The Congressional Education Debate in Wilmington is about to start. Candidates Sean Barney, Lisa Blunt-Rochester, Scott Gesty, Mike Miller, Bryan Townsend, and Scott Walker are the candidates. The debate moderators are Nathan Durant from Thomas Edison Charter School and Nichole Dobo with the Hechinger Report, formerly with the News Journal.
Dobo is giving the rules. Candidates will have one minute to respond and thirty seconds for rebuttal. Each candidate gets a 3 minute introduction. Up first is Scott Walker. He graduated from Brandywine High School in the largest graduating class in Delaware history. He got an MBA from University of Delaware. He helps to prosecute discrimination lawsuits. He is not a lawyer. He said the skills he obtained at University of Delaware allowed him to become an entrepreneur. He wants all students to have equal funding. He wants to deregulate the teaching profession. He ran out of time.
Sean Barney is up. He is thanking all the sponsors. He lives in Wilmington with his family. They just got a puppy. His daughter goes to First State Montessori Charter School. He has been working in education policy for over ten years. He said he worked with Governor Markell’s office on education policy. He said segregation is an affront to our educational values. “Nothing is more important than the education of our children.”
Delaware State Senator Bryan Townsend is up. He thinks education is the most important topic we need to talk about. He is running for Congress because our federal government and the congressional seat are important to education. It is why he ran for State Senator, largely because of education issues. Many in his family are Delaware educators. He learned about a large emphasis on test scores and inadequate funding while children went hungry. He has been a part of the conversations about test scores, data, and educator engagement. He mentioned how DSEA endorsed him because of his efforts in the General Assembly. He said it would be an honor to represent Delaware in Washington D.C.
Scott Gesty is up. He is the Libertarian candidate. (All other candidates are Democrat). He graduated high school in 1988 (so did I!). He works for a global financial servicing firm. He will be an adjunct professor at Goldey-Beacom in the fall. He is running to get us out of the two party system. He said the first thing he would do, if elected, is introduce term limits for Senators.
Now we have Mike Miller. He is asking for his support if they like what he says today. He hails from Lewes. He said he is a family man, a successful business man, and a community man. He is a five generation Delaware native who graduated from Cape Henlopen. He is a tax accountant and owns a landscaping company. “People are hurting, and we need to do better. We’ve been kicking education down the road…”. He said it is time to stop kicking the can in many areas. He said we need a livable wage of at least $11/hr. We need to fix the port, which we keep saying we will do, but the funds that went to corporate greed could have gone to education.
Lisa Blunt-Rochester is the final candidate to give an introduction. It is big for her to say she is running for Congress. She said education is why she is running. There are important roles for the federal government with education. She wants to take what we’ve learned in Delaware to D.C. and help Delaware to get the funds they need. She grew up during the era of de-segregation in Delaware. Her children graduated from Delaware public schools but had issues with college affordability and student loans. She worked for the Metropolitan Urban League and worked with neighborhoods and talked with the Wilmington communities to work with students and families. She knows the importance of a well-trained work force and a thriving economy. She said we need education and everyone needs to get an opportunity.
The first question is for Sean Barney: With the Every Student Succeeds Act, what change do you think this will bring to Delaware?
Barney: This will be great change for Delaware. He said we have great players unlike other states. We have great leaders who organized this debate. He thinks this is an opportunity for the state. He said this is a devolution to the states with guard rails. But he said it isn’t anything goes.
Rochester: We always have to be careful with block grants and grants to the state. It is important that we recognize this flexibility comes with responsibility and this must come with accountability. We have to engage stakeholders, especially parent involvement and that we are holding ourselves accountable.
Gesty: It is a step in the right direction. He doesn’t like the idea of mandatory testing or jumping through hoops to get federal funding. He doesn’t think the U.S. Dept. of Education should exist. He believes in firm local control.
Miller: He believes the secondary education act gives more accountability. He said it makes sure are schools aren’t cookie-cutters, it challenges the students, and puts money where it needs to be. It puts the money where it needs to go with flexibility.
Townsend: Delaware wasn’t able to use the previous law correctly. We have a diverse set of schools but we don’t fund our schools with enough flexibility. He wants to see how Delaware uses that flexibility. We have a uniquely-structured education assessment.
Walker: Is not in favor of this act. We have too much discrimination and segregation. We need the strong stroke of the federal government to take over these schools and give equal opportunity. Federalism has to be enacted and come in like the 1960s and clean it up.
Dobo is giving a quotes about low-income students and minority students graduating at lower rates and with less results than their peers. How do we ensure equitable distribution?
Rochester: ESSA presents opportunities. WEIC gave us strong opportunities. There are real opportunities to bring people together to demand change.
Gesty: If he were a Congressman, he would have trust in our local educators to make sure discrimination doesn’t exist. He said the feds track record isn’t great. We are $20 trillion in debt. He doesn’t have confidence in federal government, but he does in the state and local.
Miller: The Governor has to make changes in the 19 school dsitricts. We need more resources in our schools and for our staff. He believes we need to distribute the money equitably and we need more minorities sitting at the table.
