Sokola Out As Chair Of Senate Education Committee, Sturgeon Will Be Chair

The Delaware Senate Education Committee just got very interesting.  While it is still five members, the composition of the committee includes two rookie Senators.  Long-time Chair, Senator David Sokola, is still on the committee as one of three Democrats.  Senator Laura Sturgeon will be the Chair while Senator Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman will be the Vice-Chair.  The five member group also has Republican Senators Anthony Delcollo and Ernie Lopez.

Gone are Senators Brian Pettyjohn, Bryan Townsend, and Jack Walsh who were on the Senate Education Committee last year.

Having Sturgeon as Chair is big news for Delaware education.  She served on the Delaware State Education Association Executive Committee for many years.  Lockman as Vice-Chair is also an interesting choice.

As I reported the other day, a rookie Senator has been appointed to the Joint Finance Committee.  While I thought it was one person, it is actually Laura Sturgeon who will serve on the JFC.

Many have wondered if David Sokola will make this his last term and resign after 26 years in the State Senate.  Sokola is synonymous with the Senate Education Committee so to see him take a step back like this is shocking.  While we still have State Rep. Earl Jaques as Chair of the House Education Committee, the powerhouse combo of himself and Sokola as the leaders in education legislation movement is officially over.

The Chair of the Senate Education Committee chooses the agenda for which bills are heard in Committee as well as bringing the bills to the floor for a vote when they are released from Committee.  Interesting times indeed!

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Teacher License & Student Protection Senate Bill #234 Passes Delaware Senate, Heads To House

After a fresh overnight look at the language of Senate Bill #234, the legislation passed unanimously in the Delaware Senate.  The bill gives the Delaware Secretary of Education the authority to immediately suspend a teacher’s license in the event of an arrest for certain crimes against a child.

The bill was released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  It was placed on the agenda for the Senate later that afternoon.  During discussion of the bill, Senator Anthony DelCollo wanted some clarification on the legalese in the bill.  Senator Bryan Townsend laid the bill on the table to take a second look at the language of the bill but it cleared that hurdle because no amendment was placed with the bill and went to a full Senate Vote.  Today, 18 Delaware Senators voted yes on SB 234.  Three were absent.

Senate Bill #234 will go to the House Education Committee.  I anticipate this being placed on the agenda for next Wednesday.

Currently, the ability of the Department to take licensure action (i.e., suspension, revocation, limitation) is, in certain cases, contingent upon the public school employer first taking employment action (i.e., dismissal, termination). The Department believes that its ability, as the agency issuing professional teaching credentials to educators, to undertake licensure action should be separate from any action by the public school employer. Further, the Department seeks to expand the circumstances in which the Secretary may automatically suspend teaching credentials, specifically to include situations involving felony crimes against a children or where there is a clear and immediate danger to student safety or welfare. This bill removes the requirement of employment action before disciplinable offenses may be handled by the Department, making this licensure disciplinary structure consistent with how other licensed professions are handled in this State. The bill also creates the power to impose temporary emergency suspensions in those rare instances where a teacher poses a threat to student health, safety, or welfare. Finally, this bill creates the confidential letter of concern that is non-disciplinary and may be used in those instances where a teacher’s behavior is not in violation of the code, but indicative of a practice that is a matter of concern. These two provisions also make teacher licensure discipline more similar to other licensed professions in the State.                    

Earl Jaques Bows To The Delaware Chamber Of Commerce Over Special Education Diplomas

It looks like you need special permission to introduce legislation to help students with disabilities.  At the Joint House and Senate Education Committee today in Delaware, State Rep. Earl Jaques asked one of the presenters of the special education strategic plan if she checked with the Delaware Chamber Of Commerce first before pushing legislation for special education diplomas.  Currently, many students with disabilities with complex and intensive needs get a certificate in lieu of a diploma.  Many businesses will not hire these young adults after graduation because they do not have a diploma.

The legislation, which was filed last week by State Rep. Kim Williams, would award these students a diploma based on modified standards.  It is not exactly the same as a regular diploma because of those modified standards, but it is still a diploma.  That way, these students would be able to check the box on job applications indicating they have a diploma.

