Live From Delaware Joint Finance Committee: Delaware DOE Hearing!

Delaware DOE

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee is hearing from the Delaware Department of Education for their FY2019 budget at this very moment!

Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting introduced herself and Deputy Secretary Karen Field Rogers along with Dusty Blakey, the Superintendent of Colonial School District.  She is about to show a video of what the DOE does but there was a pause due to technical difficulties.  The music from the video sounds like I’m sitting in an elevator.  The video is going over the different areas of the Delaware DOE.  Susan Bunting is the narrator with the smooth jazz elevator music in the background.  This is the same video they played at the Joint House and Senate Education Committee a few weeks ago.  But I didn’t hear the smooth jazz elevator music then.

The video is talking about the proposed MOU with the Christina School District.  Which the district Board of Education tabled for the nth time the other night to add language about opting out if the whole thing goes south.

The video ended.  Harris McDowell introduced Senator David Sokola as the Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  Melanie Smith introduced Earl Jaques as the Chair of the House Education Committee.  Harris McDowell thanked Bunting for her choice of music in the video and recognized it as Dave Brubeck.

Bunting is talking about speed of service and additudinal shifts.  Conversations with educators about their transformation to a support agency has been met with appreciation.  Bunting is talking about merging different areas of DOE under the Deputy Secretary’s umbrella.  DOE went from 262 to 229 employees with 34 vacancies.  Very transparent on funding for themselves and schools.

Bunting talked about signed letter of intent with Christina and the pending MOU.  Talking about $1.5 million in Gov’s budget for CSD.  Trauma-Informed supports and Social-Emotional Learning.  Talking about adverse childhood experiences and how trauma affects students.  Working with different police agencies.  Now talking about opportunity grants to help students with those adverse experiences.  Talking about Caesar Rodney school that is using those funds to help ELL students.  Also Ebert-Palmer in Christina is using funds to help their students.  Grants are targeted for high-need schools.  We must invest in early childhood education according to Bunting.  Carney proposed more money for STARS, the Delaware Superstars program for early childhood education.

Talking about college loan forgiveness program to get higher quality educators in schools.  Expecting more students in Delaware.  Seeing more growth in state’s special education programs.  Increase of 926 students in FY2018, increase of 4-5%.  Cape Henlopen is developing a consortium.  That district went from 272 to 302 special education students since September 30th.

Karen Field Rogers is on the mic now.  DOE is looking for 3.7% increase.  Talking about unit-funding system growth, mostly due to special education increases.  This is a major contributor to the unit growth for each year.  There is a reorganization of funding to provide more transparency.  Office of the Secretary, Academic Support, Student Support, and others are the new reallocation of funding positions at the Delaware DOE.  Getting rid of 5 positions at DOE.  Asking for restoration of funding for State Board of Education.  Can’t keep up with the speaker right now.  Not Field Rogers.  She is speeding through this.  I need to get a copy of the PDF on this.  It’s all in the Governor’s proposed budget.  I’ll see what I can do for that.

$1,024,000 for academic excellence grants is in the FY2019 budget.  I want to hear the JFC start asking questions.  That should come after the budget presentation.  I would hope they have questions!

And here we are! The questions section of the hearing!

Melanie Smith said they had a long conversation with Secretary Bunting about the growth in special education.  The JFC wants to know what is contributing to this growth.  Is it because more kids are coming to Delaware because of the success of our spec ed programs? (I doubt that).  Is the growth going to level off?  JFC is confused about the growth.  Bunting said all of the above.  Knows people were deliberately relocating to get better supports for their kids with disabilities.  Students are coming with more complex needs as per Bunting.  It is their hope that they won’t always be in special education but that the state can fill the void.  Said it is a huge range of needs.  Hasn’t done a projection for the next 20 years.  Dusty Blakey agreed with Bunting.  Said it is also a systemic issue.  Said sees children at two who aren’t getting the diagnoses on the front-end so it causes problems when they enter kindergarten.  Trying to service those kids.  As standards-based instruction grows they see the struggles through Response to Intervention.  If their deficits are also growing at the same time they are able to monitor those and act on it through RTI.  Seeing more identified situations as well (cited Autism).  Identification is seen later in the system and not the front-end.  Smith is asking about the next couple years.

