Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

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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Legislation Heading Into July 1st

I went to the Wilmington Blue Rocks game earlier tonight and now I am at Legislative Hall.  The Delaware Senate defeated the WEIC redistricting legislation, HJR #12 with 6 yes and 15 no votes.  But they passed the new SJR #17 and SB #300 which kicks the can down the road and makes WEIC plan more.  There is a chance WEIC could continue based on a lot of stuff I heard involving amendments and very certain conditions which I didn’t completely understand.  Don’t get your hopes up too much though.

Kim Williams charter school audit bill is on the Senate ready list.  I wish I could tell you what the heck is on the agenda, but right now it says nothing and we all know that isn’t the case!  But the Senate and the House are in Caucus right now, so I haven’t seen Sneaky Pete or Val yet.  Went outside and talked to the one and only Danny Rufo next to the “tiki bar” outside.

House is back in session.  Sneaky Pete waved at someone up in the balcony.  I didn’t know who, so I waved back.  Val came in and was talking w/Sneaky Pete and then looked up at me with a kind of sort of smile.  I smiled back.  I heard Jack summoned Tony Allen and Kenny Rivera to come to the office to talk WEIC.  Hearing it is still on life support but might be coming off it soon.  It is now July 1st.  No word on HB #435 (charter audit bill).  Earl told me the Senate will be putting an amendment on HB #399 (teacher evaluation bill) and he hopes it comes back to the House.  Now they are going to work on Senate Joint Resolution #17, the latest WEIC bill.

There is a motion to suspend rules on SJR #17.  Passed, 22 yes, 17 no, 2 absent.  Rep. Collins talked about the letter from Red Clay and Christina asking them not to move forward.  Rep. J. Johnson said things have worked out and the districts are okay with the compromise reached (this was the meeting in Jack Markell’s office).  I have to wonder who on the Red Clay and Christina school districts are okay with this.  But it passed, with 22 yes and 17 no, 2 absent.  Okay, I’m going to stop writing two absent for every damn bill because they are going to be absent the rest of the night!  Now we are onto SB #300, the second WEIC bill covered in July, 2016.  Kim Williams put an amendment on it.  Amendment to SB #300  State Rep. Miro is asking about the possibility of Red Clay suspending the plan at their next board meeting.  Tony Allen was called up.  Tony said if this doesn’t move forward he will be suspending the plan right after the vote.  Something is up here.  Something isn’t right.  There is bait in the water, but I’m not sure who is biting.

State Rep. Mike Ramone asked what the $200,000 is for in the amendment and SB #300.  Tony said it would be to fund the commission moving forward.  Tony said the prior funding for the WEAC and WEIC books came from companies, donations, and even the Chair of WEIC (Tony Allen himself).  Kowalko asked Tony if this is similar to an architect, needing planning.  Tony said yes.  Senate Bill #300 w/Amendment #1 passes, 21 yes, 18 no.  The plan moves forward.  I don’t know what the hell any of this means.  Someone needs to explain it to me.

Heading over to the Senate now.  HB #399 is on the agenda.  And SB #300 has to come back to the Senate because the House put an amendment on it.  They are doing other bills so I’ll update on other bills during the wait.  Absolutely nothing on HB #30 (basic spec. ed. funding for K-3 students).  The School Breakfast bill is up in the Senate (HB #408 w/House Amendment #2).

And my battery died.  To be continued in a new post!

 

 

The Next 55 Hours Will Determine WEIC, HB399, HB30, The Budget, The Bond Bill, & Possibly The Election Season

We are down to the homestretch on the 148th General Assembly.  It is the bottom of the ninth with two outs.  The next batter is up.  This will be Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s last sphere of influence with Delaware legislation as Governor of the First State.  For that, we should all have reason to celebrate.  As of July 1st, all eyes will turn towards elections in Delaware and the USA.  But there is a bit of unfinished business in Legislative Hall.  We will know by about 4am on Friday, July 1st what happened.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting resolution is ready for a Senate vote.  The Executive Committee will clear it for a full vote.  But then, it gets very interesting.  I reported a few days ago that one Senate Democrat was a no and another was on the fence.  Now we can make that three Senate Dems as a no.  And the Senate Republicans which gives Senate Joint Resolution #12 a vote of 9 yes and 12 no.  But, I’m also hearing from the cracked walls of the basement of Legislative Hall that there might be new legislation kicking the can on this down the road into the 149th General Assembly.  Will Red Clay and Christina say “Enough” and get out of the whole thing?  Or will we have another year of “will they or won’t they” speculation?  In the chance SJR #12 does pass, the question then becomes “what happened to $6 million dollars”?  The Senate passed the budget today and WEIC was not in it.  I did find out the answer to this.  The funds are in reserve but they don’t want to put it in the budget without an affirmative vote on SJR #12.  What happens to the $6 million if SJR #12 doesn’t pass?  It goes to the Bond Bill.  For those who don’t know what the heck a bond bill is, in a nutshell it is a capital improvements bill.  Here is an example from FY2013.  We should see the FY2017 bond bill in the next 24 hours.

The Basic Special Education Funding for K-3 students, House Bill 30, has not received the full House vote yet.  I hope we will see it, and then a rush to the Senate, but I am not optimistic.  I did hear today that the Education Funding Improvement Committee may ask for an extension, but then that they may not.  We will know if a final report is issued to the General Assembly in the next 27 hours.

House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, has become a very odd bill with a great deal of power.  As the story goes, State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola’s tiff is still going on.  Today in the House Education Committee, Jaques pulled Sokola’s teacher certification legislation, Senate Bill 199, from the agenda.  House Bill 399 is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for tomorrow.  Apparently a deal was reached whereby House Bill 399 will get to be heard in the Senate Education Committee and will most likely be released for a full Senate vote.  In exchange, Jaques will “walk” Senate Bill 199 for signatures from the House Education Committee members.  But then House Bill 399 has to go before the full Senate.  Which is a toss-up for how it could go there.  I’m hearing different things from different people.  Honestly, if anyone is still concerned about defying the will of Governor Markell, I would think twice before using that empty-handed justification.  Did you hear that quacking sound?  It is the sound of a lame-duck desperately grasping for power in a vacuum.

There is more at stake here than current bills.  Election season is coming fast and broken alliances and grudge matches could make things real ugly for the Delaware Democrats.  I’m pretty sure if WEIC fails in the Senate, Senator Margaret Rose-Henry and State Reps. Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and Helene Keeley will have a lot to say about that!  They say Wilmington wins elections for state-wide positions in Delaware, but the reality is that Jack Markell would not have become Governor if he didn’t win crucial votes in Kent and Sussex County when he beat John Carney in the primary in 2008.

Speaking of Carney, it looks like he is finally getting around to reaching out to different groups and state agencies in Delaware to firm up support for the Gubernatorial election in November.  He still hasn’t officially filed for the 2016 election yet, but he has until July 12 to do so.  We also have filings from Republican Lacey Lafferty and Libertarian Sean Goward.  Nothing from Republican and current State Senator Colin Bonini.  Goward and Lafferty have been the most visible on Facebook.  In my mind, you have to work for my vote and get your name out there.  I want to know your original ideas, not more of the same-old I hear now.  Many Delawareans are in this mindset.  If I had to vote today, Carney would not get my vote.  The only candidate who has reached out to me and presented many ideas I agree with is Sean Goward.  And not just about education either.  I would reach out to him and hear what he has to say!