During a question and answer session after Michele Marinucci and Bill Doolittle gave the special education strategic plan presentation, State Rep. Earl Jaques (also the Chair of the House Education Committee) asked Marinucci if she consulted with the Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the business community over the proposed legislation.  Marinucci indicated she had not.  I took severe offense to this question from Jaques.  As if legislators need some type of special permission from big business to allow things to get better for people with disabilities.  We don’t need permission from the Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber should be begging for this type of bill to allow equal access to employment for ALL Delaware citizens.  As State Senator Anthony Delcollo pointed out, there exist certain laws already such as the Americans with Disabilities Act that prevents discrimination against disabled citizens.

The entire Delaware certificate system needs to disappear.  There are plenty of jobs where former students are more than qualified but this discriminatory certificate prevents them from getting those types of jobs.  Our legislators and Governor need to stop bowing down to big business in Delaware and do what is right for ALL the citizens, especially the most vulnerable.  While big business lobbyists run rampant throughout Legislative Hall telling legislators how they should vote and which bills they support and which ones they don’t, our legislators are missing the point of making laws.  It should be what is best for all the citizens, not just those with the fattest wallets.  There are those legislators who understand this, State Rep. Kim Williams being one of them.  But far too many listen to those who have the most money.

While Jaques indicated he doesn’t want to see potential problems arise from persons with disabilities just checking a box and not being qualified for those jobs, there is also a thing called an interview process.  As well, many job applications do ask an applicant about their qualifications to meet the need for the job.  Having a certificate instead of a diploma is an instant barrier that serves to weed out these job applicants from the get-go.  I find this practice disgusting and barbaric.  For this comment to come from Jaques, who has publicly acknowledged having a grandchild with Autism, I found it  particularly disturbing.  I’m sure he is trying to get all his ducks in a row and making sure there has been enough stakeholder engagement.  And while I do agree the business community should certainly be a part of the discussion in how to best help students with disabilities and improve upon the process, I do not think any group involved in getting common sense legislation through needs permission first.  I wonder if Jaques read my article on the current Chair of the Delaware Chamber of Commerce from yesterday.  Maybe then he would understand why I am vehemently opposed to any pre-consultation with the damn Chamber over education legislation.

The actual presentation was top-notch.  The plan is designed to help students with disabilities and schools to improve special education.  While the plan is not set in stone and is a “living document”, I think it is a major step in the right direction.  This group did their homework and while I always think there should be more parents not affiliated with any other organization on these things, there is an excellent amount of diversity from all aspects of special education.  To see the actual strategic plan and what was discussed today, please go here.

I did see one moment of political maneuvering and it was very blatant in my opinion, but since I am unable to verify that as fact, I will stop right there.  I will say it did not involve anyone involved with the Special Education Strategic Plan.  But I expect more from that legislator than to ask questions on behalf of the Governor.  If the Governor’s circle of advisers want to ask a question, they should just do it themselves.  They are more than welcome to do so.  By using a legislator to get a point across is just slimy in my opinion.  Especially when it really doesn’t have much to do with the actual presentation being discussed and more about a priority of Governor Carney.  I will say to this legislator as well as Carney’s guy, the article I posted yesterday with the actual plan embedded into it was posted on the Solutions for Wilmington Schools Facebook page and was read by many.

In another brilliant moment of the Joint committee session, State Senator David Sokola (the Chair of the Senate Education Committee) suggested to Marinucci that they should really take a look at Finland’s special education and what a bang-up job they do recognizing special education needs at an early age.  State Rep. Sean Matthews replied to Sokola’s statement that the educational barriers that exist in Delaware, such as charter and choice school enrollment preferences, do not exist in Finland.  He indicated Finland is at the top of education in the world because they do not have those barriers and grant equal education to all in Finland.  As well, Matthews said you don’t see actions like “counseling out” going on in Finland.  That is a practice with certain charter schools where parents are told “we aren’t sure if your child is the right fit here”.  While I don’t know how much this goes on now, it has been an allegation thrown at certain charters in Delaware.  Many students in the past would wind up back in their traditional school district in the middle of a school year.  Many of these were also special education students.  Sokola is a firm believer in enrollment preferences, usually those that protect the largest school within his own voting district, Newark Charter School.

In terms of the entire House Education Committee it would have been nice if the Republican House members actually stayed for the entire presentation.  About twenty or so minutes in they all walked out.  But along those lines, State Rep. Melanie Smith was a no-show as she usually is.  No offense to the GOP guys, but if you are on a committee you should stick around for, you know, the actual meetings.  It is special education.  Not sure what was more important than that.  But I digress.  On the Senate side, the only missing Education Committee member was Senator Bryan Townsend.

