware, it is symptomatic of a disease in our country where those who already have so much more than others get more while those who don’t have those luxuries lose out. I’m pretty sure an argument could be made somewhere that Delaware’s transportation grants from the Feds could be used to get rid of the Neighborhood Schools Act which has further segregated our schools, especially in Wilmington. Funding is twisted all the time in our state, this should not be an exception. Once again, though, I do want to reiterate this is not a slam against those who enjoy biking, but rather what I consider to be a misuse of funds during a time when others desperately need funding for more apparent reasons.  With your permission, may I update my article with your comment?

And their response:

Please do. To repeat, it’s not within either Governor Markell’s or Senator Sokola’s discretion to spend these federal transportation dollars on anything other than transportation projects. All they have done is take about ~5% of those FY17 dollars and dedicated them for improving the state for people walking and cycling. And, given that Delaware is the deadliest state in America for pedestrians, it’s not out-of-line for the state to be making improvements that make it safer for people to walk and bicycle. Not to mention, that 2/3rds of Delawareans are overweight or obese and making it safe for people to be more physically active is a critical public health priority. And, if you are an environmentalist, every bike trip that replaces a car trip means less air pollution….These are urgent public policy priorities that have absolutely nothing to do with anybody’s “hobby.”

I appreciate Bike Delaware’s response, but like I said, this is a matter of what side you agree on.  Regardless of where the funds generate from, we live in a country where those who have the luxury and time to bike over bridges along the C&D Canal in Delaware have that ability.  But I fail to see how these bike trails, while I’m sure are utilized by some who are less fortunate, will solve obesity problems and pedestrian deaths.  In my opinion, I think pet projects like this are pushed by people like Markell and Sokola so they can enjoy them, not the people who probably aren’t even aware things like this exist because they are too busy looking for work, or already work several jobs, just to put food on the table.  And it goes all the way up to a federal level and funds are locked in for specific purposes like this so they can only be used for pet projects by legislators and Governors.

*the above picture is from DelDOT

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11 thoughts on “***UPDATED***Delaware Approves $20.7 Million So Markell & Sokola Can Have Safe Bike Rides But Ignore Special Education Funding Bill?

  1. Well, it is rather revealing.. It more than anything else shows how little these people actually care about education… But for one, I am glad more bike trails are being built…

    The sad thing, there is tremendous money available to be able to do both… This whole playing off of one child against the other to keep both expenses down it is a routine that is about to go bust.

    Liken it to a family, where the children are starved, where no presents are given for Christmas and yet they can look around and see their neighbors all living normal lives. When they ask why, they get told they are poor, their parents don’t have money, and life is sometimes not fair… As children, they never question it; though their dreams never die.

    Then comes the “divorce”. And new words come out of it like: addiction, mistress, gambling, carousing, and once financials are put out there in the settlement, one realizes (even as a child) it was by choice they were starved, simply so the adults could play….

    Abrogation of responsibility.

    It is this way with our tax code… There are billions laying around for our state’s use… Enough to dwarf our current yearly budget… It is being squandered just outside our view. Massive amounts of money spent to trick public opinion, could instead have been taxed and used to increase the student/teacher ration from 30:1 down to 5:1… Massive amounts of money rotting unused in foreign bank accounts, could instead be fixing and building roads in our lovely state. Massive amounts of money buying and selling stocks just to raise up their prices or hedge one’s bets, could instead be controlling the deadly violence escalating at alarming levels.

    It is all about choice. WE are choosing to live like paupers because we either don’t know enough to question what we are told, or too chicken to challenge that which we are told… Either way, it boils down to our fear as cowards.. We are not doing our primary job as citizens which is to question our authorities and demand they answer WHY they are not taxing the wealthy high enough to pay for the barest of minimum services we all easily used to afford?

    Think about that for one second… When we didn’t have an imbalance of wealth in this nation, we easily afforded a lot more, in fact we were on our way to eliminating national debt… Now with the top 1% owning half of global wealth, we suddenly always have a short-fall of money and all of us must forbear cutbacks or suffer poor service because there now just isn’t money to go around?

    Fools. You are fools. All America’s problems get solved when you tax the top 1% what we need to run America right….

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  2. My goodness. You are doubling down even when shown that this came from federal transportation funding. You go on in your update to call this ‘pork,’ as in ‘wasteful,’ yet I will disagree and call this completely necessary. In fact, I’d argue for greater spending if possible, to complete the many vital projects that are shelved until appropriate funding comes along.

    I think the core of your misunderstanding is you refer to people riding bicycles as a ‘sport.’ As if everyone riding is planning to race in events. I do not race- most riders, I would venture to say, will never enter a race in their lives. To call it a ‘sport’ ignores the very practical safety aspect, and is designed to address some very critical needs of our state: obesity, pedestrian/bicyclist traffic safety, lung cancer (caused in part by air pollution). Delaware ranks the worst or among the worst in these categories, and bicycling addresses all of these problems directly. that makes this a certifiable need for greater bicycle infrastructure, to encourage greater a number of riders to commute to work.

    Again, I and many of those I am glad to call dear friends use their bikes to get where they going, and I am very far from alone in doing this.

