Delaware Joint Finance Committee’s Take On The Delaware DOE Budget

Okay, maybe the last article wasn’t as top-secret as I thought, but I’m willing to bet this one is!  This was sent to me anonymously today.  Apparently it was sent out to the legislators in the House of Representatives from State Rep. Melanie Smith who is also the Chair of the Joint Finance Committee.  It is the Delaware Joint Finance Committee’s take on the Delaware DOE’s state budget hearing that took place last Wednesday, February 17th.

Department of Education

Under the recommended school district operations budget, the budget request included reallocating money from the General Contingency (not new money) as well as additional funding (new money in this year’s budget) to cover actual unit growth for the 15/16 school year.  The budgeted unit growth was 110 while the actual unit growth is 188.  When questioned about the difference in the budgeted amount versus the actual amount, Secretary Godowsky explained that the increase was not due to an unprecedented influx of students, but rather an increase in the number of students being identified as having special needs.  Out of the 1,075 new students, 848 were identified as having special needs, dictating a higher than expected unit count.  The number also includes special needs students who are not new to the public school system, but entered 4th grade and began receiving more comprehensive special education.  Secretary Godowsky told the committee that the Department had hired UD to do a study on this recent trend so that they can better understand whether this pattern is the “new normal.”

The committee deferred discussion of the $6M in the Governor’s recommended budget for the WEIC plan until after learning the result of Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting.

$4M was requested in the Governor’s recommended budget to support the Teacher Compensation committee’s recommendations to increase entry level salaries for teachers, a pilot for teacher-leader roles, and to provide stipends for educators who attain National Board Teaching Certification.  It was noted that the committee’s recommendations are not final yet and that the changes are contingent upon legislation being enacted.

The committee also heard a presentation from Susan Perry-Manning, the Director of the Office of Early Learning within DOE.  The presentation advocated for the $11.335M in the Governor’s recommended budget to replace the expiring federal Early Learning Challenge Grant with state general fund dollars.  Most of the funds would go towards purchase of care reimbursements.  Director Perry-Manning noted that the amount requested from the state is significantly less than the federal grant amount.

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Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

DelawareJFC

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.

Delaware’s Moral Imperative: My Email To The JFC, DOE, State Board, WEIC, & Governor Markell

SpecialEducation

Today, the Delaware Joint Finance Committee is meeting with the Delaware Department of Education to discuss proposed changes in the DOE’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  This hearing will allow the DOE to answer questions about the funding increases they are requesting.  One of the hot issues is the $6 million allocated in Governor Markell’s budget for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for the students of Wilmington.  I had very strong thoughts about this last weekend and a response from a member of WEIC prompted another article on the matter.

At the heart of this is the basic special education funding for Delaware students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Currently, students in Delaware do not receive any additional funding if they qualify as basic special education in K-3.  Within a month of starting this blog, I wrote about this eye of the hurricane in Delaware special education and broke down the categories for the funding for these services:

Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.

Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Schools here get one unit for every 6 students.

Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.

Today, I emailed all the members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Maryann Mieczkowski (the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the DOE), Delaware Controller General Michael Morton, Elizabeth Lewis (oversees education funding with the Delaware Office of Management and Budget), State Rep. Kim Williams (the sponsor of House Bill 30 which would give this funding), State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s core leadership team: Dr. Tony Allen, Dr. Dan Rich, Kenny Rivera, and Elizabeth Lockman. I addressed the need for basic special education funding for ALL Delaware students in K-3:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Smith Melanie G (LegHall) <melanie.g.smith@state.de.us>; McDowell Harris (LegHall) <harris.mcdowell@state.de.us>; Bushweller Brian <brian.bushweller@state.de.us>; Ennis Bruce <bruce.ennis@state.de.us>; Peterson Karen (LegHall) <karen.peterson@state.de.us>; Cloutier Catherine <catherine.cloutier@state.de.us>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <dave.lawson@state.de.us>; Carson William (LegHall) <william.carson@state.de.us>; Heffernan Debra (LegHall) <debra.heffernan@state.de.us>; Johnson JJ <jj.johnson@state.de.us>; Miro Joseph <joseph.miro@state.de.us>; Kenton Harvey (LegHall) <harvey.kenton@state.de.us>; “jack.markell@state.de.us” <jack.markell@state.de.us>; “michael.morton@state.de.us” <michael.morton@state.de.us>; “elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us” <elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly (LegHall) <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Tony Allen <tony.allen@bankofamerica.com>; Daniel Rich <drich@udel.edu>; Kenny Rivera <kenneth.rivera@redclay.k12.de.us>; Elizabeth Lockman <tizlock@gmail.com>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Mieczkowski MaryAnn <maryann.mieczkowski@doe.k12.de.us>; Johnson Donna R. <donna.johnson@doe.k12.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:20 AM
Subject:
Basic Special Education Funding for Kindergarten to 3rd Grade students in Delaware

