Behind The Scenes Discussion At Legislative Hall Could Result In 2% Pay Cut Or Major Increase In Healthcare Costs For ALL State Employees

*Please go to the end of the article for an update on this developing situation.

While it has not been “officially” confirmed, I am hearing leadership in our state government is talking about giving ALL Delaware state employees a 2% cut in pay for FY2018.  The only exception would be prison guards due to the negotiated agreement with them.  The other possible option is increasing health insurance premiums by 50%.  This is going on behind closed doors folks with ZERO transparency.  None.  It is the day before they are supposed to be passing a budget and it has not been released to the public at all.  There is NO option to get your voice heard.

The House and Senate are taking a break to eat dinner.  They should be back on the floor around 8:30pm.  Longhurst’s House Bill #240 which could gut itemized deductions in Delaware and raise YOUR taxes will get a vote.  From the legislators and folks down there I’ve been talking to, the legislators are in a panic mode with Governor Carney seemingly clueless.  No budget has been written.  This is not good folks.  At all.  I’ve heard the cuts in the budget referred to as a “bloodbath”.  We have school boards able to raise taxes through the match tax scam.  We have charters keeping their transportation slush fund.  We axed the estate tax.  There is ZERO organization here folks.  And I won’t even get into the damn bickering between the Dems and the Republicans.  Grow up.  We don’t care.  Do the right thing for our state!

So this is what you need to do citizens of Delaware: get to Legislative Hall tomorrow night around 5pm and swarm every single legislator you can.  Show up IN PERSON.

Ironically, the “Find Your Legislator” portion of the Delaware General Assembly website appears to be not working.  At least for me.  But you view a full list in the blue links here:

Delaware Senators

Delaware State Representatives

This absolute crap and farce of a state government has been operating in the shadows for far too long.  They know this is going to hurt every single state employee but they want to rush this budget and then head off on Summer vacation.  This is shady and it is happening now.  We have State Reps joking around about last names, taking up time when there could be meaningful conversation that the public can here about all this.  I heard one state rep ask for a bill to be tabled until January because of the public’s need to know more about the budget.  Schwartzkopf shot him down.  I don’t know which rep it was, but we need to hear more of that.

Remember, tomorrow.  Make YOUR voice heard LOUD and CLEAR!

Updated 6/30/17, 1:24pm: David Burris, the Chief of Staff for the Delaware Senate Republicans put a response up on Facebook that there has been zero discussion about pay cuts on their side of the aisle.

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Newark Charter School Doesn’t Want Wilmington Black Kids Or Wilmington Special Needs Kids Going To Their Private School

Earlier this afternoon, State Rep. Rich Collins led the Delaware House of Representatives in prayer and asked them, no matter what, to put children first in their mind when they are voting on legislation.  Two and a half hours later, Collins along with 26 other state reps both Republican and Democrat, voted to keep Newark Charter School first.

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 passed the House today with 27 yes, 13 no, and 1 absent.  The bill removes the 5 mile radius enrollment preference for Delaware charter schools with one exception.  Since Christina School District has a portion of their district in Wilmington, that is not landlocked with the rest of the district, those Wilmington children will not be allowed to choice to Newark Charter School.  Even though the Wilmington students from Red Clay and Colonial can choice to other charter schools, those Christina Wilmington students can’t choice to that one school.  They can still choice to other charters within the district or even outside of the district, but not NCS.

The bill still has to go through the Senate.  By primary sponsor State Rep. Kim Williams’ own admission, if the bill did not have that provision it wouldn’t have moved forward in the Senate.  The Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator David Sokola, used to be on the board of Newark Charter School.  It isn’t really a state secret that State Rep. Melanie Smith bought a house in that area so her child can go to Newark Charter School.  Why does it always come back to Newark Charter School?

State Rep. John Kowalko put an amendment on the bill that would have removed that provision, but it failed to pass the House.  25 state reps voted no on the amendment.

I know State Rep. Kim Williams very well.  I know her intent with this bill was to get a start on changing this process.  It is better than what we had before.  But it really isn’t.  Yes, there will be a greater number of Christina School District students who will have the option of choicing into Newark Charter School.  That is true, provided the bill passes and gets signed by Governor Carney.  But it also sends a clear statement about Delaware as a state: we will allow de facto segregation.  Any time we are disallowing students from having a free and appropriate public education, we are not moving forward as a state, we are moving horribly backwards.

State Reps Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and J.J. Johnson, all African-American, voiced strong opposition to the bill for the same things I am writing.  Bolden said it best.  What does it say about Delaware as a state when legislation like this comes up?  She couldn’t say this, so I will.  It shows what a discriminatory state we are to the rest of the country.  It says city kids aren’t good enough for a charter in the suburbs.  It says we vote in legislators who would rather keep one charter school from opening up to ALL students than making Delaware, the first state to sign the U.S. Constitution, a fair and equitable state for all children.

