As House Republicans Storm Out Of Their Chamber, Delaware Citizens Held Hostage To Party Antics

Last night.  The walkout.  The fury.

I missed it.  I got in my car and drove to Legislative Hall once the Grant-In-Aid bill was introduced and went to committee around 11pm last night.  I arrived at Legislative Hall as the Capital police officer, the same one I see every single time I go there, told me it was over.  He also said “They aren’t happy.”  I went in anyways and got the scoop from Reps. John Kowalko and Andria Bennett. Continue reading

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!

Kowalko Talks House Bill 50, Opt Out, & The Will Of The People On Delaware Way With Larry Mendte

Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko appeared on “The Delaware Way” with host Larry Mendte last week to discuss parent opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and  the veto override of House Bill 50 and the bill’s chances.  Citing the bill sits on the House Ready List, Kowalko blamed State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, the Delaware Speaker of the House, for letting the bill just sit there.  Even Mendte said polling in the state suggests the people overwhelmingly want this bill.  Kowalko felt it wasn’t right for the Governor to usurp the will of the people and the General Assembly with his veto.

Delaware PTA, House Bill 50, House Resolution 22, House Bill 243: What Happened Today

Chaos.  There is no other word for it.  The rally went great, we got a good turnout, and there was a lot of media there.  By the time Rep. Kowalko brought the suspension of rules motion to the floor, I had an ominous feeling.  Too many of the reps, who know who I am, were not looking at me.  The suspension of the rules was seconded, and a voice vote was called.  13 yes, 26 no, 1 no vote, and 1 absent.  I can say Rep. Bennett, who was absent, reached out to me a couple weeks ago giving her support for this.  Unfortunately she was not able to attend today.

State Rep. Byron Short gave a long talk about standardized testing and how he wants a valid look at what we are doing with state assessments.  He indicated this last Spring, but he felt he wasn’t heard.  Short was NOT talking about the assessment inventory currently going on, but the state assessment.

State Rep. Debbie Hudson indicated she had brought two bills to be filed regarding opt-out, but they were not filed before today’s session.  She indicated that they had “wasted their time” on House Bill 50.  Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf indicated the bills would be filed today.  Rep. Kowalko indicated he wanted House Bill 50 put on the ready list.  This means it would come to a full House vote… if Schwartzkopf puts it on the agenda.  If anyone wants to know what this means, Kilroy got Hudson to introduce legislation in the 147th AND 148th General Assembly.  Both times it went out of the education committee, but Schwartzkopf NEVER put it out for a full House vote.

I made a point to thank as many of the legislators who voted yes on the suspension of rules that I could.  I went up to Rep. Hudson and told her flat-out, “I’ll be sure to tell my son who was physically assaulted nine times after I opted him out that you thought this was a worthless bill.”  She came up to me and Yvonne Johnson, Teri Hodges, and Ashley Sabo and indicated she wanted to show us the new bills.  As we ventured down into the Republican office, I had a bad feeling in my stomach again.  This feeling was soon realized when State Rep. Mike Ramone, with a huge smile, showed me House Resolution #22.

While this certainly looks good, as I wrote a couple weeks ago, a House Resolution in Delaware is not enforceable and it is only passed by one chamber.  So while it looks like the answer, I knew it was not.  Then I was given a copy of the as-yet unnumbered House Bill 243.

HB243

Again, it looks great and it stops the DOE from implementing opt-out penalties against schools on the Delaware School Success Framework, or the school report card.  Fantastic!  NOT!  Here is the fatal flaw.  The DOE already submitted their ESEA waiver at the end of November.  They will most likely get that back in the next few weeks.  That is then tied to Federal Law, ESEA, which does not expire until the end of this year.

So the unenforceable House Resolution and the bill that would get tied up in education committees and protects schools more than parents and students, is not a win at all.  I don’t view either of these as good solutions to House Bill 50.  But the very bizarre nature of today is yet to come.  While all this is going on, there was a corporate tax bill introduced by Valerie Longhurst the other day.  It gets fast-tracked out of the appropriations committee, but it still requires a suspension of rules to get to a vote today.  Now this is a bill, who many legislators told me, would NEVER be introduced by a Democrat.  Longhurst is a Democrat.  Longhurst is very loyal to the Governor, who suggested this last week.  So it is more than obvious this bill is coming from Governor Markell.