Good morning all,

Some of you may know me, but for those who don’t, I am a concerned parent of a special needs child in Delaware.  He was denied an Individualized Education Program in 3rd grade at a Delaware charter school even though he fully qualified for it. 

As a result of this event, I set out to look into Delaware education and all facets surrounding it, which led to the creation of my blog, Exceptional Delaware.  One of the first things I discovered was that students who qualify for basic special education do not receive funding for this in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Students in 4th to 12th grade do.  As a result of this, many students in these grades are denied IEPs all over our state.  Many times this results in special education lawsuits filed against school districts and charter schools.  I firmly believe this also sets up these children with disabilities for failure.  By not getting the funding they are entitled to at a state level, this results in the local education agency bearing the brunt of these costs.  The federal IDEA funding has never been at the level that it was originally intended for. 

There are current plans in the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for Wilmington students to grant Red Clay Consolidated School District the basic special education funds for students in K-3 in FY 2017.  This would also include the current Christina students enrolled in Wilmington schools should the redistricting plan pass the State Board of Education and the 148th General Assembly.  In FY2018, this funding would be provided to the entire Christina School District, and in FY2019 to Colonial, Brandywine, and the Wilmington charter schools.  While the plan doesn’t specifically give a timeframe for the rest of the state, the commission does urge our state to provide these funds as soon as possible for all of Delaware.

I have grave issues with this as all students in this category should be entitled to these funds.  While I am vehemently against the use of standardized test scores to determine school accountability levels, by the very nature of these plans it would set up some schools to do better than others in Delaware.  In the Delaware Department of Education’s goals submitted to the US Department of Education for their ESEA Flexibility waiver, the DOE had growth goals for Delaware.  For students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% proficiency from FY 2015 to 59% proficiency in FY 2021.  By giving certain schools and districts this funding, it sets up a disproportionate funding mechanism that benefits some over others.

There are other concerns with this as well.  If a 1st grade student should happen to transfer from Red Clay to Indian River, would that basic special education funding follow them? 

As a parent of a special needs child, I find this lack of funding for students who are at the foundation of their education experience to be highly disturbing.  The current budget plans call for a huge influx of funding for early education, in the hopes of preventing rising costs for special education.  What I find to be not included in this conversation is the fact that disabilities in children are neurological.  I’m not saying they can’t be accommodated for a better educational outcome, but why would we give all this money to early education centers and then leave these students out to dry when they are brought into elementary school?  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  While I certainly appreciate the needs of Wilmington students, I feel it is funding that should be available for all students in Delaware.  Special education is a federal mandate if a student qualifies.  By not providing the necessary state funding, we are failing these children.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of districts not providing services, even with an approved IEP.  While no school or district will ever come out and say it, it is because of a lack of funding in most cases. 

For any student who has gone through special education in Delaware at this age, the results are very cumbersome and painful for the student and their parents or guardians.  Parents are forced to fight a system where, in many cases, they are branded as a difficulty.  Students are disciplined based on behaviors that are neurologically based, and because they don’t have an IEP, it results in severe problems for the student as they grow.  Many students who are denied IEPs and don’t receive these services can and do fall into the complex and intensive special education categories later on because these services were not provided at an earlier age.  This happened with my own child.

I urge the Joint Finance Committee to provide the basic special education funding for ALL K-3 students in Delaware.  This isn’t really an option, but a basic civil rights issue that separates Delaware from many other states.  It is their federal right to receive a “Free Appropriate Public Education”.  By forcing districts and charters to sign an IEP indicating they will make sure the district has adequate funding to provide special education services is not proportionate to the state funding provided for students in all grades.  As well, by providing this funding for some but not all, it could certainly put the state into a precarious legal position should parents collectively band together to address this issue.

Currently, House Bill 30, sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams is in the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly where it has been since March 26th of last year.  I would urge the JFC to allow the funding for this legislation to be provided in the Delaware FY 2017 budget so these children can get the services Delaware has a moral imperative to provide.

