WEIC Bills Bypass Senate Education Committee And Go Straight To Senate Executive Committee, Bad News For House Bill 399

Could this have been what that meeting in Governor Markell’s office at Legislative Hall was about after the WEIC redistricting House vote?  It turns out the two WEIC bills, House Joint Resolution #12 and House Bill #424, will not have to go through the Senate Education Committee.  Instead, they are going to the Senate Executive Committee.

The Senate Education Committee is the designated committee these bills should have gone to.  I looked in the Senate Rules from Senate Resolution #3 and there is nothing in there that states a bill can be petitioned out of committee unless it is not heard in committee for 12 consecutive legislative days.  And it has to be agreed upon by the majority of the full Senate.  While there could be a stipulation in Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedures (which is the go-to guide in case something isn’t covered in the rules), I find it very unusual they would skip that step.  The only scenario I can think of is there won’t be another Senate Education Committee from now until June 30th.  Which I just confirmed is the case.  The President Pro Tempore of the Senate is the one that assigns bills to a committee when they come from the House.  So Senator Patti Blevins is the one that assigned this to the Senate Executive Committee.

The members of the Senate Executive Committee are as follows: Senator Blevins (D) (Chair), Senator Henry (D), Senator Lavelle (R), Senator McBride (D), Senator McDowell (D), and Senator Simpson (R).  That is four Democrats and two Republicans folks.  Which means if all those Dems vote yes for release from committee it will go to a full Senate vote.

If the Senate Education Committee is NOT meeting again this year, that could have a huge impact on bills still in the House or recently passed in the House.  Like House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, or House Bill 435, the charter school audit bill which faces a full House vote today.  House Bill 399 was assigned to the Senate Education Committee so there would have to be a suspension of rules to get it to a full Senate vote.  Which can only happen if the Chair of the Senate Education Committee requests it.  That would be Senator David Sokola…

It must be the last week of June in Delaware folks!  Shenanigans rule the day!

 

WEIC Redistricting Bills Pass The Delaware House

With a vote of  23 yes and  16 no, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan to send the Christina School District’s Wilmington students to the Red Clay Consolidated School District now heads to the Delaware Senate.  The House Republicans and Democrat State Rep. Kim Williams voted no for House Joint Resolution #12, which was similar to how the votes went down for House Bill 424.

Delaware Senator David Sokola, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, will now have to schedule a Senate Education Committee meeting to discuss the bill.  If released, it will face a full Senate vote.  If it passes there, it will head to Governor Markell for signature into law.  The commission could still suspend the redistricting plan if the funding is not available.  They will have two opportunities to do this at the start of the fiscal years for 2017 and 2018 should the funding not be available as recommended in their plan.

All the big WEIC folks were in attendance: Tony Allen, Dan Rich, Jea Street, the WEIC attorney who I gave up a seat on the floor for and I went up to the balcony.

Right before the vote, the Joint Finance Committee met and indicated that even though the state found another $7.5 million for the budget due to refinancing bonds yesterday (yes, yesterday), none of those funds would be allocated to the WEIC redistricting plan.

First up was House Bill 424.  It was read in its entirety.  The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Sean Lynn, stated his big concern with the plan was the ability for school boards to raise taxes without a referendum.  State Rep. Deb Hudson went to line 37 of the bill, which covers funding for the plan and that there must be funding mechanisms from state and local sources.  Lynn had House Attorney Bill Bush come to the floor to go over this aspect of the bill.  Bush stated this not binding language.  Hudson stated it is suggested, but Bush stated once again it is not legally binding.  Lynn said Hudson was reading that part of the bill out of context and went over an earlier part of the bill that covered that sub-section.  Lynn stated it does not bind the state, town, district, or local political subdivision to the plan.  Hudson said the plan requires funding but there is not funding for this bill.  Ramone asked why it was changed with the simple adjustment from shall to recommended.  Bush said it was a “soft” language change.  Ramone said even if it just said “resources”, this would be a money bill.  Bush disagreed and said it is not binding to the General Assembly.  Lynn said the impetus for the bill was that the General Assembly adheres to the plan.  The bill does not bind the government or any subdivision to the bill.  Ramone said recommendation of resources was changed from resources to show this was not a money bill.  Bush agreed.  Ramone asked if this is a majority bill, or the Joint Resolution, because of the changes.  His concern is Red Clay going to referendum because the funds aren’t provided by the state for the plan.  Ramone said the need to fix the schools is a true need.  He gets all that.  Ramone asked who is going to pay for it.  He said no one wants to pay for it because no one can answer the funding questions.

