Delaware Senate Passes The Budget Bill 10 Days Before Legislative Session Ends & Paid Parental Leave Up For A Vote

The Delaware Senate just passed the FY2019 budget bill.  With a vote of 19 yes, 1 no, and 1 absent, Senate Bill #235 will go to the Delaware House of Representatives.  This is a far cry from a year ago when the General Assembly didn’t pass the budget until after June 30th.  They wound up passing the budget in a rare continued session which lasted until July 2nd.

The sole no vote belonged to the perennial budget naysayer, State Senator Colin Bonini.  Senator Catherine Cloutier, who has been ill of late, was absent.  I fully anticipate State Rep. John Kowalko attempting to put the charter school transportation slush fund amendment on the bill to end that practice.  This could be the year!  But it would have to go back to the Delaware Senate at that point.

What this also means is no more money is going into the budget unless an amendment specifically says so.  This point actually caused a ruckus last week between Senator Dave Lawson and Senator David Sokola.  The Senate Education Committee did not release the bill.  The main reason was the budget bill was already decided upon but Senator Lawson’s bill would have added $65 million to the FY2019 budget.  It caused both the Senators to put Facebook videos up defending their points of view.

A slew of school safety bills are pending in the General Assembly right now.  Only one, HS1 for House Bill #49, has been sent to Governor Carney.  A House Bill was supposed to be heard in the House Education Committee today with an ask of $10 million for a school safety fund but it was removed due to a Senate bill asking for $15 million.

At this moment, the paid parental leave for state employees legislation, House Bill #3, is about to get a vote in the Delaware Senate.  The Director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, Tammi Croce, is testifying about teacher shortages in our schools.  Paying for substitutes, she said, would cost more on the local side of education funding on top of paying more on the local share for a teacher’s potential 12 week leave.  She said her organization is opposed to the legislation. Senator Nicole Poore said teachers already take leave to which Croce responded most mothers take about 6-8 weeks while fathers take 1-2 weeks.  Poore said New Jersey offers a paid parental leave similar to this legislation and they don’t suffer the retention issues Delaware faces.  I will update this discussion.  It is rather fascinating.

Senator Sokola supports the bill.  He said this bill could be seen as a recruiting tool to get more teachers in Delaware.  As well, it could inspire more retired teachers to come back to long-term substitute because they would be in the same classroom as opposed to getting shuffled around different classrooms.  Croce invited Sokola to do some long-term subbing to which he said he might since DuPont dropped him three years ago.  Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long said if they have a spinning wheel in there Sokola would jump at it!

Senator Greg Lavelle, who is a sponsor of the bill, said Croce makes some good points.  He said the bill was introduced on April 5th so why are the school districts just bringing this up in the last 4-5 days?  He said it was an abdication of duty for the school Superintendents to wait this long to oppose the bill.  He said he supports what they are saying but seems offended they waited until now.  In other words, Lavelle is being Lavelle.

Kristen Dwyer with the Delaware State Education Association is testifying right now.  Senator Poore said she understands male teachers are unable to take paternity leave unless they use sick time to which Dwyer said yes.  Dwyer said 76% of their membership are women but most of them are of child-bearing age.  She said many teachers take the 6-8 weeks of paid leave now but many of them have to take more time as unpaid leave.  She expressed how many women many have complicated labors which cause that additional time.  She said new teachers in the first five years of the profession are leaving at a rate of 39%.  She said teachers are looking for benefits just as much as salaries.

Senator Simpson asked if she is concerned about the ability of school districts to hire more substitutes if this legislation passes.  She said the incident of substitute shortages is not because of this bill.  She said she has been in discussion with others to get more pay for long-term subs.  Simpson keeps trying to press the substitute teacher issue.  Dwyer said this bill does not change what has been an ongoing issue with finding substitutes due to the pay involved.

Poore asked Dwyer if her members want this bill.  She said yes.  DSEA represents 13,000 educators and this bill represents a class of that total.  Poore said 446 births a year are attributed to teachers.  Senator Hocker said this would be about 110-120 births each quarter of the year.  Simpson said he has gotten letters from teachers in DSEA who do not support the bill.  She said she has not but she has heard of teachers who would have not received this benefit since they are past child-bearing age.

Senator Simpson said he can’t support the bill.  Senators Marshall and Sokola asked to be co-sponsors on the bill.  Simpson asked what effect this could have on private employers.  He said it might impact families who decide not to come to Delaware.  Editor’s note: this guy will find any reason not to support this bill!  Now he is bringing up how the Department of Corrections has been experiencing shortages for years.  He feels as though this will add to that shortage.

Senator Poore is giving statistics about how Chase gives 16 weeks of paid parental leave and Bank Of America gives 18 weeks.  She said this is one way to invest in the next generation.  She feels this is to incentivize teachers to stay in the profession.  Senator Simpson asked what non-banks are giving?  Poore didn’t know.