Townsend: Delaware was battling testing and inequity and higher poverty in regards to state test scores. There is a unique split in Delaware. We know which schools are struggling. The role of this position would give more resources for college.
Walker: We have a serious, serious problem in Delaware with education. He is a father of four kids and had problems getting his last one through school. We have to be honest with ourselves: more money is not going to fix education. We had politicians hijack the education system and we need to return education to the schools and teachers.
Barney: At the federal level it is essential to provide transparency for how our students are doing. And how they can succeed in the work world. We need more actors to recognize where children aren’t being served the way they should be.
Next question: How are you going to make early education better?
Gesty: He doesn’t think dumping money into early education and universalize something, quality goes down and prices go up. He said that is how market forces work. He thinks the people should get block grants for this type of thing.
Miller: Believes in preschool and thinks it should be taxpayer funded. He is giving statistics that it is a proven scientific fact that the more Pre K they get the better their outcomes.
Nate reworded the question.
Townsend: “Our children aren’t affected by market forces.” It comes down to funding. By supporting them at a younger age, they will have more opportunity. We need qualified educators and change the way we look at early education, especially for the most vulnerable children.
Walker: We need to deregulate the early education industry. He is a big advocate for the rights of the disabled. We won’t have the funding for these things until we tax, not the 1%, but the 4%. We need to develop our tax base.
Barney: If we ever hope to have equity, we need to address this. He knows the science having worked in D.C. The Governor’s focus on quality is important. We need to make the investments in training for early educators to get the most of our time and do the best by our children.
Rochester: When you go to other countries, this isn’t even a debate. She supports this. It is a federal and state issue. We need to make sure the wages are sufficient so people aren’t living in poverty while raising their children. As Secretary of Labor, she understands all this.
Miller gave a rebuttal indicating he does support funding for early education.
Next question from Dobo: What do you think the federal role of school resource officers should be? She is defining SROs as uniformed police officers who don’t have to go to a principal to arrest someone.
Miller: He doesn’t believe in security officers like that. He thinks there is nothing wrong with security in our schools. The principals and the administrators are still in charge. He is talking about cruisers that are in impound. We need to put those police patrols at the schools. He thinks that would detract from those issues at our school because we respect the law.
Townsend: We have seen African-Americans suspended at higher rates than their peers. We need culture accountability, but the key thing is to use grant money and flexibility from ESSA to have more community schools. This is a key from ESSA and would be a driver that would get to the root of the issue instead of having law enforcement in our schools.
Walker: Having law enforcement in our schools is a horrible idea. We need community program. The child in Howard High School would be alive today if we had these programs. SRO’s are an environment of fear and students can’t learn with fear. Is against it, period.
Barney: The federal government should not be encouraging this. There should be training for these officers and should be sensitive to suspensions and the criminal justice system create a path to prison. We need needs-based funding for resources and health issues.
Rochester: We need to have more social workers and mental health providers in our schools. Too many of our kids are coming to school traumatized and hungry. We need to be looking outside of the school and inside the school. We need to stand up to the NRA. We need to have more pay for teachers to deal with these traumas.
Gesty: I don’t think the NRA has funded guns into our schools. We need to empower teachers to get firearm training to take care of things until law enforcement gets there. He agrees with Mr. Walker on these issues.
Rochester asked if the teachers should have guns and not the officers? Gesty answered that the massacres in our schools, if they know they have resistance, it won’t happen. Miller feels our schools are safe. We need more minorities and educators who are black so children can have someone they can relate to. Townsend empathized that he doesn’t feel schools would be safer by having more guns in our schools. He doesn’t think these issues should be going on in our schools. Gesty asked Townsend if he doesn’t think voluntary training could be given? Townsend asked all educators in the room to clap if they don’t think more guns should be in their school. Many clapped.
Nate asked what are some examples of excellence in education in Delaware?
Townsend: There are great after-school programs but we need to find a way to replicate the success to spread it across all Delaware schools.
Walker: We have great teachers. They are under paid and over worked. We need to pay them for what they are doing. We have the greatest teachers in Delaware. We need to fix the economy first.
Barney: Pilot grants are great and we need those for district-charter collaboration. He said he stayed back in 9th grade. He said he sends his kids to First State Montessori because they provide that edge to get students to learn.
Rochester: She said there are great things happening in our schools. She would advocate for World-Language Immersion where students are learning Chinese and Spanish. We need good global citizens. We need more focus on STEM like schools in Sussex County. She loves the STEAM program (an arts program).
Gesty: He doesn’t think the federal government should be involved. His daughter is in public education and her teachers are incredible and go the extra mile. Teachers give extra help to get them where they need to be. Delaware schools are a role model for the rest of the country.
Miller: He doesn’t think the feds should provide more money for education. No child is going to learn the same. The monies coming in, some of them should be put aside for afterschool programs. There is no cookie-cutter program. That is what he would like to see.
Dobo is asking audience questions.
Is there a crisis with college affordability?