The Congressional race in Delaware is going to amp up big time as well.  The News Journal declared Townsend as the “front-runner” a couple of weeks ago, but it is still a long ways off.  Townsend has massive support over at Delaware Liberal with some calling him one of Delaware’s best legislators.  He does certainly get a plethora of bills passed.  But Lisa Blunt-Rochester also has a great deal of support from the African-American community which could change this tale.  In terms of signage, I can’t speak for what is popping up in New Castle or Sussex County, but I can say Hans Reigle signs are all over the place in Kent County.  And not just roadside ones, but also property signs as well.  I have seen Mike Miller and Sean Barney popping up a bit more on the Democrat side.  While Townsend may have amassed the biggest war chest thus far, how much of that will be spent on the primary between five candidates?  I’m sure some will drop out between now and then.  This will be a contest between Townsend and Blunt-Rochester when it comes down to it.  Assuming no one else files on the Republican side, Hans Reigle will have an all-clear until the General Election.  After the primary, we will see massive competition between Reigle and the Democrat candidate.  With a growing feeling of disillusionment with the Democrat party in Delaware, especially in an environment with more in-fighting among themselves, I wouldn’t count Reigle out.  Delaware might be a “blue state”, but this year could change things.  Look at how much traction Trump has gotten in the past year.  I would like to hear more from Scott Gesty as I think he has some very interesting ideas as a Libertarian candidate.

In terms of the State Rep and State Senate races, we may see a mad rush of filings in the next couple weeks.  While some are already saying the Republicans don’t have a chance of changing the power structure in Dover, I wouldn’t be too sure.  At least in one House of the Delaware General Assembly.  People don’t like what is going on.  They see a lot of the egregious glad-handling and deals being made in Dover and they don’t like it one bit.  This is becoming a more vocal community, especially on social media.  I’m going to go ahead and predict many new faces in Dover come January.  I think the citizens of Delaware deserve a more balanced legislature.  Too much on one side has not been a good thing for the middle-class and lower-income families of the state.  I don’t like the assumption that certain people should win office because they are Democrat, or that certain bills will pass because they have Democrat support.  I like to hear both sides of the issues, but all too often some voices are drowned out by the high-fives and fist-bumping going on.  By the same token, there are some Republicans who need to realize they could be on the cutting line as well come November, or even September.  They should stop thinking of this as a frat club.  If you want respect, you have to show respect.  Especially as an elected official.  For those who are about to call me a hypocrite, bloggers don’t count!

Things are going to get very interesting over the next 55 hours and in the next four months.  This is Delaware.  Anything can happen!  The crazy action will take place on Thursday night in the General Assembly.  I’m not sure about the Senate yet, but the House begins their legislative session at 7pm.

Oh yeah, what about House Bill 50?  And the Autism bills, Senate Bills 92 and 93 with their assorted amendments?  To be continued…

How The Legislators Vote Today Will Determine How The People Vote In November

2016Election

You are an everyday normal Delaware citizen.  You have two kids in school.  One of them does well, the other struggles.  You usually vote Democrat in elections, but you are on the fence with some issues this year.  In your district, a Republican and a Democrat are running.  You aren’t sure who to vote for.  You get a flyer in the mail from one of the candidates.  It talks about how their opponent decided not to vote yes for a bill about parental rights.  You look into the issue and see it was a bill about parents opting out of standardized tests.  Your one child came home stressed and miserable during those testing days.  You thought about opting him out but the school pressured you into having him take it.  That bill would have prevented that.  You make up your mind: You are now firmly on the side of the candidate that sent the flyer.

For those legislators who are big on not voting yes for a suspension of rules, this could result in you being suspended from office: permanently.  For those who wish to side with a departing Governor who WILL profit off education and the very policies he had a hand in after he leaves office, I would think twice about that.  Jack Markell is a very shrewd man and he doesn’t care what happens after he gets his very excellent education job a year from now.  Education is a fickle beast.  It changes and morphs constantly in cycles.  Todays big changes will be gone in ten years.  But todays changes are things Jack Markell has been working on for the past ten years.  He is a futurist.  He plots and schemes with American dreams and uses people, legislators most of all.  He isn’t a true Democrat.  He is a corporatist through and through.  He even said so during the 2012 Democratic Convention.  It is his job to be against opt-out.  Because for Jack, it is NOT about the students.  It is NOT about the parents.  It IS about the money and big business.

There may be issues among all of us about education and how to best serve the students of Delaware.  But selling them out to the highest bidders and their alliance of thieves is NOT the way the students of Delaware will succeed.  It is how the businesses succeed.  Our children are more than test scores.  Remember that today and vote with your conscience.

148th General Assembly 2.0 Begins Today!

Delaware_Legislative_Hall_House_chamber_DSC_3452_ad

The second leg of the 148th General Assembly officially convenes at 2pm today at Legislative Hall in Dover.  It remains to be seen what will come out of this.  My hopes and the reality will most likely be different.  I sincerely hope they are able to pass legislation that will help all citizens of Delaware.  While I have incessantly beat the drum on the veto override of House Bill 50, there is a lot of legislation for them to get through.  The biggest of them all, the budget bill, will cast a long shadow over pretty much any legislation with a fiscal note attached to it.  We will find out what our state finances look like in a couple weeks when Governor Markell presents his Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

I wish the General Assembly can get along in the next six months.  I hope party politics doesn’t become the headlines.  We have some great legislators in Dover with the capability of doing great things.  This will be a very unique legislative session.  With over 3/4 of the General Assembly up for re-election in the last year of a two term Governor who has been controversial on his best days.  I have an odd feeling much of what we are about to see is pre-determined.  But there will be surprises along the way as well.

I want to wish all the legislators in Delaware a welcome back and a special notes goes to newly anointed State Rep. David Bentz.  We will know by  the end of June what becomes of the next six months.  You are all representatives of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And So It Begins…Again…Education Committee Agendas For Next Week

The second half of the 148th General Assembly begins next Tuesday, January 12th.  While a great deal of focus is on the veto override of House Bill 50, there are actually several important bills about education that deserve to pass.  The House and Senate Education Committees meet weekly, usually on Wednesdays.

House Education Committee Meeting, 1/13/16, 2:30pm, House Chamber

Agenda: Presentation by Vicki Innes with Reading Assist, additional items to be determine

Senate Education Committee Meeting, 1/13/16, 3:00pm, Senate Hearing Room (2nd floor)

Agenda: Senate Bill 165, House Bill 186

To view all the education legislation, the status of each bill, and who the sponsor is, please go here.

For any committees in the Senate or the House, public comment is allowed.

Guide To The Delaware General Assembly, Legislation & Committees

The Delaware 148th General Assembly returns to legislative session on January 12th, 2016.  The General Assembly meets in public Tuesdays to Thursdays from the 2nd Tuesday in January until June 30th (or whenever the State Budget passes).  The General Assembly is divided into two houses: The House of Representatives which has 41 State Representatives and the Senate, with 21 State Senators.

The House of Representatives:

Speaker of the House: Pete Schwartzkopf, House Majority Leader: Valerie Longhurst, House Majority Whip: John Viola, House Minority Leader: Daniel Short, House Minority Whip: Deb Hudson

House Committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Capital Infrastructure, Corrections, Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce, Education, Energy, Ethics, Gaming & Parimutuels, Health & Human Development, House Administration, House Rules, Housing & Community Affairs, Joint Finance, Judiciary, Labor, Manufactured Housing, Natural Resources, Public Safety & Homeland Security, Revenue & Finance, Sunset Committee (Policy Analysis & Government Accountability), Telecommunication Internet & Technology, Transportation/Land Use and Infrastructure, Veterans Affairs

The Senate:

President Pro Tempore: Patricia Blevins, Senate Majority Leader: David McBride, Senate Majority Whip: Margaret Rose Henry, Senate Minority Leader: Gary Simpson, Senate Majority Whip: Greg Lavelle, *normally, the Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Senate but since there is no Lieutenant Governor since Matt Denn became the Attorney General, the President Pro Tempore holds the function.