Smith is asking about the biggest need and what would be the magic wand.  Most schools and districts have said they need the Kindergarten to 3rd Grade Basic Special Education funding that Representative Kim Williams has been fighting for years to get.  McDowell asked if we are reclassifying kids as special needs when they have no physical disability at an early age.  McDowell is trying to clarify if growth in spec ed is due to changes in identification.  Bunting said if she could wave her magic wand it would be every low-income student gets the funding they need.  Blakey said districts and schools are on the hook for services so it is their obligation to give those services.  Colonial’s goal is to look at every kid.  Need to identify needs of every kid.  Some have physical or cognitive issues.  McDowell asks what they do for kids that aren’t included in special needs and have issues with vocabulary.  Blakey said that is what RTI process is for.  Have partnerships with other agencies to provide services in school and after school.  Their job is to provide as many opportunities as they can.

McDowell said it is a target group in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade that emotionally drop out.  Alrighty then!

State Rep. Carson asked if it is true that 97% of students moving to Delaware are special education students.  Field Rogers said it isn’t necessarily 97% of people moving to Delaware that have kids with disabilities.  He asked if the IEP follows the student from state to state.  Bunting said yes.  They do need a new evaluation but they are identified right away as needing special needs.  Carson asked how long the evaluation takes? Bunting said 45 days.

Carson asked why DIAA provides support to private schools?  Asked if the DOE regulates their athletics?  Field Rogers said if they choose to participate in DIAA they agree to follow those rules.

State Rep. J.J. Johnson asked why Bunting said she is “currently” the Secretary of Education.  Joking, Bunting said she has played many roles in the state. A ha-ha moment.  Johnson asking about the MOU with Christina.  Bunting said still working on language of MOU with district.  Dorrell Green from the DOE said the letter of intent was the first step in this partnership.  From that process in October, have been working with district to create the nature of the partnership between the district, Board of Education, Christina Education Association, Delaware DOE and Governor’s office.  McDowell joked that was the same agreement Christina is having trouble finding ink for.

Senator Nicole Poore stated she is a firm supporter for the K-3 basic education funding.  Said to capture that at an early age and then have it drop off until 4th grade isn’t right.  Wants to know more about DVI and what we are doing for students who are visually impaired.  Said we have vacancies and certification issues.  Bunting said have been conducting meetings since two months after she became Secretary.  Has been collaborating with overseer of those services at another state agency to look for solutions.  Said getting closer to capable solutions to problem.  Appreciates collaboration to help visually impaired students.  Hopes to share something in next month with viable solutions.  Poore asked if we have statistics on how DVI students do compared to regular students.  Bunting said she can get that information.

Senator Bushweller welcomed Blakey and said his parents are the most welcomed in Delaware.  Making suggestion the DOE does a formal study about what is causing increase in special education (cause that worked so well for Penny Schwinn down in Texas but I digress).  He observed that aside from special needs population, the growth in non-special needs student is basically flat.  The state population is one of the fastest growing in the country.  General population is going up but non-special needs student base is not going up.  He is citing fertility rate could be lower.  More retirees.  He is wondering if private school growth is growing.  Why isn’t the general population going up while special needs is?  Bunting recommended taking a look at each district to see the growth trends.

Representative Kenton is wondering if special education is being identified properly.  Said there is no one more supportive of special needs kids than him but said people in his district are furious about tuition tax increasing from school boards without a referendum.  Said someone speaking today was told the consortium in her district couldn’t provide services.  Wants to know who can help this parent? School board? Superintendent? Bunting said to have parent call her.

State Rep. Mike Ramone is asking about something but he has a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong introduction to whatever question he wants to ask.  Said there are many moving parts.  Talking about the business world and is excited about reorganizational restructuring at DOE.  Still no question…  How quickly will we be able to digest changes Bunting is talking about where we see change in the classroom.  Bunting said reorganization is talking place.  Looking for new associate secretary positions and is hoping to get folks from districts with proven track records.  Ramone asked if they need to wait until July to get rolling on this.  Bunting said no.