Despite Jaques’ assurance to me yesterday that this meeting would be on the live audio feed on the General Assembly website, it was not.  But there were also issues in getting a smart-screen going for the strategic plan presentation so I would chalk that up to technical issues going on.  Legislative Hall is a very old building.

 

Senator Sokola: “Maybe Christina Should Give One Of Their Buildings To Newark Charter School”

The Delaware Senate Education Committee tackled the 5 mile radius bill today with some explosive comments from Senator David Sokola, mostly in response to a public comment.  Warning: some of the comments conveyed today will get people very angry. Continue reading

**UPDATED**Delaware Senators Pettyjohn, Lopez, Lavelle, Simpson and DelCollo Publicly Support Betsy DeVos…Why? Please Withdraw Your Support

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*Please see below for a statement from Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn in regards to this letter.

This morning, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams published a letter from several state legislators around the country supporting Betsy DeVos in her nomination for the United States Secretary of Education.  Senators Anthony DelCollo, Greg Lavelle, Ernie Lopez, Brian Pettyjohn, and Gary Simpson represented the Delaware contingent of these signatures.  I am publicly asking these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Mrs. DeVos.

Last week, DeVos had her Senate Confirmation hearing.  She did not know the difference between growth and proficiency.  She supported guns in schools to prevent grizzly bear attacks.  She stated when she was first nominated that she supported dismantling Common Core, but history with the DeVos Foundation suggests otherwise.  She is a fervent supporter of school vouchers which have the strong potential to further issues of discrimination and segregation in American schools the way they are currently set up in many states.  She supports charter schools which have not shown to be a greater success unless the pull smarter students in through selective enrollment preferences despite the legality of those preferences in many states.  But most disappointing was DeVos inability to understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA, is a federal law, not a state and local law.

As a father of a student with disabilities, I was appalled when Betsy DeVos said this.  The U.S. Secretary of Education is a person who leads all American students in public education.  The last thing we need is someone who does not understand special education going into the job.  DeVos is a billionaire but her ability to lead education in America is disturbing on many levels.

I have found myself in alignment with many bills that Pettyjohn and Lopez supported.  They stood with parents during the opt out saga.  They did not support the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is why I find their support of DeVos puzzling.  Education has become synonymous with standardized testing.  Students with disabilities do the poorest on these tests.  But they are expected to show the most “growth” in state accountability systems.  As a result, in my opinion, special education has become a gigantic mess.  It is now geared more towards the student outcomes on these tests than accommodating the true needs of each individual student.  If DeVos has her way, students with disabilities could be shuffled around different private schools through a very flawed school voucher system.  Private schools are not obligated to follow federal special education law unless they receive federal education funds.  Special education in public schools can be challenging enough, adding private schools to that mix with federal dollars could become a recipe for disaster for a population that is already marginalized to a great extent.

Once again, I urge these five Delaware Republican Senators to withdraw their support for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.  Our children deserve better.  Students with disabilities deserve better.  And my son deserves better.

**UPDATED**5:16pm: I spoke with Senator Pettyjohn about this issue shortly after I posted this article.  He echoed the statement he made on Facebook, which said:

Kevin, I agreed to support Betsy DeVos for her nomination to lead the US Department of Education based on my belief that an outsider view of the US DOE is necessary. In previous statements, Ms. DeVos had indicated her disdain for the Department and it’s overburdensome policies and regulations toward states and local districts. I have, for some time, been critical of the federal intrusion into our classrooms, and prior to Ms. DeVos’ confirmation hearings, those were concerns that she had also viewed with a critical eye.

That being said, I do have concerns that have been brought to light since her confirmation hearings; especially concerning her stance on special education. While this is an issue that our United States Senators will be faced with in the coming days, I believe that the letter that was sent, which I agreed to sign before the confirmation hearings took place, will have relatively little impact on the decision that will ultimately be made on Capitol Hill.

That Senate Confirmation hearing took a lot of folks by surprise.  In my eyes, it just proved that vast amounts of wealth does not always equal knowledge.  DeVos will face a vote for her nomination next Tuesday, January 31st.