State Rep. Joe Miro said he and Bush go back many years and thinks he is a good attorney, but he asked how another attorney would view this bill.  He heard that the bill isn’t binding, but he has heard some things like this before.  He said it is like going to a doctor, you get a diagnosis and a 2nd opinion, and that opinion could be the basis of a lawsuit.  Bush said this bill provides a clarification that the state is not bound by anything within the bill.  Miro said the state set aside $6 million for this “project” but it isn’t enough money.  He said the minimum amount is $7.5 million and even that is not going to meet the $6 million in the budget.  He is confused in terms of allocated funding which isn’t enough.  He doesn’t want the constituents of his district to go to referendum to cover the costs.  He asked why the funding is in the budget at $6 million if the state isn’t bound to it.

Speaker of the House Schwartzkopf excused Bush.  Roll call: 24 yes, 15 no, 2 absent.  All the House Republicans voted no.

House Joint Resolution #12 came up next.  The bill was read in.  An amendment was read in as well.  The amendment clarifies once again the state is not bound to the plan.  Hudson addressed the sponsor, State Rep. Charles Potter, and asked if there is capital funding needed for the plan.  Potter said this bill realigns the school district.  Hudson asked where that funding would come from.  Potter said he is here to talk about HJR #12.  After some back and forth, with Hudson asking the same type of question with Potter giving the same response.  She said her concern is her constituents and if new schools will have to be built or if students will be put in trailers.  State Rep. William Carson said the General Assembly is non-binding on this resolution.  Any future funding would have to be voted on by the General Assembly, Carson clarified, to which Potter agreed.

State Rep. John Kowalko thanked WEIC for taking on the task of serving at-risk children.  Kowalko said this is a plan.  He said “It is time for us to step up” and deal with children in poverty.  To step up for students who are a victim of their environment.  Kowalko said the boundaries that were set up by the courts were ludicrous.  He said there are some harsh realities with the funding, but it has been set up judiciously.  Ramone commended Potter and WEIC and said there is not an illusion about what the problems are with low-income students and special needs children.  As well as English-Language Learners.  He said they did a remarkable job with spelling that out.  He said this is a step, but the step could be a stall.  He said we need to change how we fund our schools better.  He asked Potter what the purpose of the House Joint Resolution really is?  Potter said “The resolution is the resolution,” which gives the General Assembly the power to realign the school district.  Ramone asked what the purpose of the amendment was.  Ramone asked for someone from the Budget office to explain some math.  Schwartzkopf said he doesn’t see anyone around.  They called downstairs to bring someone up.  While they were waiting, State Rep. Kim Williams read the resolution passed by WEIC which states if the funding isn’t provided, the commission, Red Clay, or Christina could suspend the plan if there is not enough funding.  Potter asked if that helps Ramone’s question.  He thanked Williams and Potter, but said he still wants someone from the budget office.

State Rep. Miro said whenever there is change or a need to implement something, there is a cost associated.  He said he knows what HJR #12 says, but the fact of the matter is there is going to be a cost associated with any changes any time you absorb something from someone else, in this case Christina to Red Clay.  Miro said this absorption will come from state or local funds and it is very difficult to make a promise that we can’t keep.  He feels what will take place is the General Assembly will not be able to keep their promises.  He said with the budget and the deficit we face, it is going to be difficult to answer the calls from his district.  “In order to maintain money,” Miro said, “it is going to be difficult.”  He doesn’t believe anyone in the room today doesn’t want a better future for these students.  He said this is a bill of hope, not money.

Deputy Controller General Mike Jackson came to the podium.  Ramone asked about the State of Delaware and if changing schools from one district to another would be a revenue neutral transtition.  Jackson said the state funding would be reallocated from one district to another.  Ramone asked how the tax rates would change.  Basically, he said by changing from the poorest sections of one district, the tax rate would change.  Ramone said the resolution doesn’t bind the state to financial allocations.  “If I am moving children from Christina”, Ramone said, but they will have more room for administration costs while the students will move to another district with a lower tax rate.  Schwartzkopf asked what the question is.  State Rep. Valerie Longhurst said this resolution is not about financial issues but solely redistricting.

The vote came up for a roll call: 23 yes, 16 no, 2 absent.   The redistricting plan passed the Delaware House of Representatives.

Will The WEIC Redistricting Plan Die In The House Education Committee Next Week?

That was quick!  In the same day the WEIC redistricting plan turns into pending legislation, the bill is also placed on the House Education Committee agenda for next week!  I’m not sure what this fast-track means.  But we are well into May and the General Assembly finishes up on June 30th.  But there are some other potentially controversial bills on the agenda as well!