Bruce Ennis said $5.4 million reduction in state budget and part of that is DOE.  But when he looked at budget there is a $52 million increase in budget and a large part of that is an increase in teacher units.  Talking about huge growth in Middletown in past ten years and how they had to build more scores.  Asked for DOE is going to decrease $500,000 in their direct budget.  Bunting said that is through staffing.  Said that is part of their reorganization.  He wants to know about growth in special education as well.

Senator Bryan Richardson said knows Secretary has a tough job.  Said has been to schools in Delmar and Laurel and students need positive reinforcement and to find out what works for students.  Said when he started three years ago he asked DOE how many staff members they had.  Said he likes that reduction.  Talking about Race To The Top funding around $150 million coming in a few years ago.  Asked if she is comfortable with how staffing looks right now.  Bunting said due to vacancies many DOE employees are going above and beyond with other duties.  She said RTTT funding and positions are completely gone.  He asked about curriculum.  Said would like to see more curriculum based on Constitution and pride.  Said Delmar schools are growing.  Said there are seven more housing units going in during next few years.  Many are in Maryland and wants to know how that growth of students will be handled.

Senator Dave Lawson asked about transportation.  Asked if transportation for homeless is federally mandated.  Field Rogers said it is under the McKinney-Vento Act.  Said different districts need to look at individualized supports for those students based on where they live.  Lawson said doesn’t make sense to provide that kind of transportation for, as an example, a student in Delmar getting transportation to Lake Forest.  Said his other question involves undocumented students.  Asked Bunting if DOE tracks them.  Bunting said they have responsibility to provide free and appropriate public education to students in Delaware.

State Rep. Kim Williams, not a part of the JFC, asked the Delaware DOE about enrollment growth.  She asked if the 926 newly identified special education students are new or existing students.  Bunting said it is a combination.  Williams felt the JFC was under the illusion that many of these newly identified special education students were new to the state but they aren’t all new.  Thanked the JFC for the questions about special education.  Bunting added that the actual special ed classification for students could change, as an example, from basic to complex, which impacts the numbers.

Senator Dave Sokola said he saw the proposal for additional math coaches in the budget said it is a situation that could be leveraged.  Talking about Southern Regional Education Board.  Said what struck him was the enthusiasm of teachers he saw at a presentation this morning.  Talking more about leverage.  Not sure what the heck he is talking about.  Now talking about using these strategies in Wilmington.  Talking about how Delaware pays dues to SREB which Sokola schills for all the time.  See numerous past articles where he marches to their drum.

State Rep. Earl Jaques thanked the Chairs and members of the JFC.  Jaques is talking about as head of District Consolidation Task Force that transportation for homeless of $6.5 million is out of whack.  Said our transportation funding system is 1970ish.  Said had meeting with bus contractors that things that cost $2 in the 70s now costs $142 and is causing contractors to go out of business.  Said prior contractor employees become state employees which drives up costs due to benefits.  He also promoted investing in early special education.

State Rep. Joe Miro had no questions.

Poore asked about alternative schools and costs associated with them.  Wants to know about any improvements with funding and students we are shuttling to those schools.  There was a question about how many days they were spending at alt schools.  What are we doing to get them integrated back into regular schools.  Bunting said doesn’t have that in front of her right now but will get that info.

Bushweller asked about Early Learning/Early Childhood education.  Asked if the goal is for early education for every child.  Bunting said that is her personal goal.  Said some of our preschool programs have been a big boost for economically challenged students.  Blakey said it is a priority for universal pre-K for all kids in his district.  Talking about how he is partnering with many organizations in his community to collectively help students.  Said much of that is due to space restrictions.  Said they are trying to figure out through a variety of revenue services how to expand those services for their students.  Bushweller asked about universal or mandatory pre-K.  Bunting clarified the DOE wants every child ready to learn when they enter Kindergarten.  But the DOE is not enforcing this right now.

Richardson asked about the mentoring programs and what age that begins.  Bunting said that is a district decision and varies by district.  Richardson asked if it is growing or shrinking.  Bunting said doesn’t know since those are local decisions.  She said their job is to mentor teachers.  He said he would love to see more parental involvement.

McDowell is now talking about public speakers.  Is limiting public comment to two minutes.  Asked if those with a typed statement hand it out to members of the JFC and to paraphrase.  Said it is impossible to do two pages single-spaced in two minutes.






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