Senate Committees: Administrative Services/Elections, Adult & Juvenile Corrections, Agriculture, Banking and Business, Bond, Children Youth & Families, Community/County Affairs, Education, Energy & Transit, Ethics, Executive, Finance, Health & Social Services, Highways & Transportation, Insurance & Telecommunications, Judiciary, Labor & Industrial Relations, Legislative Council, Natural Resources & Environmental Control, Permanent Rules, Public Safety, Sunset, Veterans Affairs

Bill Process:

The below chart as shown on the General Assembly website, shows what happens when a bill is introduced.  Prior to a bill being filed, a State Representative of the House or a State Senator writes a bill.  They send it out to their fellow legislators for sponsorship.  It is very typical to see a bill co-sponsored by a House Rep. and a Senator.  But wherever the bill originates from this is the chamber it is heard in first.

BillProcessDelaware

Other Legislation:

The House and Senate both have Resolutions, Concurrent Resolutions, and Joint Resolutions.  A resolution refers to a matter within either the House or the Senate, not both.  A concurrent resolution is not statutory, meaning it does not change anything in the law.  For example, the Senate in the 147th General Assembly passed Senate Concurrent Resolution #63, which created the IEP Task Force.  The House had to approve it as well, but it didn’t have legislative power in that the task force created from it could create law.  They recommended different things which then became Senate Bill 33 in the 148th General Assembly.  A Joint Resolution has to be signed by the Governor once it passes both chambers.  As per the General Assembly website, “a joint resolution is not a law but is used to employ temporary measures and has the force of law while in effect.”  A recent example of this would be the Senate Joint Resolution #2 Assessment Inventory Committee.  The Senate handles Nominations.  These are typically nominations from the Governor.  It could be for committees outside of Legislative Hall, or even a Cabinet position, like the nomination hearing for Dr. Steven Godowsky at the end of October when he became the Secretary of Education for Delaware.  It can be very typical to see the Senate reconvening during their “off time” for a set of nominations.

Many bills are introduced, get assigned to a committee, and they just sit there.  Nothing happens with them.  Or it could be released from committee and goes on what is called the “ready list”, meaning the full chamber can vote on it.  But before the vote, it has to be put on the agenda, and either the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore for the Senate holds the power to determine what gets put on the agenda and what doesn’t.

Most committees meet on Wednesdays, but some do meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays.  Committee meetings are open to the public and you do have the ability to give public comment in most situations.  The House releases minutes of their committee meetings but the Senate does not.  In the Senate as well, committee members do not have to be present at a meeting to release legislation from committee.  For both chambers, there is no set time for committee meetings each week.  The only requirement for public notice is for these meetings to have an agenda at least five days prior to the committee meeting and  list of which legislation is going to be discussed.  That is not always a guarantee the legislation will be heard in that committee meeting, which happened with House Bill 50 last year in the Senate Education Committee.  It was heard a week later, but there was also a very full docket of bills on the first agenda.  In terms of education legislation and committee meetings, I will be posting all of that on here, along with agendas and meeting times.  But for other committees you may be interested in I strongly suggest bookmarking the General Assembly website.

For the most part, the voting action by the full House or Senate takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The typical day consists of both chambers opening up at 2pm.  This is open to the public, and this is where you will see House or Senate business discussion as well as “honorary” legislation.  As an example, House Concurrent Resolution #36 recognized Tourette Syndrome Awareness month.  When this part of the session ends, the House and Senate go into Caucus.  This is driven by the political party so the Democrats go to their caucus and the Republicans to their own.  Typically, the legislators return to session at 4pm, and this is where legislation on the Agenda gets a vote.  The public can attend but they are not allowed to speak to the legislators once the session begins until either a recess or termination of the session.

In my experience at Legislative Hall, I have found all of the legislators to be nice people.  They are all friendly and responsive to the public.  Even the ones you may be at odds with over issues.  They are also insanely busy, exponentially so as the months go by.  The best way to get your concerns out is to contact your district State Representative or Senator, but I talk to a lot of legislators not in my district.  If you go to the top of the stairs at Legislative Hall, you will see chairs in the lobby.  This is where you see a lot of folks dressed very nice, usually huddled in conversation or very quiet, just waiting.  These are the lobbyists.  Their job is to sway votes for certain issues for their bosses.  There is no easier way to put it.

If there is certain legislation you may want to see, understand a State Rep. or Senator most likely isn’t going to just jump on it.  My best advice would be to get others involved who may want to see the same type of legislation and have them contact the legislators in your district.  Your chances are better if your issue becomes their issue.  That doesn’t always happen with one voice, but several.  If, for some reason, you don’t feel your district legislators are responding, it may help to reach out to another legislator.  It is a very tricky process.  I would present your collective idea with research to back it up and make sure it is something that could be done without changing the Delaware Constitution.  Legislation stating Delaware would now have three Governors or five chambers in Legislative Hall just isn’t going to happen!

The General Assembly works in two year blocks of time.  We are entering the second half of the 148th General Assembly, so any legislation that doesn’t pass or doesn’t receive a vote by June 30th is dead.  Any legislation still active or pending from the first half of the 148th General Assembly is still alive, even though the legislators were in recess (with a few exceptions) for six months.  In 2017, the 149th General Assembly will begin, which will run until 6/30/18.  The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election every two years.  Senators typically have four-year terms.  This year, 11 out of the 21 Senators are up for re-election.

Getting involved in the legislative process is not as hard as it seems.  Your voice is important.  Find other voices that feel the same and let them be heard.  Showing up in person is usually the best, but emails, phone calls, and Social Media are just as important.

 

 

House Democrats Letter To Governor Markell To Remove Smarter Balanced For 11th Grade

Today, ten Delaware House Democrats signed a letter to Delaware Governor Jack Markell asking him to remove the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  The letter also mentions Senate Joint Resolution #2, the assessment inventory task force.

We recognize that, by your order, the Department of Education is in the midst of creating an inventory of standardized tests administered throughout the state. Pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution 2, signed into law in July, the department will share its findings with legislators and the public, as well as a special work group that will make recommendations regarding possible elimination of redundant tests. While opinions will differ among stakeholders, we believe there is universal support for eliminating the Smarter Balanced test for juniors in lieu of the SAT.

I fully accept that this is Governor Markell’s order.  He came up with the “assessment inventory” idea back in March.  It is a red herring though.  I firmly believe it will get rid of many assessments that give immediate and crucial feedback for teachers in how best to instruct their students.  I also predict it will see an increase in “prep” and “interim” Smarter Balanced Assessments.  The move towards personalized learning will allow for the eventual elimination of the nine-hour test (or longer depending on the individual student’s needs).  But it will not get rid of the basic flaws in SBAC, nor will it eliminate the time taking the test.  Instead it will eventually be in shorter doses but will be just as harmful to students.

There should be universal supporting for eliminating SBAC for ALL grades.  I would caution parents not to be fooled by this letter.  This is not a direction where the Smarter Balanced Assessment will gradually be removed.  It does not address the fundamental and core issues of what is wrong with Smarter Balanced.  I fear this is another attempt to sway legislators from voting for the House Bill 50 Veto Override.  This does not get rid of the issue of parents opting out except for those who have 11th graders.  The SAT is on a downward slope in many states, and now that they are “aligning” it with Common Core, that trend may increase.

Do Not Be Fooled by this Delaware parents!  The DOE has been planning this for over a year IN RESPONSE to the opt-out movement.  They knew 11th graders would have the highest opt-outs.  But it is still implemented in 3rd to 8th grade.  The assessment inventory task force is also stocked with many who will align with the Governor’s flawed logic about standardized assessments.  It wouldn’t shock me if the DOE already wrote the report on it and they are just waiting on the group to tweak it here and there.  I will still fight for the House Bill 50 Veto Override and support parents who choose to exercise their choice to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I have been calling out the “assessment inventory” ruse since the Governor first started talking about it last March.

