Diploma Bill Released From House Education Committee

The first battle for HS1 for House Bill #287 was won today as the Delaware House Education Committee released it from committee.  This puts the special education legislation on the Ready list for a full House vote.

All were in favor of the release except for State Rep. Deb Heffernan who voted no and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden who abstained.  There was a great deal of discussion about the bill and who exactly it represents among Delaware special education students.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education, attempted to answer these questions to committee members.  The diploma with modified standards would apply to a very small population of Delaware students, approximately 1% of them.  These are students with severe disabilities that affect their ability to perform relative to their peers.

Currently, these students receive a “certificate of performance”.  Which means they are not allowed to check up the Diploma box on job applications.  They are unable to have the opportunity to apply for many jobs.  For parents of these children, as so aptly put by parent John Young, it is a resignation for their children that is very difficult to accept.

Much of the conversation was about the gap group of special education students between those this would apply to and those who receive a high school diploma.  To qualify for this bill, you have to be approved by your IEP team to take the alternative state assessment.  But that is only a little over 1% of Delaware students.  Our special education numbers hover around 15-16%.  Some of those students who do qualify for the Smarter Balanced Assessment have a difficult time passing rigorous high school courses and are unable to graduate.  Many legislators wanted to see numbers from the Delaware DOE on this.

One public comment, given by Robert Overmiller, said this bill would be lying to these students.  The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, of which Overmiller is a member, had public comment from member Kathie Cherry.  She felt it was important to note that Overmiller’s views on the bill did not reflect the overwhelming majority of the council who are in support of the bill.  While I do agree with Overmiller on many education issues, I felt his opposition to this bill was unfair but he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave the DOE’s approval of the bill, as did Delaware Autism, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the Delaware School Boards Association, and parents.

This is an important victory for this bill.  It still has a long way to go but I like the track it is going in.

Delaware School Safety Should Never Be A Competitive Process Danny Short!!!!

Grants.  Love ’em or hate ’em, but they exist.  This is how I see competitive grants- they are temporary fixes that give short-term funding for long-term issues.  What invariably happens is the grant runs out and local school districts or charters wind up flipping the bill or, rarely, the funding becomes a part of state code for all schools.  For State Rep. Danny Short and his House Bill #335, he wants to make school safety funding a competitive process.

This Act establishes the Delaware School Safety and Security Fund to allow eligible public schools to compete for grant awards to partially or fully fund projects intended to improve school safety or security. The Department of Education shall administer the competitive grant program. This Act further requires all funding to be awarded by a five-member committee consisting of representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Office of Management and Budget, the Governor’s office, and the Delaware Association of School Administrators. Said committee shall meet no later than thirty days after the effective date of this Act to develop rules and regulations necessary to carry out the provisions of this Section. Awards granted under this Section shall be limited to a maximum of $50,000 per school, with priority given to applications addressing a current unresolved safety or security issue, or an issue which would significantly improve the safety and security of the public school relative to the size of the investment.

Rep. Short, in grant applications there will always be winners and losers.  I hardly think school safety should depend on who can write the best grant applications.  I won’t pretend to know the solutions to school safety but I can pretty much guarantee you this is NOT the answer.  School safety and the fear of another Parkland, Columbine, or Sandy Hook are very big concerns.  But we need to approach these issues with common sense and not just go with the first thing that comes to mind.  We talk about equity in schools all the time here in Delaware.  Sometimes grants do help schools with the highest needs, but when it comes to school safety, a dangerous situation can happen at any school at any time.

For the record, I do not think arming teachers is a solution either.  They have enough on their plate already.  I think the biggest thing we can do is be proactive with students that seem to be missing out on resources they desperately need.  With the shooter in Florida, there were obvious red flags and warning signs all over the place.  Things could have been done on multiple levels to help this kid.  The actions of the School Resource Officers assigned to the school were negligent at best.

We need to approach these issues with caution, not haste.  Nobody wants another situation like this to ever happen again.  That is what we can all agree on.  But the flurry of legislation going back and forth over this issue is happening too fast.  Yes, action needs to happen.  But let’s do it with common sense.  Just my two cents!

Diploma Bill Takes Center Stage In House Education Committee Meeting Today

The diploma bill for students with severe disabilities is on the agenda for the Delaware House Education Committee today.  The bill caused a ruckus of sorts with State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Board of Education member Pat Heffernan, Robert Overmiller, and the Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

House Bill #287 is now HS1 for House Bill #287.  The new changes are as follows:

This Substitute Bill makes the following changes to House Bill No. 287: 1. It changes the name of the new diploma to a “Diploma of Alternate Achievement Standards” instead of a “Diploma of Modified Performance Standards.” 2. It adds a requirement that a student must be eligible to take a statewide alternate assessment to receive the new diploma. 3. The Act takes effect in the academic year after enactment.

But the spirit of the original bill is the same.

…provides the opportunity for schools to award students who meet the requirements of their Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) a high school diploma which recognizes the accomplishment of having attained a level of performance that is modified from the State graduation requirements but aligned with their established goals and performance outcomes.

As much as those who oppose the bill talk about why they hate the bill, I still fail to understand their rationale.  This isn’t a business bill, this is a student bill.  I think it is very arrogant for big business to dare to intrude on legislation like this.  In my opinion, they have done enough “intruding” in public education to the detriment of students, teachers, and schools.  Most of our schools, teachers, and parents want this bill to pass.  To me, they are your key stakeholders, not the business community.

For Jaques, Heffernan, and Overmiller: two of you have family members with disabilities and one of you serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC).  I am unable to fathom your opposition to this bill.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion.  But, to me, it is not a coincidence that you all opposed opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is a grueling task and a flawed test for any student, but especially for students with disabilities.  The majority of the GACEC supports the bill.

I anticipate a large crowd for this House Education Committee meeting.  It is being held in the Joint Finance Committee room, not the House Chamber.  It begins at 3:00pm.  If you support this bill, please come out and give public comment.

Other bills on the docket are House Bill #292, relating to services for students with Autism, and House Bill #282, which would allow extra funding for field trips in schools with high concentrations of students with poverty