Let’s be honest here, the only reason for this legislation in the first place is because of Newark Charter School.  Taking what could be a good portion of their student population out of the picture in the coming years defeats the whole intent of the bill in the first place.

Which State Reps voted to keep de facto segregation going in Delaware today?

Bryon Short (D)

Paul Baumbach (D)

David Bentz (D)

Gerald Brady (D)

William Carson (D)

Rich Collins (R)

Danny Short (R)

Tim Dukes (R)

Ronald Gray (R)

Kevin Hensley (R)

Deb Hudson (R)

Earl Jaques (D)

Quinton Johnson (D)

Harvey Kenton (R)

Ed Osienski (D)

William Outten (R)

Trey Paradee (D)

Charles Postles (R)

Melanie Smith (D)

Joe Miro (R)

Mike Ramone (R)

Steven Smyk (R)

Jeff Spiegelman (R)

John Viola (D)

Kim Williams (D)

David Wilson (R)

Lyndon Yearick (R)

Only one Republican voted no on the bill, State Rep. Ruth Briggs-King.  I find it ironic that many of the Dems who have part of their district in the 5 mile radius for Newark Charter School voted yes.  A couple of the no votes surprised me, but I will take it.  For those who aren’t familiar with what our state legislators look like, there are no black Republicans in the Delaware House or Senate.  All of the above legislators are white.

No offense to Kim Williams, and I get her intent behind this bill, but I can’t support this bill.  I vehemently oppose it.  Any legislation that restricts a child from doing anything will never be a bill I can get behind.  Any bill that gives Delaware an ugly stain on our perception is one I can not support.  This is not progress.  This is very sad.

We need elected officials in our state who won’t follow the whims of Newark Charter School.  We need legislators who will look out for ALL students.  We need lawmakers who won’t bow to the Delaware Charter Schools Network and do what is right.  We need legislators who realize collaboration when it comes to education is NOT always a good thing.  Today was no victory by any means.  It was a horrible step backwards in Delaware.  We might as well paint a sign on Newark Charter School that says Wilmington students not allowed.  The original five mile radius for NCS was bad enough, but this… this is blatant discrimination by a public school that gets funding from taxpayers around the state.

Newark Charter School is one of the best schools in Delaware.  It is because of laws like this that have allowed them to cherry-pick their students and take advantage of the law so they give a façade of excellence.  If they truly let in any student, they would be no better or worse than the schools around them.  But they would be equal.  I would never let my child go to a school like that.  What kind of lesson would that teach him?  If he were picked in their lottery, I would tell him he won because so many kids could not.  If I lived in Wilmington, would I really want my child going to a school that practiced discrimination and segregation for over 15 years?

I would tell you to voice your opposition to the Delaware Senate on this bill.  But it really doesn’t matter.  If it passes as is, it is the same story.  If it fails, Newark Charter School still has their 5 mile radius and still keeps kids from the Christina School District out of their prestigious public school.  Any attempt at amending the bill will fail.  But the truest failure is how Delaware looks to the entire country with this one bill.

Updated, 6:52pm: I want to add one thing.  My thoughts on this bill are not a knock on all Delaware charter schools.  There are many charter schools in Wilmington who would be more than happy to take the students Newark Charter School doesn’t want.  And they do.  My main issues with charter schools in Delaware have been the very inequity I am writing about here.

 

 

 

Kilroy’s School Board Audio Recording Bill Passes House With 40-0 Vote!

Kilroy’s School Board Audio Recording bill, sponsored by State Rep. Deb Hudson, passed the Delaware House of Representatives unanimously just now.  The final vote was 40 yes and 1 absent.  House Bill 61 is the second time this bill has been in the General Assembly.  House Bill 23, from the 147th General Assembly, never got a full House vote.

This is Kilroy’s legacy to Delaware.  He has fought hard for this bill for years.  The first time I ever went to Legislative Hall was for my failed attempt to get House Bill 23 up on the agenda.  This was my thanks to Kilroy for letting me write a very long story about my son on his blog before I started this one.  A lot has happened since then and the need for transparency from our school boards has never been greater.  It still has to go through the Senate, with the Senate Education Committee first.  But there is no reason why it shouldn’t pass there.

Congrats Kilroy!  I’m glad I got to hear it live!

State Rep. Earl Jaques said it was a great bill!

State Rep. Kim Williams thanked State Rep. Hudson for sponsoring the bill!

I emailed Kilroy a VERY BAD audio recording of the vote on the school board audio recording bill!