Delaware House Reps and Senators Who Support The House Bill 50 Veto Override And Those Who Don’t

Updated 1/1/16, 9:20pm

I sent an email to all the Delaware House Representatives and Senators on 12/29/15 asking for their support of House Bill 50.  An override of a Governor’s veto in Delaware requires a 3/5th vote by both the House and the Senate which cannot be done on the same day.  The House would introduce it, and if passed, it would go to the Senate.  This is the email I sent to each one of them:

Dear (name inserted)

I am asking for your public support of the House Bill 50 Veto Override in the 148th General Assembly this year. I would like to publicly announce your intention to vote yes on this historic legislation. We all know the reasons why a yes vote is needed on this and the immoral and disgusting behavior surrounding those who are attempting to dissuade you from voting yes on the override.

 This is a simple bill about honoring rights that already exist for a parent and stopping the bullying and intimidation by Governor Markell, the Delaware Department of Education, the State Board of Education, special interest groups in Delaware and across the country, and fellow legislators who appear to care more about what they think than the voice of the people.

I understand the legislative process and the need to compromise in certain situations. But this is not the time to cave in to those. This is a time where your political future will depend on THIS vote.

Please understand that no matter how you respond, I will be continually publishing those who support this and those who do not. An inability to respond to this will be viewed by thousands as not caring at all about the issue. If you are voting no, please let the people know and let them know why you are voting no. Also keep in mind I will debunk many of your reasons very publicly.

While some of you may view this letter as that of arrogance and putting you in a no-win situation, I choose to see it as an opportunity to let the people know you support them no matter what. I did not create this situation to begin with. We have Governor Markell, who chose to ignore your votes, to thank for this mess. You have the ability to fix that.

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

The following are the responses received from the Delaware State Representatives and Senators.  A yes is for the veto override, and a no is against the override. Continue reading “Delaware House Reps and Senators Who Support The House Bill 50 Veto Override And Those Who Don’t”

Governor Markell’s Secret Weapons Against House Bill 50 Veto Override Exposed!

The manipulation behind the scenes with House Bill 50 is never-ending!  Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill in July but he knows the General Assembly will attempt to override his veto.  To that end, he has been working feverishly behind the curtain to make sure it does not pass!  The drums of war are beating on both sides.  The problem with Jack Markell is how he views himself.  He truly believes he is infallible.  He is just a man.  A man who leaves enough breadcrumbs on the way that anyone who follows his trail can see them visibly.

To truly understand the process, you have to think like the Governor.  Anticipating his next moves can be difficult, but he does have very clear patterns.  We know he is calling many House Reps in Delaware and begging them to vote no on the House Bill 50 veto override.  We know he hates the opt-out movement as it interferes with his corporate education reform plans for Rodel The Delaware Business Roundtable The Aspen Institute The Southern Regional Education Board American Institutes for Research McKinsey Charter Schools Hedge Fund Managers His Own Ed-Stock Portfolio Delaware in a big way.

As the legislators return to Legislative Hall in two weeks, the conversation about the HB50 override is going to become very loud.  This is how Jack is going to try to publicly sway the legislators and Delaware into thinking the override shouldn’t pass, followed by my counter to each and every point:

  1. The US DOE issued letters stating they will take away money from states who don’t hit participation marks two years in a row.  Go ahead and take the money.  By supporting this you are effectively saying money is more important than parental rights.  And to clarify, it is Title I administrative funding, not the entire Title I funding pool.  The feds are inviting parents to take part in a class action lawsuit against all this.
  2. The Assessment Inventory Task Force currently meeting will eliminate “unnecessary and redundant testing”.  It will eliminate all but those assessments tied to the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It will not reduce the amount of testing, it will increase the amount of preparatory and interim assessments for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
  3. It would be a violation of civil rights to pass it.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment IS a violation of civil rights.  It puts the most at-risk students in a position where they are inadvertently labeled as failures based on a once a year test score.
  4. An override of MY veto would be a tremendous amount of disrespect to my office and my legacy.  Because your legacy is something to be proud of?  Most of the legislators can’t stand you.  Even the Democrats.  They think you are a dictator!  The power of democracy is a series of checks and balances to prevent one voice from deciding what is best for the people.
  5. We are going to get rid of Smarter Balanced for 11th graders and make the SAT the state assessment for high school juniors.  The College Board overhauled the SAT to make it more like the Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and other state assessments tied to Common Core.  Whether you call it an apple or an orange, it is still a piece of crap.
  6. The Every Student Succeeds Act is going to cause us to take a holistic and methodical look at state assessments and gives states more control over the implementation of state assessments.  To which Penny Schwinn at the DOE publicly said Delaware is already in line with what came out of the ESSA.  Funny how that happened.  Stuff the DOE implemented the past few years just happens to be what is in the ESSA?  I smell a festering rat!
  7. We will see editorials from Rodel, The Delaware Business Roundtable, Civil Rights groups, certain teachers who have been swayed to the Dark Side, and corporate education reformers about why the General Assembly shouldn’t pass the override.  See the News Journal in the coming weeks and months…
  8. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a work in progress and we need an accurate measurement of student progress so we can determine how to help the instruction of students.  We haven’t heard one word about a reduction in Smarter Balanced Assessment test-taking time.  The window for schools to take the test is the same as last year.  The results show what we have always known.  Students with disabilities, low-income, African-American, or English Language Learners do not perform as well as their peers on these tests.  It has to be that way because if all the gaps were closed there would be no need for a state assessment or “fixing” our schools.  Duh…
  9. We may be looking at ways to not have the Smarter Balanced results tie in so heavily with teacher evaluations.  Because that worked out so well for Governor Cuomo in New York!  The parents there don’t care what he says, they are still going to opt out this year.  They are committed to doubling their opt-out numbers from 200,000 to 400,000 this year.  This is also an attempt to get teachers to stop supporting opt-out.  Good luck with that one.  They may have been momentarily fooled by ESSA, but they aren’t stupid.  And as long as bloggers like myself and others will point out the machinations behind the scenes (the vendor contracts, the state DOEs, “guidance” from the feds), we will blast a hole so large in that one a freighter jet could pass through it.
  10. It will undermine a district’s ability to effectively teach children and will disrupt the learning environment.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment IS a disruption to the learning environment and forces teachers to instruct students based on what is on the test.  Duh 2.0…
  11. History has shown schools that teach effectively are able to close the achievement gaps and have huge improvements in scores.  Yes, we call these charter schools which have high turnaround, charters who pick and choose which students go there, districts that change their feeder patterns, and even magnet and vocational schools that can and historically show their ability to pick students.  Yet, we also see that East Side Charter School, which was praised up and down for their “growth” in 2014-2015, did  no better than other schools with similar demographics on the Smarter Balanced Assessment which really makes me wonder how they were able to grow so much.
  12. It will cause teachers and schools to pick who takes the test to make their numbers look better.  Seriously?  With all the heat from the opt-out movement and the very definitive laws surrounding state assessment participation, do you really think schools would be idiotic enough to exclude students from taking the test?  They know the DOE monitors every burp and hiccup with the testing.  They know their schools and districts have DOE sympathizers in them who will rat them out in a New York minute.  Teachers are afraid for their jobs 90% of the time over this foolish test and what it will mean for their evaluations.  Do you really think they would throw their career away like that?
  13. Parents of students with disabilities are the biggest supporters of opt-out and we are going to take a hard look at why that is and what we can do about it.  Yeah right!  If that were the case, you wouldn’t be expecting the proficiency rate for these kids to go from 19% this year to 59% by 2021.  Give me a break!