Simpson introduced an amendment to reduce the time from 12 weeks to 6 weeks.  He said it is a “reasonable compromise”.  Roll call on the amendment: 5 yes, 15 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Now he is introducing Senate Amendment #2 which adds a three-year sunset to the bill.  He feels the bill is a “grave” mistake.  Roll call- 7 yes, 13 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Roll call on the bill.  Wait, Lavelle wants to talk again.  Said he supports the bill.  He said paraprofessionals are a part of the IEP, which his son has.  He said his wife as well as Senator Poore are fighters for IEPs.  Senator DelCollo supports the bill as well.  Senator Walsh said companies don’t have 39% attrition.  Said he supports the bill to support his union brothers and sisters in Delaware.  Wants to be added as a co-sponsor.  Hansen, co-sponsor as well.  Rose Henry, wants to be co-sponsor.

Everyone is calling for the roll on the bill- 16 yes, 4 no, 1 absent.  Bill passes!

Legislation Aims To Have Teacher Of The Year & A Delaware Student On The State Board of Education

How did I miss this one?  It was filed last week!  Not only would this add two new members to the State Board of Education but could also make the State Board of Education a wandering event!

House Bill #455, filed last week by State Rep. Stephanie Bolden and Senator Jack Walsh, comes from the Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee.  The two new members would be non-voting but it could certainly create lively conversation at these meetings!  It also gives clarity around who the Executive Director reports to and who their employer would be.  The legislation calls for the State Board of Ed to meet in the three different counties which would, by default, cause Delaware Dept. of Education employees to travel with them.  Very interesting bill.

This Act fulfills recommendations made by the Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee by doing the following: (1) Establishing 2 new, nonvoting members to serve on the State Board of Education (“Board”). The new members are a former Delaware Teacher of the Year and a Delaware 11th or 12th grade student. (2) Defining the duties of the Board’s Executive Director. (3) Clarifying that the Executive Director is selected by the Board; is an employee of the Department of Education, subject to all of the Department’s employment policies and procedures; but serves at the pleasure of the Board. (4) Requiring the Board to rotate its meetings among the 3 counties of this State in such a way to facilitate parents’, teachers’, and other community members’ attendance. (5) Establishing the circumstances under which a Board member may be removed, using language standard to boards and commissions in this State. (6) Requiring the Board to permit public comment on each agenda item prior to voting on the item and in proximity to the time at which the Board discusses the item. An exception is provided if, under Delaware law or Department or Board rules, the item has a formal comment period or a process for making a record in an administrative matter that has closed before the Board’s discussion of the agenda item. Examples of matters that qualify for the exception include charter school applications or formal reviews, amendments to Department of Education and Professional Standards Board regulations, and student appeals. The intent of the exception is to exclude Board actions that are quasi-judicial in nature and therefore not appropriate to open to public comment. This Act also corrects 2 internal references and makes other technical corrections to conform existing law to the standards of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual.   

To read the actual legal language of the bill, go here: House Bill 455

As I reported earlier today, Governor Carney will have three nominations for the Delaware Senate to confirm by June 30th which would restore the State Board of Education to their seven members after some unexpected resignations in the past couple of months.  I still think ALL members of the State Board of Education should be publicly elected.

**UPDATED**The Clock Is Ticking For The State Board Of Education

The State Board of Education still has four members.  Which is their quorum amount.  Governor Carney, with ten days left in the 149th General Assembly, has not put forth ANY nominations for replacements.  Delaware State Code mandates four members on the State Board.  If Carney does not put forth nominations until after the General Assembly goes into recess from July 1st until mid-January 2019, he could order the Delaware Senate back into session to confirm nominations.  That isn’t unusual but typically doesn’t happen until October when it does occur.  Which means our State Board of Education is operating at a bare minimum for the next four months.  Which means if just one member doesn’t attend a meeting they can not take action on any item, even approving their minutes.

I have an extreme issue with keeping this body at four members.  Any regulation or appeal the State Board hears would only have four members voting.  One no-show could shut something down very fast.  It is a recipe for disaster.  Simply put, they cannot operate the way they are supposed to.  As an example, what happens if Secretary of Education Susan Bunting decided to put a charter school on formal review for some reason?  The State Board would have to vote on that.  Is four members enough to give that conversation the full weight for a matter that serious?  There is a reason there are seven members.

I was told by Jon Sheehan, Governor Carney’s Education Policy Advisor, the State Board of Education would be restored by June 30th.  So where are the nominations?  Since there are none today, that leaves one last Senate Executive Committee meeting to do this, which would be next Wednesday.  At that point it is the last week of the General Assembly.  I would worry about the quality of the nominations if it is rushed at the last-minute.

Two weeks ago, the Joint Sunset Committee released the State Board of Education from Sunset review.  The only unanswered question is who the State Board’s Executive Director will report to- the State Board, the Delaware Department of Education, or a hybrid of both.  Meanwhile, the deadline for applicants to replace Donna Johnson expired June 9th.  Which means someone will most likely get that job soon.  But will there even be a functional State Board of Education for them to direct?

I still feel as though the State Board of Education should be elected by the people.  Having a Governor hand-pick who he wants on the State Board of Education all but ensures people will get picked who would follow his agendas.  It is something our legislators could change but nobody wants to tick off the Governor.  Many of them agree but lack the stones to actually do it.  I say have an elected State Board of Education and get rid of “Secretary-only Regulations”.  Those are the ones, like Regulation 225, that the State Board of Education does not vote on.  Which is preposterous in my opinion.

Updated, 3:37pm: I spoke with Jon Sheehan a short time ago who assured me that three nominations will be introduced next week and he anticipates a full State Board of Education by June 30th.