For The Love Of God Godowsky, What Are You Even Talking About? And General Assembly: A No Is A No To Your Constituents

Dr. Steven Godowsky, Secretary of Education for Delaware.  Are you really telling people “Don’t worry about the override, schools are okay with opt-out.  They understand.”  Have you lost your mind?  We ALL know you are Governor Markell’s education puppet, dancing on his string.  Do you really think people don’t get what you are trying to do?  I could name twenty things that happened last year in Delaware schools without even looking back at my notes and the messages parents sent me about what schools did to prevent opt-out.  Campus Community School’s Board of Directors issued a policy mandating ALL STUDENTS SHALL TAKE THE TEST.  Appoquinimink sent out highly questionable letters asking parents if they understand the law.  Charter schools flat-out told parents no.  The endless litany of funding threats.  Students asked to lie to other students when they are opted out.  Moms brought to tears due to weeks of fighting with a school district. “You have to bring in a doctor’s note” came up a lot last year.  School boards that pass resolutions and policies that are ignored by administration in the district.  Your Department has publicly stated parents can opt out but they have done everything they possibly can to prevent it behind the scenes.  Do you really think parents are that stupid?  Maybe we weren’t rigorously brought up with Common Core and career and college ready standards, but I think it’s safe to say we did some pretty important things in the past twenty to thirty years.

Why are people trusting this guy?  He is NOT a breath of fresh air.  He is just a more experienced and polished Mark Murphy.  It doesn’t matter who wears the suit, it is still Governor Markell’s words coming out of their mouth.  If any legislators actually believe this complete and utter nonsense which was all I heard about today from tons of people, you need to wake up.  There are many reasons why we are at this point of utter stupidity.  I take back what I said the other day, Markell has not used up his bag of tricks.  I fully expect to hear some brand new bizarre “talking point” to come out of the Governor’s mouth or one of his other puppets.

Secretary Godowsky, we have bomb threats in multiple schools across our state and guns going off in the Central Middle School bathroom, and you are cluelessly (yes, I made up that word) walking around telling people “don’t worry about opt-out, don’t worry about the override.  We  don’t need it.”  Are you serious?  There is NOTHING better you could be doing right now?  Like working with the FBI to find out why all these schools are getting automated messages with bomb threats?  You are the Secretary of Education Sir!  Get with the program and stop fumbling around Dover doing the Governor’s last-minute desperate pleas to stop the override.  If you want to fight the parents, at least come up with something tangible and real.  Stop making up stuff!

Delaware legislators, this is a VETO OVERRIDE.  This isn’t a regular bill.  If this bill winds up going back to committee, during the long months stretching until the end of the 148th General Assembly, with parents basically lining up with pitchforks at Legislative Hall demanding this bill be heard, sucking up all the oxygen in the room, as you are trying to gear up for your upcoming elections, and you voted no for a suspension of rules…you are asking for all of what comes next.  We know Earl Jaques will keep this bill dangling and will let it just sit there.  It will never be heard.  And in the off chance that it does, and the House passes it, then we have Sokola over in the Senate.  And it starts all over again.  Opt out of saying no to the suspension of the rules.  This bill was ALREADY heard in committee.  It was voted on twice by both chambers.  If I hear about one more person saying “I’m voting no on suspension of rules but I support the override” I’m really going to lose my mind.  I don’t care if you are a Democrat or Republican.  Do the right thing for parents and students.  Let it be heard in the House without this endless committee crap.  And that goes for the Senate too!  Parents and your constituents deserve better than that.  The voting public does not care about any of these political games of one-upmanship and bi-partisan revenge tactics.  A no is a no, whether it is a vote against suspension of rules or a vote against the override.  In other situations, yes, this could be an issue.  But not this time.  You guys had your day of fun today and bringing your dog to smile for the camera (sorry Rep. Paradee)!  Now it is time to show the parents and students of Delaware where you stand: with us or with the Governor!

148th General Assembly 2.0 Begins Today!

Delaware_Legislative_Hall_House_chamber_DSC_3452_ad

The second leg of the 148th General Assembly officially convenes at 2pm today at Legislative Hall in Dover.  It remains to be seen what will come out of this.  My hopes and the reality will most likely be different.  I sincerely hope they are able to pass legislation that will help all citizens of Delaware.  While I have incessantly beat the drum on the veto override of House Bill 50, there is a lot of legislation for them to get through.  The biggest of them all, the budget bill, will cast a long shadow over pretty much any legislation with a fiscal note attached to it.  We will find out what our state finances look like in a couple weeks when Governor Markell presents his Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

I wish the General Assembly can get along in the next six months.  I hope party politics doesn’t become the headlines.  We have some great legislators in Dover with the capability of doing great things.  This will be a very unique legislative session.  With over 3/4 of the General Assembly up for re-election in the last year of a two term Governor who has been controversial on his best days.  I have an odd feeling much of what we are about to see is pre-determined.  But there will be surprises along the way as well.