We know the lengths the DOE went to in keeping the opt-out penalties for the Delaware School Success Framework very quiet.  We know Secretary Godowsky did a 180 degree turnaround on the issue.  We know the DOE falsely cited US DOE policy in allowing this to even be in there.  We know the committee the DOE picked to handle the formation of the Delaware School Success Framework unanimously voted NOT to have the opt-out multiplier penalty in the DSSF.  So with all that going on surrounding the harsh opt-out penalties it would have been the perfect time for the Delaware DOE to announce the letter from the US DOE about funding cuts due to low participation rates.  They did not.  They could have done this at the final meeting of the Accountability Framework Working Group.  They could have done this at the State Board of Education meeting in November when they voted on it.  Why would they not use the biggest weapon in their arsenal?

They knew they didn’t have to and they were saving it for a rainy day.  Governor Markell picked each member of the State Board of Education.  He controls how they vote 99% of the time.  But the votes are 100% in his favor.  He knew they would vote on the opt-out penalties even though everyone else was saying no.  He was hoping to bring this out in January when the legislators return.  He knows House Bill 50 will come up for an override.  He wanted to squeeze this in there at the last possible moment.  I can picture it now, sending his education policy advisor Lindsay O’Mara or Godowsky into Legislative Hall: “Look, there IS funding cuts coming.  We have to stop this from happening!  You must vote no”.

Now how would I jump to this conclusion?  Like I said earlier, it is all about the bread crumbs.  In their work session on October 15th, the State Board of Education asked Ryan Reyna with the DOE to get more information about the opt-out penalty on the DSSF.

The letter to the US DOE was dated 11/2/15.  In this day and age, this information is most likely emailed and mailed to the State Education Agencies, in this case the Delaware DOE.  Penny Schwinn and Carolyn Lazar were cc:ed on this as well, so they would have had this information for the State Board retreat.  In the below document, when the AFWG recommendations are presented to the State Board, the minutes reflect very careful avoidance of discussing the US DOE letter and Secretary Godowsky’s recommendation to include the opt-out multiplier.

That night I received word of Godowsky’s recommendation and wrote about it right away.  The very next day, the State Board recorder of minutes was very careful to now include notes about the previous day.

Finally, at the State Board of Education meeting when this came up for a vote, there is NO mention about the US DOE letter whatsoever.  Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, would have been well aware of this letter.  And by default, so would the State Board.  Yet, in the very long discussion around the opt-out penalty, nobody mentions this.  That is because they were told not to.  And that decision could have only come from Governor Markell.  Godowsky was the main recipient of the US DOE letter.  The Secretary of Education is a Cabinet position in the State of Delaware.  The only figure higher than him is the Governor.

This is “The Delaware Way”.  In the past, nobody would have known about any of this.  What changed?  Myself and others who are keeping a very close eye on any and all activity of the Delaware DOE, things that are said, things that are not said, and what is announced in public session through audio recordings or minutes.

Make no mistake, any legislator who flips on their House Bill 50 votes will be given a very public lashing.  Any legislator who votes no will be given a very public lashing.  If you think you can hide behind a collective vote, you are very wrong.  I will treat each of your votes as an individual vote.  Thank you to Delaware Liberal for announcing which legislators will face re-election this year.  Your vote will be a symbol of who you are as an elected official of the citizens of Delaware.  If you side with Markell on this, no amount of excuses or reasoning will allow you to escape unscathed.  We will all know why you did it.  And I will leave no stone unturned after your no vote.  I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican.  I will scorch the political earth you walk on.  If you are worried about Jack Markell, then you truly do not understand the lengths parents will go to.  I truly don’t care about “political etiquette” or any of that nonsense.  You can vote for the Governor or you can vote for the people.  It is your choice.  I’m just advising you way ahead of time what will happen if you vote no.  I don’t care how nice you are or what a great person you are.  I don’t care if we have allied in the past over issues or legislation.  I will make it my goal in 2016 to make your life a living hell.  And I will not be alone.  I already have a list of names in the General Assembly.  You have time to change your mind.  But once your vote is cast, good luck!  And if you aren’t running again, I will pound on every single piece of legislation you put out there and will gather others to help.  I will make anything you do look tarnished and soiled.  Because if you can’t represent and honor the rights of parents, you can’t do anything in Legislative Hall.

Merry Christmas To The Heroes Of Education & My Christmas Wish For The Delaware General Assembly

Last year, I started a tradition of honoring the heroes of public education on Christmas.  This year the list is much longer.  I finally met many of you this year, and I made new friends along the way.  The battles were tougher than ever, but we all came out of it relatively unscathed.  Some of our battles were won, but the war for public education continues.  2016 is going to be a very tough year as we are in the middle of major transitions between ESEA and ESSA.  The US DOE is trying to get some hits in before it kicks in, but we aren’t taking it lying down.  We will fight these changes!

Without further ado, thank you to all the below for listening to my rants, hearing my pleas, and taking action on your own.  I am nothing without any of you, and I want you all to know I appreciate you very much.  Some of us had our moments but we were able to reach out and work out our differences.  Some of you might be wondering why you are even on this list.  It could have been something as simple as a kind gesture, support, or you took the time to listen even if you didn’t agree with everything I had to say.  On these lists are parents, teachers, reporters, bloggers, legislators and more.  There are very left liberals on here and die-hard conservatives.  But all of you, in one way or another, contributed to this blog in some way.  And I thank you! There are many who I am unable to list on here due to requests for anonymity.  They know who they are, and I think it is very brave for anyone to stick their neck out to help students.  And then the silent voices.  The ones who reached out to me in a request for help.  For many of you I don’t know if I helped or not.  I hope I did, in some way.  Some of you I never heard back from and I pray that everything worked out.  The below Delawareans are my 2015 Delaware Heroes of Education.

Matthew Albright  Tony Allen  Tyler Anaya  Faith Andrews  Austin Auen  Dee August  Meg Eldred Barcus  Adriana Bohm  Giffin Bowen  Sue Breakie  Suzanne Burton  Eve Buckley  Catherine Ciferni  Jennifer Cinnelli  Larae Coley  William Cortes  Sammi Dahms  Matt Denn  Nelia Dolan  Bill Doolittle  Lyn Doto  Diane Eastburn  Marie Evans  Steve Fackenthall  Tim Furlong  Natalie Ganc  Jodi LeVan Gennusa  Lori Gloede  Tara Greathouse  Elizabeth Greenwell  Karen Gritton  Eric Gustafson  Alan Harris  Christine Hermes  Annemarie Hobson  Terri Hodges  CEO Hope  Laurie Howard  Devon Hynson  Rick Jensen  Wendy Johnson  Yvonne Johnson  Scott Jones  Kavips  Maureen Keeney  Mike Kempski  Amanda Kilby Kilroy  Jackie Kook  John Kowalko III  Pam Levin  Matt Lindell  Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman  Mary Jane Long  Christy Mannering  Mike Matthews  Deborah McCann  Floyd McDowell  Connie Merlet  Harrie Ellen Minnehan  Laura Nash  Sabine Neal  Mike Oboryshko  Jen O’Brien  Liz Paige  Pandora  David Paulk  Lisa Radke  Kenny Rivera  Danny Rufo  Ashley Sabo  Kay Dietz-Sass  Elizabeth Scheinberg  Jill Schilling  Nate Schwartz  Anne Willing Solan  Mel Spotts  Melissa Stansell  Brian Stephan  Ralph Taylor  Liz Toney  Jenny Twardowski  Meghan Wallace  Nancy Willing  Jeanette Wilt  Avi Wolfman-Arent  Dave Woodside  John Young

And there are some “out-of-staters” I want to honor as well:

Debby Herbage Stacey Kahn Melissa Katz Cheri Kiesecker Marla Kilfoyle Donna Yates Mace Roxana Mariachi Ken Previti Diane Ravitch Priscilla Sanstead Teri Sasseville Mercedes Schneider Valerie Strauss Emily Talmadge Nicholas Tapio Publius Withering

I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t publicly thank all those who voted yes on House Bill 50 during its final votes in the Delaware General Assembly.  I know some of you struggled with your vote, and I want you to know how much I appreciate your honoring parents and their rights.  I am counting on your support again for the veto override when you come back!