As the legislators were in caucus discussing all of this I’m sure, I sat with the PTA and legislators slowly drifted out.  The Republicans two bills were talked about, and originally Reps. Williams and Kowalko were willing to be co-sponsors on it.  However, two other legislators informed us the House Resolution does nothing, and the House Bill does nothing for parents.  It protects the schools.  As well, without support from the Senate, House Resolution #22 is just a piece of paper.  To get something with strong support from both sides that would not require the Governor’s signature and is enforceable would be a concurrent resolution.  Legislative Hall is a funny place.  If you are at the right place, at the right time, you can hear people talking.  There are enough columns and stairs and hallways on the first floor of that building.  I heard folks talking about HB50.  And HB235.  And how the Republicans will get that.  It is more than obvious there was a deal made.  Most likely from Governor Markell himself.

Back to legislative session.  Secretary Godowsky, Susan Haberstroh (from the DOE), Lindsay O’Mara (Markell’s Education Policy Advisor), and State Rep. Earl Jaques are huddled around each other.  To be a fly on that wall!  I made a point to talk to Rep. Charles Potter about House Bill 56, the charter school “freeze” bill where no new applications for charters in Wilmington could be submitted until the state figured out what to do with all this transition.  I advised him of the Wilmington charters that are submitting modifications to increase their enrollment and add grades.  He said he would take a look at that.  House Resolution #22 was introduced and floated around to the legislators.  Rep. Joe Miro is the primary sponsor.  Which told me the House Republicans behind this were still going through with their idea.  Schwartzkopf said House Bill 50 is now on the ready list.  But once again, the ready list can either be a full House vote or the limbo list like Kilroy’s bills.  State Rep. Stephanie Bolden talked about House Joint Resolution #10 which is a bill whereby Delaware officially apologizes for slavery.  I fully support that bill, however the discussion that ensued from some legislators, especially the one who talked about honoring the rights of people and the other who talked about the Bible and scripture, you know, the book that actually does go into parental rights quite a bit, I found it all to be a little hypocritical given their earlier votes.  After that ended (which passed), House Bill 235 came up.  The corporate tax bill.  The suspension of rules was put forth by Longhurst, and seconded by a few voices in the chamber.  Kowalko asked for a roll call.  And it came, numerous yes votes.  Many who VOTED NO ON THE SUSPENSION OF RULES FOR HOUSE BILL 50.  I kept track of all of them and published it right away.  Aside from the one Yearick vote I messed up, they are all here.  As I was getting ready to walk out the door, Rep. Mike Ramone whispered to me about how Kowalko goes on and on and their bills are better.  I whispered back to him, “I don’t trust any of you.”  As I walked out of Legislative Hall today, with House Bill 50 in limbo, crappy bills trying to take its place from Republicans so desperate not to get publicly thrashed over their vote today they would thrown anything to the wall to see if it sticks, a clear indication of who in the Delaware House cares an iota about parents and who doesn’t, and knowing the PTA would support these upcoming bills, I just smiled.

After a nice dinner with my wife and son and a trip to Toys R Us, I came home to a billion Facebook notifications, tons of emails, and knowing I had to write this.  House Resolution #22 passed after I left.  So did House Bill 235.  The Delaware PTA issued a statement on today’s events, which once again, looks good to read…

All Is Not Lost With The Parent Opt-Out- Discussion Still On The Table

It is important to remember that we had 3 primary goals with HB 50:

  1. Protections in place for parents that chose to opt their student(s) out of the state assessment
  2. Alternate academic instruction for students not taking the assessment
  3. A clear and consistent opt out process implemented statewide

Even with all the events that took place today at Legislative Hall, we are still primed to meet those goals, and it is looking like that is going to happen! Interestingly enough, we spoke with enough legislators today to see that they are definitely not supporting the Governor’s agenda and firmly believe that parents and schools should be protected during the opt out process.