I want to wish all the legislators in Delaware a welcome back and a special notes goes to newly anointed State Rep. David Bentz.  We will know by  the end of June what becomes of the next six months.  You are all representatives of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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.

 

 

The Key Moments For House Bill 50 Opt-Out Victory In The Delaware House

There were many seminal moments on the road to this important victory for parents in Delaware.  I’ll start at the beginning:

1) Delaware bloggers Kavips and Transparent Christina begin talking about opt-out in the Spring of 2014.  It’s who got me to start thinking about it for Delaware.

2) Matt Lindell and the Capital School Board: a year ago, the Capital school board started the discussion on this, but it was tabled.  Then it came roaring back last fall for a unanimous vote by the Capital Board.

3) The Delaware DOE letters: In early December of 2014, the Delaware DOE began sending school districts a “suggested” letter to give to parents about opt-out should they ask or opt-out.  The confusing Delaware state code regarding this was exposed immediately by yours truly.  It took a while for this to be clarified by the DOE, but once the genie was out of the bottle, it made the DOE look ineffective

4) Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson introduce House Bill 50 in early February. WDEL radio show host Rick Jensen starts having opt-out advocates on his show.

5) The Delaware PTA holds the first Delaware Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in mid-February.  Wide discussion about bullying tactics by school districts really ticks parents off.  What was meant to be a scare tactic fast turns into a rallying point for Delaware parents. President Terri Hodges announces publicly she is opting her own child out.

6) Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques tells a group of Christina Educator Association teachers House Bill 50 will never pass as Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick attempts to dictate terms about opt-out to parents in that district which does not work out as planned.

7) Delaware PTA holds Kent County Parent Opt-Out Town Hall in early March.  DOE is forced to admit parent opt-out can’t be stopped and the state law only applies to teachers and school staff, not parents.

8) Christina board of Education passes parent opt-out resolution in large measure due to the hard work in preparing the resolution by board member Elizabeth Paige and a fiery speech supporting parent opt-out by board member John Young.

9) Governor Markell announces initiative to reduce assessments for Delaware students while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  This leads to Jaques referring to Smarter Balanced as a “little test”.

10) Governor Jack Markell is forced to talk about opt-out at Howard High School, which leads to remarks by Jaques which fans the opt-out flames even more, especially for special needs parents.  Jaques quickly apologizes.

11) The Delaware News Journal publishes a front-page cover story on opt-out from both sides of the fence.  A cover photo of parent Jackie Kook with her daughter brings it home for many parents.  Parent who never heard the words opt-out start looking into it.

12) In front of an audience of over 1,000 people at the Imagine Delaware forum, teacher and President of the Red Clay Educator Association Mike Matthews announces he supports the opt-out movement.

13) As the Smarter Balanced Assessment begins, parents start opting out by the hundreds in Delaware.  Many schools give parents a rough time, which causes parents to talk to each other and spread the news about opt-out.

14) Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews and Jaques go head to head in a News Journal dual opinion piece on opt-out.  Matthews clearly wins the contest and shows why opt-out is important in regards to Delaware education.

15) Both Red Clay and Christina Educators Association hold joint press conference announcing no confidence vote in Delaware DOE, the State Board of Education, and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

16) Delaware PTA passes resolution officially supporting opt-out and House Bill 50.

17) DSEA (Delaware Educators Association) passes resolution supporting opt-out and House Bill 50, as well as a vote of no confidence in Mark Murphy.

18) Parent Press Conference/Rally at Legislative Hall in early April, though small, draws most Delaware media to it and more media coverage of opt-out.

19) Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams publicly announces she is opting out her own son, a high school junior who, like many Delaware juniors, are forced to take weeks and weeks of testing.

20) Mark Murphy appears on The Delaware Way with Larry Mendte and states “parents aren’t allowed to opt-out students”.

21) Red Clay Consolidated School Board passes parent opt-out resolution with excellent writing by board member Adrianna Bohm.

22) The day before the House Education Committee vote, Governor Markell announces initiative to have Smarter Balanced Scores tie into elimination of remedial classes for four Delaware universities and colleges.  The announcement is critically slammed by legislators, parents and teachers.

23) At the House Education Committee meeting on April 22nd, Kowalko and Jaques battle each other as Kowalko is forced to answer a barrage of questions by Jaques.  Kowalko successfully fends him off.  After discussion from other legislators, public comment from parents shows near overwhelming support for the release of the bill.  Opposition includes organizations well-known to support Governor Markell’s corporate education agendas.  After a vote to have the bill tabled falls apart, the bill is released from the committee in an 8-4 vote ending the over two hour debate.

24) Mark Murphy’s claim of federal funding cuts of $40-$90 million over potential opt-outs and the passage of House Bill 50 is debunked the next day with the release of the US DOE letter which clearly states schools cannot opt students out, and the letter never mentions the words parent opt-out.