From the House of Representatives: Paul Baumbach, Andria Viola Bennett, Gerald Brady, Ruth Briggs King, William Carson, Richard Collins, Kevin Hensley, Deb Hudson, James Johnson, Helene Keeley, Harvey Kenton, John Kowalko, Valerie Longhurst, Sean Lynn, Sean Matthews, Joe Miro, John Mitchell, Michael Mulrooney, Ed Osienski, Bobby Outten, Trey Paradee, Charles Potter, Mike Ramone, Pete Schwartzkopf, Bryon Short, Daniel Short, Melanie Smith, Stephen Smyk, Jeff Spiegelman, Kim Williams, David Wilson, and Lyndon Yearick

From the Senate: Patti Blevins, Colin Bonini, Catherine Cloutier, Bruce Ennis, Bethany Hall-Long, Gerald Hocker, Dave Lawson, Ernie Lopez, Robert Marshall, David McBride, Karen Peterson, Brian Pettyjohn, Nicole Poore, Bryant Richardson, and Bryan Townsend

For those who voted no, I invite you to search your hearts and ask yourself why you voted no.  If it was for any reason other than honoring a parents right to determine what is right for their child, I urge you to think about it.  I know, for some of you, it has become a matter of honoring the Governor’s office or honoring parents.  The parents will be here long after Jack leaves office and they have a long memory.  I implore you to remember why you ran for office to begin with.  I expect most of you, if not all, wanted to make a difference for the people of Delaware.  I understand power.  I understand favor.  I understand compromise.  But what I cannot understand is not honoring your constituents.  Some of you have been duped by the Governor, the DOE, or lobbyists into believing all the wrong reasons.  While the state is looking at reducing the amount of assessments our children get, this bill has always been about the Smarter Balanced Assessment or any high-stakes test that comes along.  You saw the scores.  I hope many of you have seen the very unrealistic “growth” targets the DOE set for the next six years.  I ask you to think about the damage this does to students and schools.

Yes, there are very real consequences now for opt-out.  Funding cuts, as dictated by the US DOE, could very well happen.  But I belong to groups in just about every state in this country on Facebook.  I wrote articles about these threats made by the US DOE and posted them on all of those Facebook groups.  Not one parent said they will not opt their child out this Spring because of these threats.  They are more determined than ever to opt their child out of the state assessment this year.  Across the country, including Delaware.  In fact, many are already planning a defense against this unethical and immoral “guidance” by the US DOE.  An argument has already been presented that federal funding cuts that hit schools with high opt-out numbers could result in students with disabilities not receiving what is known as FAPE, a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  If the feds cut money, schools will suffer, resulting in a loss of services for those students.  FAPE is covered under the Federal IDEA law.  These are potential lawsuits, even class action, that would be taken against the US DOE.  As well, parents of minority or low-income students have already begun talking about civil rights violations should federal funding cuts occur.   Those in favor of these high-stakes tests will tell you opt-out will result in civil rights being violated against these children with needs we can’t imagine.  They are wrong.  It doesn’t matter if a parent is insanely rich or poor, it is still their right.  Parents know what is best for their child, and these tests are not what is best.

There was one State Representative I did want to name who didn’t vote for House Bill 50 either time it hit the House floor.  I saw your emotional struggle with this bill Stephanie Bolden, and I greatly appreciate what you said and respect you for it.  Your passion for the students of Wilmington is very honorable.

I got to know many legislators this year.  Some of you I count as friends.  There are a couple of you I have written much about, and I wasn’t very nice about it at times.  For the two of you, I would strongly ask yourself “Who do I serve”?  I will leave it at that.  Please don’t take this personally, but I still believe in both of you, despite our many differences earlier this year.  But you are on the wrong side of the issue here and everyone knows it.

There are some of you at Legislative Hall, I really don’t know what I would do without you.  I don’t see you as “Democrat” or “Republican”.  I see you as people, wanting to do what is right for the students of Delaware.  You see way beyond what others see and you vote with your heart.  Some of you create legislation that hits just the right note that will result in positive change for education.  I know you know who you are, and I thank you immensely for what you do.  It makes me very concerned when these bills either sit there or don’t pass.  Every legislation in that building deserves the right to be heard.

For all you, I want to wish a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (belatedly), Happy Kwanza or whatever you choose to call this time of year.  As well, Happy New Year to all of you.  2016 will be anything but dull!
  

 

 

148th General Assembly Legislative Session Schedule For 2016

The fun begins again on January 12th, 2016.  This is when the Delaware General Assembly reconvenes for Part 2 of their 148th General Assembly.  It will be a raucous ride this session, with huge budget issues taking the forefront of any discussion.  Followed by education, death penalty, and right to die bills that are pending bills.

The General Assembly typically meets from Tuesdays to Thursdays with rare exceptions out of those days of the week (usually Joint Finance Committee).  The various committees meet during these days as well, but there is no clear schedule for all of them.  Here are the dates:

January 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 26th, 27th, 28th

February-1st week of March: General Assembly in Recess all month for Joint Finance Committee and Joint Finance Committee/Bond meetings.

Here are the dates for the JFC Hearings:

February 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th & 25th

And for the JFC/Bond Committee Hearings:

February 29th, March 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th

Back in Legislative Session:

March 8th, 9th, 10th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th

In recess for a few weeks, then back for:

April 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 21st

Then more JFC/Bond Hearings:

April 26th, 27th, 28th

Back In Legislative Session:

May 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 17th, 18th, 19th

And then the JFC Mark-Up Session:

May 23rd, 24th, 25th, 31st, June 1st, 2nd

And then the final stretch back in Legislative Session:

June 7th, 8th, 9th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 28th, 29th, 30th, and if need be, the hours going into July 1st if the General Assembly does not pass the budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  The General Assembly is required by law to keep meeting until the budget is passed.

Delaware House Republicans Watch With Glee As Democrats Spar

I get emails from both sides of the aisle in Delaware.  The Democrats and the Republicans.  It is usually about legislation or crucial issues.  Rarely do I see one side taking potshots at the other.  On Friday, I received the House Republicans email which centered on a “cover story” on the email exchange between State Reps John Kowalko and Earl Jaques:

Disappointing Student Test Scores Spark Sniping Between Lawmakers, Public
 
Delaware’s disappointing mathematics and reading scores in the recently released  2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)  sparked a heated exchange between two state legislators and members of the public.
In an e-mail exchange shared with state legislators, bloggers, members of the media, and the education community, State Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, railed against Delaware’s public education policies.
 
The match to the fuse was the NAEP’s 2015 math and reading scores for students in 4th and 8th grades.  The data was last compiled and released two years ago.  
 
Compared to 2013, Delaware’s 4th Grade students saw their math scores drop from 243 to 239; while 8th grade math scores fell from 282 to 280.
 
In 4th Grade reading, Delaware students had an average score of 226 in 2013 and 224 for 2015.  Scores dropped in 8th Grade reading as well, from 266 to 263.
 
Delaware students also fared worse than the 2015 national public school average in three of the four previously cited measures, scoring above the national average only in the area of 4th Grade reading.
 
“Seriously consider the harmful effects foisted on our children by these ‘education reform’ salesmen,” Rep. Kowalko wrote in his e-mail.  “The NAEP test is one of the most widely used, highly respected and … accurate assessments of education results.  If this latest development doesn’t strike a warning chord in any of you that consider themselves as advocates for children and public education than I’m afraid it’s time for an introspective look we all should take.”
State Rep.
Jeff Spiegelman
Rep. Kowalko has been an outspoken critic of the Delaware Department of Education and the direction of education reform efforts in The First State.  House Republicans Jeff Spiegelman, R–Clayton & Lyndon Yearick, R–Camden-Woodside, joined Rep. Kowalko in sponsoring a measure earlier this year (House Bill 50, as amended) that sought to allow parents to exclude their children from the statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment as well as any district-level assessment.
 