As a recap to the events today at Legislative Hall, the House voted against a suspension of House rules on HB 50. While we are disappointed in our legislator’s actions, we do not see this as a loss. After conversations with multiple legislators with regards to their vote, we were informed that if HB 50 and been voted down under a suspension of the House Rules, the bill would have been dead. Given the mood in Legislative Hall today, it is likely that the bill would not have passed. HB 50 has been placed on the House Ready list.

In an unexpected turn of events, the House Republicans informed us of their intent to introduce legislation that would prohibit the state from using participation rates against a school or district. Delaware PTA supports this. The bill has been filed as HB 243. (See Below)

They also introduced a Resolution that prohibits schools and/or districts from penalizing students/parents from opting out. In addition, it requests that the Department of Education develop several options that outline a uniform opt out process. (See Below). Although a Resolution cannot mandate action from the Delaware Department of Education, Representatives Miro and Jaques both confirmed that they had spoken with interim Secretary of Education Dr. Godowsky and that he has committed to following the resolution and developing several options for a statewide process on parent opt out. In addition, our Vice President of Advocacy spoke with Dr. Godowsky to request parent input on the development of these options. We were informed that even though the Secretary cannot be compelled to act under this resolution, he has indicated that he will do so and he has the authority to mandate compliance from the schools/districts.

Everyone should be very proud of the energy that they put into advocating for parent rights, but our work is not done. We have never seen so many parents and teachers come together on a single issue as we have with the Parent Opt Out. We realize that sometimes compromise is necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. Our goal is to ensure that neither schools nor districts can send threatening letters to parents choosing to opt their child out of the assessment. We want to make sure that every district respects a parent’s decision and that they clearly communicate the parent’s options with regards to opting out of the state assessment.  Our message was definitely received. We will continue with our advocacy with the same amount of fervor that you have seen over the last several weeks. We must keep the pressure on, so please keep sending those emails to your representative. We will be reevaluating and disseminating the next steps in our advocacy plan in the coming days and weeks.

Thank you to everyone that has supported parent’s rights and our advocacy efforts.

 Delaware PTA

I truly have to think this one through.  Our legislators could have passed HB50 in the House today.  They could have overridden the veto in their chamber.  They chose not to.  So now we have Republicans, obviously working with Earl Jaques of all people and the DOE and the Secretary of Education, and not telling anyone about this, for weeks (I know this because Mike Ramone told me they have been working on this for a while.  When I said you could have given me a heads up, he said “We couldn’t.”  Makes sense, get the crowd to show up for the rally, stick the knife in parents and students backs, and then try riding in on the cavalry saying “We have something better!”  Nice try.  First off, I don’t trust Dr. Godowsky.  This is the man who said “looks like harsh opt-out penalties won’t rule the day” and then said he is recommending those very same opt-out penalties with no logical justification as to why.  Second of all, he indicated he “has the authority to mandate compliance from the schools/districts”.  If he has this magic wand, why hasn’t it been used already?  Why didn’t Mark Murphy use this all of a sudden too great to be true authority?  Why does it take all of this for them to get it?  And would I ever trust anyone at the DOE to determine opt-out policies for our schools and districts?  Furthermore, the PTA newsletter indicates a request was made to Godowsky to have parents as part of this process.  There is no answer from Godowsky on that very important issue.  Many parents who have opted their children out do not belong to the Delaware PTA and do not believe everything the Delaware PTA believes in.  And the due date for these “policies” is “on or before May 1st”, well into the testing window for Smarter Balanced when most students have already taken it or are finishing up.  Not a lot of protection for parents.  Not a lot to protect students.  Nothing to indicate schools will honor the spirit of this.

So where do we stand with opt-out in Delaware?  Pretty much the exact same place we were a year ago.  So once again Delaware parents, I beseech you to search within your hearts to do the right thing, and make the right choice for your child like I did with mine.  And I pray none of you have to experience what happened as a result of my decision.  As always, I am here to help and guide, and call out any school who gives you a hard time if that is what you wish.