25) Last week, organizations such as GACEC and Council for Persons with Disabilities release near identical letter in opposition to House Bill 50 with claims that are quickly debunked.

26) In a hasty and damaging example of executive overreach, Governor Markell announces to radio host Rick Jensen on WDEL he will veto House Bill 50 if it reaches his desk.

27) Parents begin emailing all the legislators of the Delaware House and public support for the bill is clearly seen by the legislators.

28) State Rep. Sean Matthews introduces an amendment to House Bill 50 the day of the House vote which changes the language of the legislation from “the state assessment” to the “Smarter Balanced Assessment”.

All leading to today’s enormous victory in the Delaware House of Representatives, with a 36-3 victory with two reps absent.  At the end of the day, this is about parents using their voice to initiate change.  This could not have been done by one individual at all.  It took a great deal of advocacy, hard work, sweat, social media, and legislators, parents, organizations and ordinary citizens spreading the word and supporting the cause.

What also helped were some obvious tactical blunders by the Delaware DOE, Secretary Murphy, and Governor Markell.  And God bless him, we cannot forget Earl Jaques.  He revealed today House Bill 50 got in the way of his planned legislation to reduce the Smarter Balanced Assessment to only three grades of testing.  Which is a noble gesture, but legislation getting rid of the “little” test would be a much grander statement.

While getting the bill through the House was an undertaking, it remains to be seen how the Delaware Senate will receive the legislation.  Folks are already guessing which Senate members will support the bill.  Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn already announced on Facebook tonight he will vote yes.  Senator Lawson, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a lock.  But the others are a mystery for now.  I can guess and predict, but until they publicly announce their intentions or a vote, we must email them and call them as much as we can.

Hello Delaware Senate, Meet Delaware Parents! You’ll Be Hearing From Us A LOT!!!!

Delaware Senate Education Commitee.  Next stop on the opt-out House Bill 50 train.  Opt-out parents and supporters, this is your mission if you choose to accept it:

Chair: Senator David Sokola

Bethany Hall-Long

Margaret Rose-Henry

Ernie Lopez

Robert Marshall

Brian Pettyjohn

Nicole Poore

Bryan Townsend

Hall-Long
Henry
Lopez
Marshall
Pettyjohn
Poore
Townsend

I’ll have their emails up shortly.

Markell Makes Sure Rodel Buddy Gets $10 Million In Budget Funds But No Special Education Funding & Cuts To Seniors?

Governor Jack Markell, you really don’t care what happens in your last two years in office.  But you did make sure your Rodel buddy got confirmed by the Delaware Senate:

148th General Assembly
Nominee Information
Frederick Sears,II
Nomination Title:    Director of the Diamond State Port Corporation
(Board/Commission Name)

Status: Confirmed

Title:
First Name: Frederick
Middle Intial:
Last Name: Sears
Designation: II
Date Read In: 01/08/2015 Hearing Date:
Length of Term: 3 years Term Expiration Date:

 

And then in your 2016 budget speech, you announced you were cutting tax breaks to senior citizens, but you are giving $10 million to the company your Rodel buddy is now leading?  For a  crane and “infrastructure spending”?  And yet the priority schools will only get $5 million in funding over three years? How about using that $10 million for the elderly, or for the special education funding through House Bill 30 which is needed much more than a crane.  Corruption abounds in this state…

Delaware Senate Submits Resolution To Create Task Force for Visually Impaired Students

I heard about this one last week, but I didn’t want to get anything out there until it was up on the Delaware Legislature website.  This was actually one of the recommendations from the IEP Task Force, as members didn’t feel that task force could give the issues facing the visually impaired enough time to truly tackle those problems.  I’m glad to see Senator Lawson took the baton and ran with it!  I expect this will be passed by the House next week.

From the actual Senate Concurring Resolution #2, which has already passed the Delaware Senate:

SPONSOR: Sen. Lawson & Sen. Lopez & Sen. Hall-Long & Sen. Poore & Sen. McBride
Sens. Bonini, Cloutier, Hocker, Pettyjohn, Richardson, Sokola, Townsend; Reps. Baumbach, Briggs King, Carson, Gray, Heffernan, Hensley, Hudson, Q. Johnson, Kenton, Matthews, Miro, Mitchell, Outten, Potter, Ramone, D. Short, Spiegelman, Wilson

 

DELAWARE STATE SENATE148th GENERAL ASSEMBLY

 

SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 2

 

CREATING A TASK FORCE TO STUDY AND MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING THE DIVISION FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED AND STATEWIDE PROGRAMS FOR THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED.