Walker: There is no such thing as free college. Our taxes will go up. Our economy is flat-lining. We need something to get the private sector on their feet. We have to have the money to do this first. The money comes from the private sector: business, free enterprise, the American Way. It is the only way we will get our schools through.
Barney: He was on Senator Carper’s board for service academies. He wants more students serving AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. He thinks students should give service and in exchange get funding for college.
Rochester: There are 40 million people in debt from student loans. That is a crisis. Many people have done the right thing. They went to school but they are now in debt. She thinks the ability to refinance those loans is important. We need to bring back Pell grants. That is an opportunity at the federal level. There are great programs like TeenSharp. These programs prepare kids for college and help them to apply for funds. She believes in “cradle to career”.
Gesty: He doesn’t think college should be free. We are $1.3 trillion in student debt. This isn’t a free ride program, we need a getting our economy right program.
Miller: He thinks college should be more affordable but it shouldn’t be free. He said the living at college expenses are what is really rising. He is saying we need to look at how we train carpenters and mechanics: do we not pay for their training?
Townsend: If we value education we need to make sure we have educational opportunities available. People take on debt and drop out of college which is even worse. President Obama’s Community College Plan is what most people are talking about, not a free four-year degree. We need interest rate reduction. Government shouldn’t profit off students futures.
Miller added that we have the SEED program and the INSPIRE program. He doesn’t understand the change in grades between University of Delaware where you need a 2.5 but with Del State you need a 2.75. He said that is an African-American school.
Nate asked about charter school enrollment preferences and segregation:
Barney: This is an issue in Delaware. We have too many schools being private in their admissions and have factors in their admissions they shouldn’t be allowed to have. We need to create opportunity for more schools but schools should be equitable in their admission practices.
Rochester: The original charter law was supposed to be based on replicating success but we got away from that. She said we have questions of equity and excellence. Funds are being taken from local schools. As a state we need to take a look at how we are addressing them.
Gesty: Charter schools are a state problem. There is nothing we can do at a federal level. But with discrimination, that is a federal issue and a violation of civil rights. Feels this should stay at the state and local level.
Miller: When you look at this at a federal level, 80% of the money follows a student and goes from a district to a charter school if they choice out. If there is segregation, the federal government should get involved. Students with disabilities are released from school districts and the charters take them. He said all the money doesn’t go to charter schools.
Townsend: A big bill he dealt with in 2013 was the charter school reauthorization bill. We have funds through ESSA and we need to make sure we are rewarding all our schools and using funds equitably. He talked about when Markell and Arne Duncan came to Hodgson and Townsend invited them to Stubbs to see the great work they are doing. They declined because it wasn’t in the script.
Walker: The charter experiment has failed. Students with disabilities are left in public schools. It is the role of a congressman to address these issues.
Barney: The federal government provides funding. Federal dollars need to be used in a non-discriminatory manner. If anything is a federal issue it is also a civil rights issue.
Rochester: She agreed with Barney
Dobo asked about state testing. A question was directed to Senator Townsend. The question is concerning how he fought testing and civil rights groups have defended these tests. If DSEA has endorsed him, how does he respond to that?
Townsend: He said he ran based on civil rights issues. He doesn’t feel the focus on test scores looked at what was going on the night before. He addressed these issues to bring sanity to the conversation.
Walker: You have to have testing. How do you know if a child is going to learn? This isn’t the law of gravity or the speed of light. Human behavior has to be tested. We need to make the tests fair that measure. He doesn’t think students with disabilities should be opted out of testing. That will not help them.
Barney: We need to look at funds addressing testing. Testing should be used for statistics on how our kids are doing. We all know we aren’t where we need to be with the achievement gap. We need to make sure we aren’t using testing to punish.
Rochester: The original question was about civil rights. She understands why some folks would doubt, but as a person coming from the Civil Rights movement, to not measure anything is a problem. Opting out isn’t the issue. We need to measure to know where we are discriminating. We need to put our money where our mouth is.
Gesty: He strongly opposes Smarter Balanced. He opposes Common Core. We passed a bill and Markell thumbed his nose at parents. We need tests that will actually benefit students.
Miller: He applauds Markell for vetoing the bill but he did sign SJR #2 (assessment inventory bill). We have too many tests. He goes into the schools. He doesn’t think there should just be one test because of the grade.
Townsend: What he felt was the debate last year was make sure you have the curriculum that is agreed to and make sure students have a meal that morning of the test. Students didn’t have a stake in this. It isn’t about accountability, it’s about how we do it.
Miller: If students aren’t doing well on those tests, there is something wrong.
Townsend: Mike, I’m not arguing against accountability.
Rochester: We are talking about some individuals having the opportunity to opt out. Many poor children have a sense of urgency so it is important that testing, maybe not that test, but there has to be growth.
Townsend: This is why we sponsored bill for free breakfast for kids with Rep. Osienski. We need broadband access in rural areas. The civil rights groups vs. teachers represented a frustration.
Miller: We are teaching to take the test. He wants to see good instruction throughout the school year.
Gesty: I believe a parent should have the right to opt out. The federal government shouldn’t put down a heavy hand when it doesn’t really help his child get into college.