If anyone has any questions or concerns surround this issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I sent this out a couple of hours ago and have not received a response from anyone.  Which is fine, but I sincerely hope it will be brought up in their discussions today with the Department of Education.  If it is, I am fairly certain the DOE will bring up what is known as Response to Intervention (RTI) and how this is a very useful tool for schools to identify students who may qualify for special education services.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in American education and does not cover many areas that could qualify a child for special education.  It is a failed experiment that, at best, causes delays of several years before a child can get an IEP and the full special education services they need.  Special education calls for the least restrictive environment.  Why would the State of Delaware restrict the funding these children need to receive FAPE and the least restrictive environment?  This is our moral imperative in Delaware.

 
 

Joint Finance Committee To Do A Top-Down Look At DOE Organization & Salaries This Morning

The Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware 148th General Assembly is meeting today for their Winter Meeting.

Orientation on the Department of Education Compensation System and Organizational Structure • Programmatic review of the Department of Education’s operating budget • Presentation by Secretary Godowsky on DOE employees/titles/salaries/duties and measures of employee effectiveness. The Joint Finance Committee may hold an executive session closed to the public for the purpose of discussing personnel matters in which the names, competency, and abilities of individual employees are discussed under 29 Del. C. § 10004(b)(9).

While meetings like this are not unusual each year, this one will have added weight to it this year due to events that have occurred in the past few months.

The Race To The Top employee positions that were supposed to be eliminated when the program expired remain at the DOE.  Another section of the state budget for the DOE was carved out for these eight positions.  When State Rep. John Kowalko found out about this he was furious, as were many other state legislators.

This is Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky’s first presentation of this sort to the Joint Finance Committee.  Last week he presented the DOE’s proposed budget where he asked for an increase of $87 million dollars.  The Joint Finance Committee will assuredly have many probing questions about the DOE’s intent and purpose for those funds.

Secretary Godowsky was confirmed by the Delaware Senate in October.  The week before he assured Delawareans that “harsh opt-out penalties” wouldn’t rule the day on the state’s new school accountability system.  He reversed that decision in record time ticking off many legislators, parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens in the process.

Following in Mark Murphy’s footsteps has to be a daunting task, but Godowsky’s continued proclamations of communicating better and improving the perception of the DOE has been built on empty promises thus far.  In a recent poll conducted by this blog, almost 35% viewed Godowsky’s first 60 days as okay.  Over 53% did not approve of his actions in his first 60 days.  Only 11% saw him doing a great job. While this is not an accurate assessment of Godowsky due to the nature of the readers on this blog, it does give an indication of overall dissatisfaction in his abilities as Secretary of Education.

Delaware Joint Finance Committee To Hold Special Sessions To Discuss Education Funding

The Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware 148th General Assembly will be meeting in special session to discuss education funding in Delaware.  The meetings will occur on November 30th and December 2nd from 10am to 4:30pm in the JFC Hearing Room at Legislative Hall in Dover, DE.

As the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission moves ever closer to final plans for the redistricting of Wilmington public schools, funding is coming up as the number one priority in this initiative.  The legislators on this committee will assuredly discuss this crucial component of the legislative approved measure.  House Bill 148 created WEIC and Senate Bill 122 gives the State Board of Education the authority to change the boundaries after WEIC gives a concrete plan to do so.  Following any decision the State Board makes, the 148th General Assembly must approve the redistricting by a joint resolution.

As Delaware media and the blogosphere ignites over this issue, many questions raised about funding are valid.  This will impact everything concerning education in Delaware at a time when projected deficits will blow up next year.  I find it ironic the JFC can meet in special session to discuss education funding, but not take measures against the DOE over their test, label and punish tactics which could easily be prevented by overriding Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50.

The members of the Joint Finance Committee consist of the following:

Rep. Melanie Smith (Chair)

Senator Harris McDowell (Co-Chair)

Rep. William Carson

*Rep. Debra Heffernan

Rep. JJ Johnson

*Rep. Harvey Kenton

*Rep. Joseph Miro

Senator Brian Bushweller

Senator Bruce Ennis

Senator Karen Peterson

Senator Katherine Cloutier

Senator Dave Lawson

*means these members serve on the House Education committee, JFC has NO members from the Senate Education Committee within its membership.