House Joint Resolution #12, the now famous Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill introduced today, turns all the WEAC and WEIC recommendations into a bill.  The WEIC did what they had to do, the State Board of Education finally passed it in March, now it is the General Assembly’s turn.  This is where this bill could either move forward or actually die in committee.  While you can’t go by who the sponsors are on a bill, it is a good sign of who will definitely say yes when it comes up for a vote.  But with this bill being so Wilmington and New Castle County specific, it would stand to assume that those who are legislators up there and support the redistricting would sponsor the bill.  The House Education Committee has 14 members.  The following members are sponsors on the bill: Jaques, Bentz, Bolden, Lynn, Osienski, and Potter.  Red Clay legislators Kim Williams (Democrat), Joseph Miro (Republican) and Michael Ramone (Republican), who also serve on the committee, are not sponsors on the bill.  There are no House Republican sponsors whatsoever on the bill.  Which leads me to believe (and this is only speculation on my part) none of them will support this.  Which also takes Dukes, Hensley, and Kenton off the yes list.  That leaves two other Democrats on the House Education Committee who aren’t sponsors on the bill but also come from the Wilmington area: Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan.  Both of them did not vote on Senate Bill 122 when it had the full House vote last June, along with Mike Ramone.  So this bill could die in committee with 6 yes and 8 no. Specifically, the bill would be tabled.

Once again, this is merely speculation on my part and I have not heard anything from anyone on this.  I imagine Kim Williams could be swayed if House Bill 30 were also given equal merit and taken out of the appropriations committee.  But it would still face a full House vote.  If it passed then, it would go to the Senate Education Committee, and if released from there it would be up for a full Senate vote.  That is a lot of variables.  If I that were my bargaining chip, I wouldn’t cash it in until House Bill 30 is signed by the Governor!  But it still needs a majority vote.

To get out of the House Education Committee, House rules state:

Bills and resolutions shall be reported out of committee by a majority of the committee or subcommittee by signing the backer. A bill or resolution may be tabled in any committee or subcommittee by a majority vote of the full committee or subcommittee.

This is assuming everyone attends the committee meeting as well.  I could picture some members who don’t want to be put in a position of killing the WEIC bill to just not show up!  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But this is also an election year.  If the majority of the constituents in your district don’t support WEIC and the bill winds up passing, an absent from committee could potentially change an election if it ticks off enough voters.  This chess game could get a checkmate next week!

But there are other bills on the agenda as well:

A somewhat odd school choice bill would give priority to students who have certain medical conditions.  House Bill 229 states “if a parent, relative, guardian or caregiver can demonstrate that they would be able to respond quicker to an emergency at the selected school, the student will receive a priority consideration.”  This one could open a big old can of worms!

The Restorative Justice Senate Bill 207 which seeks to reduce suspensions unless it is for fighting, drug offenses are other such serious infractions has a lot of support.  The bill would also put restorative justice techniques in Delaware schools.  But with the recent Howard High School tragedy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an amendment or two tacked on this one!

House Bill 355, which was just filed on Tuesday, would make computer science a mandatory course in high school and the credit would go towards the math or science graduation requirements.  When I put this up the other day, many folks on Facebook were shocked this wasn’t already a requirement.  I expect this will get a quick release without a lot of discussion.

If I know the WEIC crowd, this will be a packed House (literally) next week.  Especially after this article comes out!  As I said yesterday, get there early!

Breaking News: The Wilmington Redistricting Plan Becomes Legislation!

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan to move the Christina schools in Wilmington over to Red Clay has entered its final leg in the long journey.  House Joint Resolution #12 was filed today with primary Sponsors State Rep. Charles Potter and State Senator Margaret Rose-Henry with the following co-sponsors: State Reps Baumbach, Bentz, Bolden, Brady, Jaques, J. Johnson, Keeley, Lynn, Mitchell, Mulrooney, Osienski, Paradee and Viola; and State Senators Marshall, McDowell, Poore and Townsend.  There are some names I thought might be on here but aren’t.  Including any House Republican.  Kim Williams is also absent, but I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact House Bill 30, which would provide basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade has, for the most part, been ignored by the General Assembly.

HouseJointResolution #12

HJR12

This is where it will get very interesting folks!  Since it is a joint resolution, it must go before the education committees in both Houses of the General Assembly.  Unless they should happen to suspend the rules, but with legislation as controversial as this, I would tend to doubt they would do that.  All of this rides on the final budget numbers.  What do you think?  Will the General Assembly move forward with the WEIC redistricting plan?  Or will Tony Allen’s “once in a generation” moment disappear?