For the citizens of Delaware, I would take a very strong look at my post about the votes today.  I would look at those districts, and if you know anyone who wants to run, tell them to do it.  If they are on the fence, explain how those House reps went against parents.

For the House Reps who voted yes today on the suspension of rules: thank you.  For those who voted no on those rules for HB50 and yes on the rules for HB235, everyone will know.  I will make sure of it, every day if need be.  You betrayed parents today.  We heard you, loud and clear.  And don’t think for one second that your “rescue legislation” means anything.  It is tied to the DOE, Markell, and tainted in legislative blood money.  This is not solely directed towards Republicans, but Democrats as well.  All of you who did this today.  The 13 who voted yes are safe.  Rep. Bennett is safe.  The rest… I have no words…

These are the things revolutions are made of.  This is how America was made.  When the rights of the people are violated, they will demand change.  And it will come.  Nothing stinks more than betrayal.  I told all of you, a vote of no on a suspension of rules is the same as a no vote on the override.  You lost the right to say “I would have voted yes” because you hid behind another vote.  Your motivations and affirmations are gone.  They don’t matter.  You played cards with the devil and now you are on the table.  You are all cowards and weak, all 27 of you.  And trust, that is gone with me and MANY others.

One last thing, for those who mock John Kowalko, I want to make something clear.  Don’t whisper in my ear about him.  Don’t talk about how he shouldn’t be in that chamber.  This is an honorable man.  He has conviction and passion.  He will fight like a dog, but he will do it with honesty.  Compared to what I saw from many of you today, I would take that any day of the year.  House Bill 50 was NOT a waste of time.  It was a simple bill, grounded in what is best for students and parents.  It wasn’t based on what the DOE wanted to do.  It wasn’t based on what was best for the districts and charter schools.  It was about parental rights and students.  I believe you all knew this.  Which makes what you did today so horrible, and morally wrong.

And Jack, don’t think you are slipping away.  As the rumor mill talks about your upcoming job at Alliance for Excellent Education, a corporate education reform company that has more Kool-Aid coming out of each word in its website than I have ever seen before, and the rumor mill talks about a crazy thought about you actually getting a payout to make sure House Bill 50 didn’t go through, be assured I will find out the truth to ALL of that.  You and I aren’t done yet.  You may be fooling people into thinking you are done in a year and you are just winding down, I know you are at your most dangerous now.  I know you fear opt-out more than anything that has ever come before your desk.  We both know what opt-out does.  How it undermines what you and your buddies have planned.  For our children.  I know.  I am not fooled.  Everything you touch is tainted with this plan.  Delaware children are not your children.  And tell your buddies, America’s children are not their children.  You will all be hearing from us VERY soon, you can take that to the bank.

Delaware House Republicans Weigh In On Veto Override Of House Bill 50

Within 10 minutes of Rep. Kowalko’s veto override e-mail to fellow House members on Wednesday afternoon, the state Department of Education (DOE) issued a press release noting it was eliminating the Smarter Assessment as the state test for high school juniors beginning this spring.
In the latest newsletter from the Delaware House Republicans, they wrote about the potential of the House Bill 50 Veto Override:
NEWS:

Student Testing “Opt-Out” Bill Could

be Subject of Rare Veto Override Attempt Next Week
An effort to override Gov. Jack Markell’s veto of a bill that sought to allow parents to remove their children from academic assessment testing is expected next Thursday.
 