The Smarter Balanced Assessment is aligned with the contentious Common Core standards in English and mathematics.
 
Despite clearing the House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities, Gov. Jack Markell vetoed the measure citing the potential loss of federal funding and harm to the state’s economic competitiveness.
 
In his e-mail, and an identical post on his Facebook page, Rep. Kowalko criticized the state’s Common Core standards.  “Common Core is not a curriculum, but it is so specific in its standards that it becomes a de-facto curriculum.  Covering those prescribed ‘standards’ forces teachers to teach only those skills.”
 
Rep. Kowalko pointed to the NAEP test scores as reason to question Delaware’s education policies.  “The NAEP is a generalized test given to kids all over the world.  It is a consistent and reliable measure of comparison.  You can’t ‘study’ for it.  So when we look at countries that do well (i.e. Finland/New Zealand) and see that their curriculums are nothing like what we have just adopted/imposed, we should ask: ‘What are we doing?'”
 
House Education Committee Chairman, State Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, took issue with Rep. Kowalko’s use of state e-mail to share his views.  “John, your personal views shouldn’t be part of our e-mail system,” Rep. Jaques stated.  “Your e-mail isn’t based on any facts, but filled with innuendoes and bias against people you dislike.  Please take your postings to the blogs – not on the state email system!!”
 
Numerous people came to Rep. Kowalko’s defense, including WDEL Talk Show Host and Syndicated Columnist Rick Jensen.  
 
“The viewpoints of any State Representative or State Senator on public policy are absolutely permitted (and encouraged) for public dissemination via official email,” Jensen wrote.  “What should outrage every journalist and supporter of the First Amendment is Earl Jacques trying to suppress the comments of a representative who disagrees with him.”
This is going to be a very contentious second half of the 148th General Assembly folks.

Two Delaware Newspapers Show The Rift In Education And In The House Democrat Caucus

Holy smokes!  Not sure which one I was more surprised to see, the one about Valerie Longhurst or the one about the General Fund Race To The Top 8!

Starting with Longhurst, The News Journal covered a “scathing email” situation Longhurst sent out to a University of Delaware Professor when the U of D employee questioned the General Assembly about raises given to certain employees at Legislative Hall.  The employee, Ms. Fran Fletcher, is well-known in Delaware as a mediator.  I have seen her at the HB90 Enrollment Preference Task Force and found her to be a very reasonable woman.  She is frequently called on by the Delaware Department of Education to mediate IEP meetings when parents and schools cannot agree on IEP issues.  If the allegations surrounding Longhurst’s response to Ms. Fletcher are true, that goes way beyond a constructive response to a constituent.  I would say it was filled with veiled threats to someone who dared question a legislator over a controversial issue.

Meanwhile, The Delaware State News jumped on the eight Race To The Top positions that I wrote about on Monday but they even had a quote from one of the employees who should have been cut but now seems to be working in the Executive Branch.  Shana Young said:

“While it does not have the authority to create new positions, the Department of Education, like all state agencies, has the authority to reclassify vacant positions,” Ms. Young said. “So, in the case of these eight positions, they were reclassified into existing vacancies in the department.”

It seems members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee were not too happy about this news either based on the article.  I really thought the DOE would be raked over the coals by the General Assembly during their last legislative session.  Perhaps we should gear up for an even bigger fight this year!  But the bigger fight may go down with the House Dems!

Kuumba, DE College Prep, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations, Providence Creek, DE Military Academy, Pencader…When Do We Make It Stop?

Charter school financial abuse.  It happens.  All the time in Delaware.  It doesn’t matter what the amount is, despite what the News Journal writes.  These are adults, playing with taxpayer money meant for students, not their own pocket.  But our State Government allows this to happen.  Delaware has no Inspector General.  Legislation meant to curtail these types of activities and lend transparency is held in limbo or doesn’t pass.  And the Delaware Charter School Network lobbies against it.  State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 would allow more oversight of charters through more extensive audits.  Every single one of the House Republicans, along with the House Education Committee Chair Earl Jaques and the Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf voted no.  It passed the House on June 30th, but Senator David Sokola refused to let it be heard on the Senate floor unless it was heard in committee first.  Yet, numerous other bills had rules suspended that evening.

These schools are under the purveyance of the Delaware Department of Education and Red Clay Consolidated School District.  Why do these matters come out years after the fact after the damage is already done?  These are not elected board members at charters.  And their leaders are picked by these unelected board members.  Many of the charters websites are a joke.  Minutes aren’t always posted, agendas aren’t posted, sometimes even financial monthly statements aren’t put up.  No charter board records their meetings.  No purchase card activity is listed separately from their monthly financial statement, if it even includes that.  None of these so-called leaders have ever done jail time.  The average citizen would in a New York minute.  But we want to hold up these leaders as if they don’t walk on the same ground as the rest of us.  We don’t want to hold them accountable, but by God, we will get those traditional school districts in line.

Let me get one thing straight.  I like Jennifer Nagourney, the executive director of the Charter School Office at the DOE.  I think if she had her way, there would be many changes with charter schools.  I also believe her hands are tied by her bosses who look the other way over these kinds of offenses.  The school goes on formal review, we have the dog and pony show with the Charter School Accountability Committee, a public comment period, a formal Public Hearing, and then the State Board meets and says “Golly gee, how did this happen?” or “Why is this happening so much?”  But they put forth nothing to attempt to stop it.  But they will sneak in regulation after regulation to hold teachers and schools accountable based on a bogus assessment.  It has become a joke.  The State Board and the leaders at the DOE will kiss Rodel’s ass while they pay millions of dollars to consultants to “fix” our schools.  And the results of all these reports are always the same.

The Head of School at Kuumba Academy, named in the Delaware State Auditor’s report today sits on the Accountability Framework Working Group.  If you are not aware, this committee has the task of how to frame Delaware’s accountability school report card.  If Sally Maldonado can’t manage finances correctly and allows herself to be reimbursed for funds that are already included in her job function and her salary, can we trust her to help lead our public schools with decisions as big as this?

And then we have Delaware College Prep Board President Yardise Jones telling the State Auditor’s office “I am not following why DCPA needs to justify expenses incurred to run its business.”  While schools deal with business, the problem in Delaware is far too many “leaders” and “reformers” look at and treat schools like a business.  Children are not a profit center.  They go to school to learn.  They are not there for kickbacks into your piggy bank.  They are not there for the extra perks you get for your non-elected position on a board or your “entitlement” as a leader picked by a non-elected board.  If you want to steal from children (yes, it is stealing no matter how you slice that cake), get the hell out of education.  I have no sympathy for thieves who recklessly allow themselves to take funds that are not their own and then make excuses later.  And Delaware General Assembly legislators: you need to do something about this.  About all this education nonsense in our state.  You don’t answer to Rodel, or the Delaware Charter Schools Network, or even to Governor Markell.  You answer to the people that elected you.  The people are sick of the abuse and scandal.  And we are waking up.  Just because you get 200 emails from charter school parents after a p.r. blitz from Kendall Massett with a scripted response, that doesn’t mean passing a bill designed to fend off this kind of abuse is wrong.  It is the only right thing to do, so get off your buts and do something.  Pass House Bills 186 and 61 in January.  Stop the fraud playing out in our state.  Unless you want to join the unelected on some charter school board.

*This article has been corrected to state every single one of the House Republicans voted no on House Bill 186, not the House Democrats.   The only House Dems that voted no were Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques.

148th General Assembly Needs To Give The Top Two Floors Of The Townshend Building An Enema!