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    1. The article indicated 80% of that funding comes from federal dollars. At 20.7 million, that still leaves $4.34 million coming from state funds. While I completely agree with you about the benefits of bicycling, and I don’t blame the cyclists for advocating for these funds, I think the more critical need for this money is in our schools. It is a matter of opinion, which you certainly have the right to disagree with. But will these bike trails those who are already at a disadvantage? I ask that because we have kids in classrooms with up to 35 students in our high-needs schools. We have less federal funding for special education than what we were originally promised. Our state doesn’t even fund what they should for special education. Perhaps I was a bit harsh in calling bicycling a hobby or sport. For some it could mean the difference between a non-healthy lifestyle and a healthy one. I get that. But what I don’t get is our state’s multiple failed attempts to get things right for our high-needs students. And as was pointed out to me on Facebook, there are a plethora of other ways we could be allocating money as a state. My suggestion to Bike Delaware, instead of saying we got $20.7 million from the state with links to the Governor getting a gold helmet, is maybe tell those who see things like this where those funds are coming from and how it is restricted. The average non-bicycling citizen is NOT going to know this information. And still, knowing that, if I had a choice in the matter, I would choose not to take a federal grant giving us $16+ million dollars if it means giving up over $4 million to fund our schools. But your side has definite merit, and I’m sure it would be your choice to have those funds for your advocacy. It is all about passion for what you believe in. Namaste!

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      1. Again, yes. You seem to have this idea of ‘cyclist.’ A person on a bike or even the ones who use the paths are frequently poor and need a safe way to get to work that isn’t a car. Often it’s people who are disabled seeking a way to enjoy nature from a paved surface that is flat (lots of people in wheelchairs on these pathways.) These are very disadvantaged groups. You think this spending isn’t necessary or important to saving lives or helping quality of life, and it flat out WILL do both.

        To boot, the funding issue is separate. One would build a whole series of infrastructure and employ middle class people. Their money comes right back into coffers in both savings, health benefits to citizens (obesity + related illnesses, low air quality + related illnesses), taxes, and more. That makes it a good project. That we are on the hook for a mere 20% is AMAZING. It isn’t like 4 mil was taken from special ed and given to these trails, either. You need 4 million, why not target roadway construction, or some other project? Why pick to challenge something that will let me get to where I need to go in a safe manner as wasteful? People on bikes are not athletes practicing for a sport who demand a 4 million dollar arena to be taken from special ed programs- that’s not a correct version of how any of this works on any level. It isn’t how taxes work, it isn’t how bicycling works, or how trails are largely used.

        If we took an infrastructure grant and somehow violated rules to instead spend it on a couple years of special education funding, then what do we do when the money dries up? The trails are a one-and-built deal. It’s infrastructure.

        “Average people who don’t bike.” Go to most garages- you’ll find on average most people own a bike. You seem to REALLY dislike people on bikes.

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  3. You in your update call this ‘pork,’ as in ‘wasteful,’ yet I will disagree and call this completely necessary. In fact, I’d argue for greater spending if possible, to complete the many vital projects that are shelved until appropriate funding comes along.

    I think the core of your misunderstanding is you refer to people riding bicycles as a ‘sport.’ As if everyone riding is planning to race in events. I do not race- most riders, I would venture to say, will never enter a race in their lives. To call it a ‘sport’ ignores the very practical safety aspect, and is designed to address some very critical needs of our state: obesity, pedestrian/bicyclist traffic safety, lung cancer (caused in part by air pollution). Delaware ranks the worst or among the worst in these categories, and bicycling addresses all of these problems directly. that makes this a certifiable need for greater bicycle infrastructure, to encourage greater a number of riders to commute to work.

    Again, I and many of those I am glad to call dear friends use their bikes to get where they going, and I am very far from alone in doing this.

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  4. Kevin, you sound like a reasonable kind of guy, just with a very strong opinion on this. I can assure you that this kind of funding does have major long term benefits for children. Kids no longer walk or bike to school because it isn’t safe to do so. The result is that nearly 2/3 are overweight or obese, and live very unhealthy inactive lifestyles (look it up). All the education funding in the world will not address this, what is now a major epidemic in this country, costing taxpayers 10s of BILLIONS annually.

    While I do agree that much of this funding will be directed toward a few pet projects, these will still benefit enormous sums of Delawareans (including many children, who desperately need outdoor recreational opportunities close to home). The concept of serious investment in walk-bike infrastructure is long overdue, and if there is always going to be another, more important priority (i.e. education), then we can all forget about it ever happening.

    If nothing else, at least understand that the exclusive focus on cars and driving everywhere no matter how close to home is destroying the socio-economic fabric of American society, and the health of our children. This too is readily searchable on line. Here’s but one program that should be funded with many millions in Delaware alone, as an investment in kids futures that will save billions in healthcare costs later on: http://saferoutespartnership.org/

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    1. Thanks Frank. I have received a great deal of heat over this article. I will fully admit I have a bias towards Sokola and Markell when it comes to education, one many feel is rightfully deserved. When I saw the link to the article, I saw what didn’t get funding in Legislative Hall (that would have helped many students in the state), and I saw how much you guys did get, over and above what even the Governor asked for, without any explanation to how those funds work, it got me pretty worked up. I’m still reeling from some of the decisions in Dover last week. And as has been rightfully pointed out to me, there are millions of dollars we waste as a state in corporate tax breaks that don’t tend to give us the results we wanted to begin with. I don’t know if I agree that people driving in cars is destroying the socio-economic fabric of our society, but we can all be healthier citizens and what you advocate for is certainly worthy.

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      1. From my armchair far across the country, I’d suggest that a commitment to fund biking (and walking) infrastructure IS an investment in schools. In addition to the reasons of lowering obesity, emissions, etc. that Frank and others have brought up, studies have also found that children who bike (or walk) to school are better able to concentrate and ultimately perform better in school. That can only have a positive effect on school performance.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Once again… everyone is quibbling over scarce dollars instead of uniting together and shouting for the increase of state revenue by raising taxes on the top one percent. Only then, will there be plenty of money for all….

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