WHEREAS, students who are blind or visually impaired have complex learning needs and require specific interventions and instruction from specialized teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), certified orientation & mobility instructors, and other related service providers; and

WHEREAS, students who are blind or visually impaired require appropriate accommodations, modifications materials to facilitate access to information, and adaptations designed to address their unique educational needs; and

WHEREAS, students who are blind or visually impaired require systematic and regular instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum from certified teachers and other specialists and technicians who are properly trained to teach such specialized and unique skills, including but not limited to, technology and computer proficiency, braille literacy, safe and independent mobility, age-appropriate career education, independent living skills, and social interaction skills; and

WHEREAS, the Division for the Visually Impaired (DVI) currently provides academic and life skills instructions to 260 individuals from birth to age 21 who are deemed eligible to receive such services; and

WHEREAS, DVI has surpassed its legislatively mandated student teacher ratio of 28:1 for the delivery of educational services; and

WHEREAS, the educational resources for students who are blind or visually impaired are constrained by the division of responsibility and authority between two state agencies, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education; and

WHEREAS, The IEP Improvement Task Force, established by Senate Concurrent Resolution 63 to examine means to improve the IEP process, determined that the unique educational needs of students with visual impairments are not being met through the existing IEP process and recommended establishment of a separate task force assigned to specifically address the needs of students who are blind and visually impaired.

NOW THEREFORE:

BE IT RESOLVED by the Senate of the 148th General Assembly of the State of Delaware, the House of Representatives concurring therein, that the Blind and Visually Impaired Education Task Force is hereby created by the General Assembly.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the membership of the Blind and Visually Impaired Education Task Force shall be as follows:

  1. Two members of the State Senate, a member of the majority party appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem and a member of the minority party appointed by the Senate Minority Leader;
  2. Two members of the Delaware House of Representatives, a member of the majority party appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a member of the minority party appointed by the House Minority Leader;
  3. A representative from the Governor’s office;
  4. The Secretary of Education or the Secretary’s designee;
  5. The Secretary of Health and Social Services or the Secretary’s designee;
  6. Two parents of students who are visually impaired, from a variety of age groups and geographic areas, one to be appointed by the Chair of the Senate Education Committee and one to be appointed by the Chair of the House Education Committee;
  7. Two parents of students who are blind, from a variety of age groups and geographic areas, one to be appointed by the Chair of the Senate Education Committee and one to be appointed by the Chair of the House Education Committee;
  8. Two individuals who are blind or visually impaired, one to be appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem and one to be appointed by the Speaker of the House;
  9. The Director of the Division for the Visually Impaired;
  10. Two Teachers for the Visually Impaired, one Orientation and Mobility Specialist, and one Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor who are certified and actively working with blind and visually impaired students in the State of Delaware where preschool, elementary, middle, and high school educational service areas are each represented, to be appointed by the Director of the Division for the Visually Impaired;
  11. The Executive Director of the Delaware Association of the Blind or the Executive Director’s designee;
  12. The Executive Director of the Delaware Parent Information Center or the Executive Director’s designee;
  13. The Chair of the Vocational Rehabilitation Advisory Council for the Blind or the Chair’s designee;
  14. The Director of the Delaware Birth to Three Early Intervention System or the Director’s designee;
  15. A member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, appointed by the Chair of the Council;
  16. An assistive technology specialist trained with blindness and visual impairment technology assessments, evaluations, and use in educational settings, to be appointed by the Director of the Division for the Visually Impaired;
  17. Two local education agency special education directors, to be appointed by the Secretary of Education;
  18. The President of the Delaware State Education Association or the President’s designee;
  19. An ophthalmologist and a low-vision optometrist appointed by the Secretary of Health and Social Services;
  20. Two persons who teach special education in Delaware public schools, to be appointed by the Secretary of Education.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Task Force shall convene its first meeting no later than 30 days after enactment.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the member of the Delaware State Senate appointed by the President Pro Tem shall serve as the chair of the Task Force, and shall convene the first and subsequent meetings.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Task Force shall report to the General Assembly and Governor by June 1, 2015 on the following topics:

  1. The administrative structure and authority of the Division for the Visually Impaired (DVI) in regards to education;
  2. Existing Teachers for the Visually Impaired and other vision service providers;
  3. Compensation and benefits for teaching staff;

iii. Development of quality standards for teachers and related professionals serving blind and visually impaired students.

  1. DVI’s funding sources designated for use in educating students in the State of Delaware;
  2. Appropriate educational services delivery model;
  3. The disposition of the Resource Rooms in New Castle, Kent and Sussex Counties;
  4. Assistive technology provisions;
  5. Individual Education Plans (IEP) for the blind and visually impaired;
  6. Post-secondary transition planning and programming.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff support for the Task Force shall be provided by the Delaware Department of Education.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that suitable copies be delivered to each appointee and appointing authority.

 

 

SYNOPSISThis Concurrent Resolution creates the Blind and Visually Impaired Education Task Force.

