State Rep. Earl Jaques showed off his “Big Man on Campus” persona in an embarrassing display of supposed power today which he may be wrong about.
Advocates for any opt out bill in Delaware knew there would be opposition. Those of us who have advocated for a bill which codifies and honors a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment knew this going in. However, hanging your hat on a superficial and made-up procedure the way Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques did is shameful and embarrassing. State Rep. John Kowalko, the primary sponsor of the bill, was composed and polished today. There was no back and forth between himself and Jaques as there was two years ago.
House Bill 60 was not released from the House Education Committee. With only eight out of seventeen members voting to release the bill, Jaques declared the bill dead. However, there is a big caveat to his declaration. Although there were 12 members on the floor, the committee is made up of 17 state representatives. Five bills were heard in committee today. For the other four, Jaques indicated he would walk the bill to the members. For the opt out bill, he said he would not release the bill since there was a majority of members on the floor during the vote. State Rep. Sean Lynn called for a parliamentary inquiry on the matter. There is a chance Jaques could be overruled on his refusal to walk the bill for signatures and it could be released. However, Jaques absolute disdain and contempt against this bill is clouding his better judgment. He set the precedent for this by agreeing to walk the other four bills in my opinion.
After the committee adjourned the second time (since Jaques declared the meeting over a first time without asking for or getting a motion to adjourn), I spoke to him in the lobby of Legislative Hall. I said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.” I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t upset. He began yelling at me and said “The bill is not released.” I asked him why he was yelling at me and advised I wasn’t yelling at him. He continued to yell and said “The bill is not released. It’s done. The bill is dead,” as he stormed off.
About fifteen minutes later, I found myself in Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf’s reception area. In the office were Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Meghan Wallace, and Jaques. The receptionist said there was a wait and I advised I would just send him an email. The email is below.
In terms of the discussion on the bill in committee, it was very much a repeat of 2015. The usual suspects opposed the bill: Delaware DOE, State Board of Education, Delaware Business Roundtable, State Rep. Tim Dukes, a couple of women from Wilmington who were sitting next to DelawareCAN’s Atnre Alleyne, etc. Even the Delaware School Boards Association opposed the bill because they believed it is a local decision and detracts from the issues surrounding testing. There was a lot of discussion around losing federal funds even though it has never happened. The excuse this time was “We don’t know what will happen with Secretary Betsy DeVos.” I love when a State Rep. has something important to say about a bill they oppose after they get a piece of paper from someone in the audience, but I digress. There was talk about how bad Smarter Balanced is, the amount of time wasted on testing, and so forth, but there was far too little about the heart of the bill: the parental right to opt out.
No state has ever lost federal funding over dipping below the 95% participation rate. And I don’t think little old Delaware would be the first. If the feds really put their money where their mouth is, it would have happened in New York or New Jersey years ago. So I don’t care what they say (and no one is actually saying it these days), it is not a good idea to cut federal Title I money from schools with poor kids. Secretary Bunting did say Delaware got feedback on its state ESSA plan last evening and believes the US Dept. of Education will be tougher than she thought, but as a state with a 97% participation rate, I don’t think we are on the Title I money chopping block. Let’s get real here.
To be fair, I don’t ever expect the Delaware DOE and the usual cast of opposers to ever support an opt out bill. It just isn’t going to happen. Expecting it is as likely as convincing the wind to change direction. It isn’t something I’m even upset about anymore, it just is.
My public comment was as simple as the bill: it is a parental right bill. And since there was a question about what districts or charters have given parents a rough time about opting their child out, I named them: Red Clay, Christina, Freire Charter School, and so forth. I even advised Rep. Dukes a constituent in his own district tried to opt their child out two years ago, the only one in that school district. When the school refused, they told the mother he could not opt out. It got so bad the mother was ostracized by members of her community. After, Dukes came up to me and told me he didn’t appreciate me calling him out. He asked me which district, and I told him which one I believed it was. He said “you don’t know?” I said it was two years ago and I talk to a lot of parents. He said next time I better know before I call him out like that. I advised him the parent tried reaching him at the time and he claimed he never heard from the parent.
One public commenter said he wasn’t even there for that bill but felt he had to comment. He said, as someone who makes six figures and works for Fortune 500 companies, he has never looked at a single standardized test score. He said if a college student in an interview told him they opted out of the state assessment, he would give them an internship based solely on that.
Here is the email I sent to Schwartzkopf:
Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf,
Good evening. I attempted to see you in person, but you had a long line in your office about half an hour ago. I advised your receptionist I would email you, which I prefer to do at this point since it is in writing.
As you are no doubt aware, I am very passionate about education. But I have calmed down with my public comments regarding certain legislation. I wish the same could be said of the Chair of the House Education Committee. The behavior I saw from him today regarding House Bill 60 was offensive, both as a citizen of Delaware and as a parent.
I am sure you know about the situation with “walking the bill” after Rep. Jaques set the standard for that with four other bills in the committee today. It was very obvious to all he wanted this bill to die a messy death and he wanted to be the one to do it. That is conjecture on my part, but based on his attitudes and attempts to kill the bill in 2015, I would say that is a fair assessment. But his behavior in the lobby of Legislative Hall was unacceptable. I simply said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.” He began yelling at me, loud enough for many folks nearby to overhear. When I asked him why he was yelling at me and that I wasn’t yelling at him, he continued to yell at me claiming “the bill is dead” and stormed off like a petulant child. While I certainly can’t say I have never shown anger about legislation, I believe a certain decorum is expected out of our elected officials. I don’t agree with Earl’s decision about deciding not to walk the bill, but I have to believe two grown adults can treat each other with respect and discuss the matter like two gentlemen. I wanted to advise you of this issue because of his position as Chair of the House Education Committee. Please consider this a formal complaint against Rep. Jaques. I do believe this is something the House leadership should investigate. I would have accepted a decision on the bill if it was given a fair shake, but I found Rep. Jaques behavior and conduct unbefitting for a Chair of a committee.
As I’m sure you know, I am a firm believer in transparency, so this email will be a part of my article about the opt out bill heard in committee today.