House Bill 50, as amended, would have allowed students to opt out of 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.
Earlier this week the legislation’s prime sponsor, State Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark notified his House colleagues that he intends to bring the bill to the floor on Thursday, January 14 for “reconsideration in order to override the governor’s veto.”
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Such a move requires a “suspension of rules” with a simple majority vote (21 of the 41 state representatives).  That would be followed by the override vote, which requires at least a three-fifths majority (25 votes minimum).
The Senate would have to take similar action to successfully override the veto in that chamber.
Previous votes on the bill indicate an override could be a possibility. The measure cleared the House of Representatives twice: 36 to 3 and 31 to 5.   It was approved twice by the Senate as well: 14 to 7 and 15 to 6.  All four votes had majorities exceeding the three-fifths threshold.
However, some of those familiar with the legislative process note that overriding a veto involves more than just a simple weight of numbers.  Other factors are likely to come into play, including partisan considerations involving the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and their party’s top state office-holder, Gov. Jack Markell.  Such complications are one of the main reasons veto overrides are rarely attempted.  The last one reportedly took place nearly 40 years ago.
In vetoing the bill in July, the governor said the legislation would weaken “the only objective tool we have to understand whether our children are learning and our schools are improving.  It has the potential to marginalize our highest need students, threaten tens-of-millions of dollars of federal funding, and undermine our state’s economic competitiveness.”
The Delaware State Teachers Association and parents’ groups had supported the bill, citing classroom time lost to testing; increased stress on students and teachers; and questions about its usefulness in helping educators identify and address students’ needs.
The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce (DSCC) was among those opposing the legislation.
The bill had strong bipartisan support.  State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, who was among the bill’s co-sponsors, said immediately after the veto that the action was misguided.  “Parents already have the option of removing their students from testing, but this bill would have provided protections for the schools and school districts from being held accountable for decisions that are out of their control.”
Within 10 minutes of Rep. Kowalko’s veto override e-mail to fellow House members on Wednesday afternoon, the state Department of Education (DOE) issued a press release noting it was eliminating the Smarter Assessment as the state test for high school juniors beginning this spring.
DOE officials said a redesigned SAT is being launched that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, making the Smarter Balanced Assessment duplicative for 11th grade students.  Delaware has been administering a school-day SAT to all public school juniors at no cost to students since 2011.
The state will continue to administer the Smarter Assessment in grades 3 to 8.

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.

 

 

15 Who Made An Impact On 2015: The Charter Thieves

The biggest Delaware charter school news this year definitely belonged to the three charter bandits: Sean Moore, Tennell Brewington, and Noel Rodriguez.  The first two were the heads of school at Family Foundations Academy while Rodriguez belonged to Academy of Dover.  Altogether, the trio managed to abscond over $300,000 of school funds for personal purchases.  And that was just the verified amount.  Over $1.3 million could not be verified as school or personal purchases by the Auditor of Accounts in Delaware.  That is some serious coin!

Luckily, none of them are currently employed by the schools.  *Brewington surfaced at Christiana in the Emotional Therapeutic Support classroom as a one-on-one teacher.  Shortly before Thanksgiving she was no longer there.  Moore and Rodriguez have been very quiet.  Rodriguez was last seen at the Amazon Distribution Center in Middletown but he was let go around the same time the auditor investigation into Academy of Dover came out last June.

Many are wondering why the three are not in jail.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle, a huge supporter of charters in Delaware, was wondering the same thing.  Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said his office is looking into the matter.  This is why State Rep. Kim Williams House Bill 186 needs to pass, which would make all charter school audits go through Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office.  Resistance from the Delaware Charter Schools Network reached a fever pitch last Spring, even resulting in the non-profit recruiting parents to fill out an online form on their website which automatically went to the Delaware legislators.  The bill passed the House on June 30th, but every single House Republican voted no along with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf and Chair of the House Education Committee Earl Jaques.  When the legislators return in January, this bill will be in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.

In October, Wagner’s office released a report that showed some other charter schools that had very suspect incidents of financial abuse.  Kuumba Academy and Delaware College Prep’s incidents were not as egregious as those of Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover, but they are still a pattern that needs to change at Delaware charter schools.  In years past, Pencader Business School and Delaware Military Academy were also investigated for misuse of state funds.  While this is certainly not indicative of all charters in Delaware, it is far too many.  Education is about students, not a personal ATM machine!

*This article has been corrected to give a more accurate read on where Dr. Tennell Brewington wound up.  Apologies for the error!