How much is the DOE going to get away with under your watch?  When are you going to stop them?  Are you ever?  When are you going to stop them from adding regulation after regulation while you just sit back and let them?  When are you going to DO YOUR JOB and put some serious oversight over the most corrupt agency in Delaware?  They make the mafia look good.  With their unelected state board, their division heads signing off on multi-million dollar contracts month in and month out with NO OVERSIGHT!  With a State Board allows charters to steal and plunder from taxpayer funds and lets the schools stay open.  When parents come to you like never before wanting an opt-out bill passed but you allow Governor Markell to veto it and do nothing?  WAKE UP!  Stop worrying about the election next year.  You will always be in election mode, especially in the House cause they have to run the rat-race every two years.  Stop the politicizing and do what you were elected to do! Make laws that make sense!  You have a runaway budget that part of may not even be legal but the DOE spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on multiple contracts and you sit there and cut funds from the most poverty-stricken in the state?  What in God’s name is that?  I would do something quick or the enema just may show up at the voting booth next year…

House Bill 50’s Wild Ride In The House Passes With New Amendment, Back To The Senate….

After a crazy failure for House Bill 50, the legislation was reconsidered with the originally failed House Amendment #2, which passed the second time around, and then the whole bill passed.  Now it goes back to the Senate.  Trust me, I’m confused, but maybe this will help.  Timeline time:

House Bill 50 timeline:

3/12/15: Introduced by Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson

4/22/15: House Education Committee releases bill from committee, brings it to full House Vote

5/7/15: House Amendment #1 added by Rep. Sean Matthews removing “state assessment” and changing it to just “Smarter Balanced Assessment”, passes House

6/11/15: Senate Education Committee releases bill from committee for full Senate vote

6/17/15: Senator David Sokola adds Senate Amendment #1, changing “Smarter Balanced Assessment” to all “state assessments and district-wide assessments”, passes Senate

6/17/15: Senator Bryan Townsend adds Senate Amendment #2, allowing high school juniors to opt-out of the assessment, passes Senate

6/17/15: Senate passes House Bill 50, but because two amendments were added, it goes back to the House

6/23/15: Rep. Jeff Spiegelman introduces House Amendment #2 which takes away Townsend’s Senate Amendment #2, fails to get enough votes

6/23/15: House Bill 50 fails 2nd House vote, bill is dead

6/23/15: Rep. Spiegelman asks for reconsideration of vote on House Bill 50 under Delaware House of Representatives House Rule #41, House passes motion

6/23/15: House passes House Amendment #2

6/23/15: House passes House Bill 50 again

Now it goes back to the Senate.  Whether it will be heard by next Tuesday or if it extends it until January when the 148th General Assembly is back in session is unknown.  But what I do know is this.  I blame all of this on three people: Rep. Earl Jaques, Senator David Sokola, and Senator Bryan Townsend.  They have played games with this bill and do not care about parents.  And from what I’m hearing Senator Colin Bonini had quite the chuckle after the bill originally failed in the House today.  These are legislators who really don’t care about parents or their rights.  I resisted Spiegelman’s amendment at first cause I just wanted it to pass, but he is absolutely right.  He brought up a point I didn’t think of: what if the junior wants to opt out but the parents don’t want him to?  That would set up some very thorny issues for all involved: student, parent, teacher, school, district, and even the state.  So thank you for your wisdom on this one Rep. Spiegelman!

Our no votes on the 2nd House vote today are as follows: Dukes, Gray, Heffernan, Jaques and Q. Johnson.  Not voting were Barbieri and Bolden.  So all the no votes or absents are the same from the original House vote last month, except for the additions of Gray, Heffernan and Q. Johnson.  What made them flip?

For the 2nd vote on the House Amendment, only Dukes voted no and Barbieri and Bolden didn’t vote.  Three reps had left so there were three absent.

If I were any Delaware parent (I am), I would be absolutely livid at the games being played with this bill.  Shame on Jaques, Sokola and Townsend for not caring enough about parents to even ask them about their bill-killing plans prior to their attempted hijackings.  If I were Townsend, I might want to reconsider that run for Congress.  You ticked off A LOT of voters tonight.

This Week At Legislative Hall: IEP Task Force Bill, Parent Opt-Out, Assessment Inventory & More!!!!

This will be one busy education week at Legislative Hall in Dover, DE.  Many education bills are moving to their next phase in the legislative process.  Here is what’s on the docket:

Senate Bill 33 w/Senate Amendment #3: This is the legislation that came out of the IEP Task Force.  It is up for a House vote, and if it passes, it goes to Governor Markell’s desk.  I like this bill with one exception: they took out a part about parent groups at schools.  Originally, it was supposed to be parents who first ask for an IEP will have an opportunity to meet with newly constructed parent groups at each charter school or district.  Now it is only for “existing” groups.  Even if Jack signs it, it won’t go into effect right away, so I would suggest parents get these “existing” groups going now.  No one knows what to look for in IEPs more than parents who have been through the process.

At the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd, at 2:30, the following bills will be discussed: Senate Bill 62: regarding transportation of students, House Bill 144: another transportation bill dealing with appropriations, House Bill 146: Kim Williams bill dealing w/waiving of teacher licensure fees, and House Bill 148: Helene Keeley’s bill creating the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.

And last, but certainly not least, we have the Senate Education Committee meeting at Wednesday at 3pm.  House Bill 50!!! Parent Opt-Out!  Also Senate Joint Resolution #2: the evil assessment inventory resolution the DOE thinks will stop House Bill 50.  Also Senate Bills #92 and 93, dealing with Autism, and Senate Bill #94, dealing with military identification for students w/military ties in their family.

If you plan on coming Wednesday, GET THERE EARLY and wait for the doors to open up if you want a halfway decent seat!

Delaware Legislators Add More Education Bills: Librarians, Charter School Audits & School Board Voter Eligibility

In the final month of the 148th General Assembly before they take their six month recess, three new education bills are on the plate.  These ones deal with school librarians, a clarification on a pending charter school audit bill, and new rules for voter eligibility in school board elections.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach wants to make sure no school librarians lose their jobs.  I fully support this bill, but we also need them for art, music and other classes that all children used to enjoy but are on the cutting floor in many of our schools.

More from Kim Williams with Delaware charter school audits.  This is good, but we are still waiting on results from at least three charters and their audits in the state auditor’s office.

I’m not sure how I feel about this bill.  I’m going to have to digest this one.

Delaware Legislators…Listen Up, Those Who Side With The DOE & Markell- Your Days Are Numbered

I’m talking to Senator David Sokola.  State Rep. Earl Jaques.  State Rep. Mike Barbieri.  State Rep. Timothy Dukes.  I’m talking to those who sit there and have your little non-transparent meetings with the DOE, scheming and coming up with more ways to connive with them to screw over the students of Delaware.  You will not be in office after your next election.  You allow the extremely bad ideology into our schools.  You allow students to be expected to be proficient on a test that absolutely sucks.  You insult parents with your ignorance of what is really going on.  You disgust special needs parents with your Markell cheerleading rants.  You don’t even have the common decency to support a bill that would protect parents from manipulation and deceit coming from a State Department and well over half the schools, charters and districts in our state.  You want teachers to lose their jobs because you would rather support a dying reform movement than look forward.  I no longer support anything you do.  I don’t care who cares.  Those who feign false praise on wanting to support Wilmington students carelessly and recklessly did nothing to support a referendum which would have given these students services and resources they need.  You were more concerned with kissing Markell and the DOE’s ass.  Well guess what, they will ALL be gone in a year and a half.  And parents, we will remember.  Teachers will remembers.  Citizens will remember the 10.0 earthquake you helped cause with Delaware education.  What a legacy you will leave the children of Delaware.  You may or may not realize what you are doing, but we all see it.  Come out of your stupor NOW!  Wake the hell up!