AUTHOR: Sen. Lawson

Polytech Senior Austin Auen Wants Delaware Legislature To Lower Age For House Representative

Milford resident Austin Auen wants a legislator to sponsor a bill that would lower the age of eligibility for a Delaware State Representative from 24 to 18.  If any young man in this state could get this accomplished, it would have to be Austin!

I’ve known Austin for a few years now.  Back in the 2012-2013 school year, I worked as a paraprofessional and substitute teacher at Campus Community School in Dover.  I was subbing for a Spanish class one day, and I noticed this one student finished all his work early.  I started talking with him, and found out his name was Austin Auen.  He knew a lot more about politics and the state of Delaware than your average kid.  I quickly surmised he was a Republican, and he reminded me of Michael J. Fox’s Family Ties character, Alex P. Keaton.

Flash forward a few years later, and Austin is a Senior at Polytech.  I saw him last week at the first day of the 148th General Assembly when all the House Representatives were sworn in.  We talked about the whole Kowalko vs. Schwartkopf fued.  When I saw a post Austin put on Facebook, I had no idea what this young man had been up to.  This was the post I saw:

I am happy to announce that this legislative session in Delaware I am making an effort to try and find a Senator or Representative to work with me to develop two things in Delaware:

1. A constitutional amendment to the state constitution that changes the age citizens can run for the House from 24 to 18

2. A bill to make it a graduation requirement for Delaware students to pass a civics exam.

Wish me luck as I try and make a legislative difference in the state….

I knew I had to interview him.  This is NOT your average teenager.  I reached out to Mr. Auen and he graciously agreed to be interviewed.

Exceptional Delaware: Austin, it’s been a few years.  What are you doing with your life these days

Austin: I am currently a high school senior at POLYTECH, I’ve recently passed my senior thesis, therefore basically passed high school and focusing on some outside interests like government. I am currently in the running for a Lake Forest School Board race in May.

This is no joke.  You can see the press release here:

AUSTIN AUEN FOR LAKE FOREST SCHOOL BOARD

Committee to Elect Austin Auen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

“Democratic candidate for Insurance Commissioner announces leave of race”

Today, Monday January 19th, 2015 Candidate Austin Auen has announced that he no longer wishes to seek the office of Insurance Commissioner, but to seek an office he would be more attune to helping the people of Delaware. Auen has announced his intentions to seek a seat on the Lake Forest School Board.

Auen cites his years as a student, plus his involvement with State Legislators, Youth in Government programs and local leaders as experience for this seat. The election will be held May of 2015. Auen said that he hasn’t made an endorsement yet but will soon.

For information call 302-264-7967 or email austinauen@gmail.com

Exceptional Delaware: What do you think of the 148th General Assembly?  Do we have a good group for the next two years?

Austin: The 148th General Assembly is certainly interesting. I think this is a time for Speaker Pete to really show some leadership or step down, there have been a few attempts to remove him as speaker these last few assembly’s and I think that says something. We have new members like Rep Matthews and Rep Lynn who are on the very left while we have those on the very right like Rep Yearick and Rep Collins. I think in the end it will prove to be a good group, we still have greats like Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach, from the Senate we have hopefuls like Poore and Bushweller (if he gets off this casino kick).

Exceptional Delaware: Which member of the Delaware House do you think will most surprise people this year?

Austin: I will list which Rep will surprise both negatively and positively:

Negative- Rep. Lynn, personally, I love the guy he’s a wonderful person and friend. However, I think what we all expect is a Darryl Scott and we just don’t have that. We have a different leader in Lynn. Which isn’t bad, but don’t expect him to be a Scott.

Positive- Rep. Speigleman, I really think he’s learned his lesson as a freshman that being a loose cannon isn’t going to fare too well with even your own caucus. He has introduced a promising bill on education and I think we may see a move to the center for him.

Exceptional Delaware: How about the Delaware Senate?

Austin: Negative- Senator Ennis, in 2014 we saw a somewhat progressive Ennis, that ship will sail in 2015. With issues on education coming up, I think he will revert to being somewhat conservative on his stances… The death penalty and death with dignity could be two things we need him on.

Positive- Senator Poore, we have seen really great things out of her in 2015 and have no doubt that she’ll surprise us with some level headed solutions to some things this state is facing.

Exceptional Delaware: If I know you, you are already working someone in the General Assembly in regards to your idea to lower the age of State Representative from 24 to 18…

Austin: If I had to pick one senator and one rep who will throw me a bone I say that’ll be Bennett or Spiegleman on the House side, Senator Townsend or Poore over in the Senate. It obviously will get picked up by a YOUNG or progressive member of the Legislature, I’m having a meeting with Spiegleman on Wednesday and hopefully he will pick it up.

Exceptional Delaware: If your wish was fulfilled and a bill passed, would you run for a seat?

