Delaware Senate Passes The Budget Bill 10 Days Before Legislative Session Ends & Paid Parental Leave Up For A Vote

The Delaware Senate just passed the FY2019 budget bill.  With a vote of 19 yes, 1 no, and 1 absent, Senate Bill #235 will go to the Delaware House of Representatives.  This is a far cry from a year ago when the General Assembly didn’t pass the budget until after June 30th.  They wound up passing the budget in a rare continued session which lasted until July 2nd.

The sole no vote belonged to the perennial budget naysayer, State Senator Colin Bonini.  Senator Catherine Cloutier, who has been ill of late, was absent.  I fully anticipate State Rep. John Kowalko attempting to put the charter school transportation slush fund amendment on the bill to end that practice.  This could be the year!  But it would have to go back to the Delaware Senate at that point.

What this also means is no more money is going into the budget unless an amendment specifically says so.  This point actually caused a ruckus last week between Senator Dave Lawson and Senator David Sokola.  The Senate Education Committee did not release the bill.  The main reason was the budget bill was already decided upon but Senator Lawson’s bill would have added $65 million to the FY2019 budget.  It caused both the Senators to put Facebook videos up defending their points of view.

A slew of school safety bills are pending in the General Assembly right now.  Only one, HS1 for House Bill #49, has been sent to Governor Carney.  A House Bill was supposed to be heard in the House Education Committee today with an ask of $10 million for a school safety fund but it was removed due to a Senate bill asking for $15 million.

At this moment, the paid parental leave for state employees legislation, House Bill #3, is about to get a vote in the Delaware Senate.  The Director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, Tammi Croce, is testifying about teacher shortages in our schools.  Paying for substitutes, she said, would cost more on the local side of education funding on top of paying more on the local share for a teacher’s potential 12 week leave.  She said her organization is opposed to the legislation. Senator Nicole Poore said teachers already take leave to which Croce responded most mothers take about 6-8 weeks while fathers take 1-2 weeks.  Poore said New Jersey offers a paid parental leave similar to this legislation and they don’t suffer the retention issues Delaware faces.  I will update this discussion.  It is rather fascinating.

Senator Sokola supports the bill.  He said this bill could be seen as a recruiting tool to get more teachers in Delaware.  As well, it could inspire more retired teachers to come back to long-term substitute because they would be in the same classroom as opposed to getting shuffled around different classrooms.  Croce invited Sokola to do some long-term subbing to which he said he might since DuPont dropped him three years ago.  Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long said if they have a spinning wheel in there Sokola would jump at it!

Senator Greg Lavelle, who is a sponsor of the bill, said Croce makes some good points.  He said the bill was introduced on April 5th so why are the school districts just bringing this up in the last 4-5 days?  He said it was an abdication of duty for the school Superintendents to wait this long to oppose the bill.  He said he supports what they are saying but seems offended they waited until now.  In other words, Lavelle is being Lavelle.

Kristen Dwyer with the Delaware State Education Association is testifying right now.  Senator Poore said she understands male teachers are unable to take paternity leave unless they use sick time to which Dwyer said yes.  Dwyer said 76% of their membership are women but most of them are of child-bearing age.  She said many teachers take the 6-8 weeks of paid leave now but many of them have to take more time as unpaid leave.  She expressed how many women many have complicated labors which cause that additional time.  She said new teachers in the first five years of the profession are leaving at a rate of 39%.  She said teachers are looking for benefits just as much as salaries.

Senator Simpson asked if she is concerned about the ability of school districts to hire more substitutes if this legislation passes.  She said the incident of substitute shortages is not because of this bill.  She said she has been in discussion with others to get more pay for long-term subs.  Simpson keeps trying to press the substitute teacher issue.  Dwyer said this bill does not change what has been an ongoing issue with finding substitutes due to the pay involved.

Poore asked Dwyer if her members want this bill.  She said yes.  DSEA represents 13,000 educators and this bill represents a class of that total.  Poore said 446 births a year are attributed to teachers.  Senator Hocker said this would be about 110-120 births each quarter of the year.  Simpson said he has gotten letters from teachers in DSEA who do not support the bill.  She said she has not but she has heard of teachers who would have not received this benefit since they are past child-bearing age.