Austin: Yes. I believe we need younger members in the General Assembly.  My  Rep (Peterman) doesn’t even door knock, he can’t, he has back problems because he’s older. We need young representation. That doesn’t mean I would run right away, maybe 2018 but not 2016. If it were passed.

Exceptional Delaware: Which party would you run for?

Austin: Republican. Consider where I live (Felton) and who lives there. I disassociate with the far right and consider myself a “Rockefeller Republican” I’m more than willing to work with Democrats, I personally hate political parties.

Exceptional Delaware: If elected, which committees would you want to sit on?

Austin: I think most reps serve on about five committees.  I would love to serve on  Education, Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Gambling.

Exceptional Delaware: What is your dream legislation you would want to introduce?

Austin: Back in the 1950’s the Governor of DE, Caleb Boggs, tried to pass a package of bills called the “New Day in Delaware” which consisted of bills making government more transparent in ways of lobbying reform, government department reform, etc. I want government to be totally open to the people.

Exceptional Delaware: As you know, I’m kind of big on education and what’s been going on with it in this state.  I want to throw some controversial topics your way and get your stance on them.  We will start off with Common Core.

Austin: I am not a fan of it, to have one expectation for a group of teachers that all have different styles is terrible in my opinion, our teachers and students don’t need that.

Exceptional Delaware: No, they certainly do not.  One size does not fit all!  How about standardized testing…

Austin: Again, I think it’s wrong to judge teachers and students based on one test. I know there must be a better way.

Exceptional Delaware: What are your views on parents opting their children out of standardized testing?

Austin: I think this could be a great way to show that students and parents don’t want one standard test for everyone, sometimes leaders need a visual, if a bunch of parents start pulling kids, that sends a message!

Exceptional Delaware: Especially if the test scores can be used for other punitive measures.  Which brings me up to priority schools…

Austin: This couldn’t be any more of a mess by the Governor.  One of my family members is a teacher at one of these priority schools and the school itself is a nightmare.  To have this added just makes it more difficult for the teachers to just do their job. If I was one of these principals I would be pissed.

Exceptional Delaware: What do you think of charter schools and the topic of enrollment preference?

Austin: I support Charter Schools as a whole, but government support of charter schools? That should be minimal, honestly.

Exceptional Delaware: I feel that teachers in Delaware are getting a raw deal with the “teacher effectiveness” programs launched by the DOE the past few years.

Austin:  I think teachers in this state do a wonderful job, they do what they do because they love it.  The DOE in Delaware makes people stop wanting to be a teacher I think.  It follows whatever Markell tells them to and it will come back to bite them.  Delaware has a lot of room to improve, but the biggest thing right now is getting our schools on one page, sit everyone down and just make sure everyone knows what’s happening in state government because I don’t think all of our schools know what the heck is happening.  Delaware’s education strengths are our choices in schools, we have many schools students can choose.

Exceptional Delaware: The biggest news coming out of the General Assembly hasn’t been any legislation, but their committee alignment.  What do you think about the John Kowalko and Pete Schwartzkopf feud?

Austin: The feud between the Speaker and Rep. Kowalko is something I find to be ridiculous on both sides. The Speaker has every right to take him off that committee, but that doesn’t mean he should. I’m not a Kowalko fan because I think he alienated everyone and is somehow surprised when they don’t want him on the committee but Pete really should’ve left him on the committee. That’s what he’s elected to do.

Exceptional Delaware: We are going to have to agree to disagree on this one.  I think Schwartzkopf’s timing on this is very critical to his decision, but Kowalko should not have been kicked off.  He is one of the most important voices for education in our state, but that’s a conversation for another day.  There has been a lot of talk about who the next Governor of Delaware will be when Markell’s reign ends in January 2017.  What do you think will happen?

Austin: The 2016 Delaware Governor race will be interesting. I don’t think Biden will run but I think Carney will run and be our next Governor.

Exceptional Delaware: That’s a choice I haven’t heard yet.  I think Denn would make an excellent governor.  But who I would really love to see, and no one has even mentioned this as a choice yet, but I think Kim Williams would make an awesome Governor.  Thanks for letting me interview you Austin, and I can’t wait to see what happens with your legislative ideas and your run for the Milford School Board.

Austin: Thank you for the opportunity!

There you have it folks, a future politician in the making, Delaware’s home-grown Austin Auen.  I fully expect to one day see him as a Speaker of the Delaware House, or a Senator, or even the Governor.  The race in 2032 should be very interesting! Or maybe even 2020 if Austin gets his way!

In the meantime, I am sure I will see Austin roaming around Legislative Hall after school between now and June 30th.  This kid has a bright future!  In the Fall, Austin will be attending Widener University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Accounting.

Austin’s mother did give permission for me to run this interview as Austin is still considered a minor, for a couple more months…