Senator Simpson said he can’t support the bill.  Senators Marshall and Sokola asked to be co-sponsors on the bill.  Simpson asked what effect this could have on private employers.  He said it might impact families who decide not to come to Delaware.  Editor’s note: this guy will find any reason not to support this bill!  Now he is bringing up how the Department of Corrections has been experiencing shortages for years.  He feels as though this will add to that shortage.

Senator Poore is giving statistics about how Chase gives 16 weeks of paid parental leave and Bank Of America gives 18 weeks.  She said this is one way to invest in the next generation.  She feels this is to incentivize teachers to stay in the profession.  Senator Simpson asked what non-banks are giving?  Poore didn’t know.

Simpson introduced an amendment to reduce the time from 12 weeks to 6 weeks.  He said it is a “reasonable compromise”.  Roll call on the amendment: 5 yes, 15 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Now he is introducing Senate Amendment #2 which adds a three-year sunset to the bill.  He feels the bill is a “grave” mistake.  Roll call- 7 yes, 13 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Roll call on the bill.  Wait, Lavelle wants to talk again.  Said he supports the bill.  He said paraprofessionals are a part of the IEP, which his son has.  He said his wife as well as Senator Poore are fighters for IEPs.  Senator DelCollo supports the bill as well.  Senator Walsh said companies don’t have 39% attrition.  Said he supports the bill to support his union brothers and sisters in Delaware.  Wants to be added as a co-sponsor.  Hansen, co-sponsor as well.  Rose Henry, wants to be co-sponsor.

Everyone is calling for the roll on the bill- 16 yes, 4 no, 1 absent.  Bill passes!

Here Comes House Bill 60, Let The Fun Begin Again But Don’t Opt Out Of Opting Out!

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It is now official!  House Bill 60, filed today, would do what House Bill 50 did in the Delaware 148th General Assembly.  Time to rally the troops again and get the show on the road!  While on its face, folks could expect business as usual, things could change and very fast.  Word on the street is already forming about something happening very soon which could turn this bill into the biggest bill of the legislative season.  I would pay VERY close attention to what happens with this bill.  Sponsored by State Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson.  Additional sponsors include State Reps. Kim Williams, Paul Baumbach, Deb Hudson, Helene Keeley, Sean Lynn, Trey Paradee, Jeff Spiegelman, and David Wilson, and Senators Margaret Rose-Henry and Gerald Hocker.  We have six House Dems, three Republican House reps, one Senate Dem and two Senate Republicans.  Let the fireworks begin (again)!

I am pretty sure it goes without saying, email your State Rep and Senator NOW in support of this bill.  Also give State Rep. Earl Jaques a holler asking him to put this on the agenda for the next House Education Committee meeting when they get back after their JFC hearing break at the end of February.

*Sorry for the technical snafu with Scribd.  Not sure why I didn’t pick up the pdf.  Here is the actual bill:

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Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover.  I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours.  But some of my “must list” legislation passed.  Some with changes and some intact.

House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate.  Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready.  But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective.  He couldn’t grasp these facts.  He said he would support the bill.  But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working.  The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes.  The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry.  The amendments added on can be seen here and here.  Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass.  In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes.  But this was the compromise reached.  Will Governor Markell sign the bill?  We shall see.  I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.

After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning.  It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate.  I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later.  It passed soon after.

And the WEIC redistricting plan.  I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes.  A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging.  This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year.  The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018.  But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:

Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline

Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!

As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.

In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”

Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.

While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.

I urge your continued resolve.

There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…  That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either.  We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now.  But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried.  I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22.  Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters.  I will see what this additional year of planning will produce.  But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today.   I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.

Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year.  Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state.  An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved.  The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence.  Good for them!

It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly.  House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times.  But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents.  I respect and admire him for doing that.  Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed.  The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways.  My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago.  I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill.  I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer.  For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.

I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead.  In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!

What I’m Truly Thankful For On This Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers of Exceptional Delaware.  It’s been a crazy year, and we all know what the issues are.  But today, I want to give thanks for what we do have and some of the accomplishments brought forth by others this year.

Thank you to State Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson for listening to parents of Delaware and introducing House Bill 50!

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Thank you to John Young for his passion and words of wisdom!

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Thank you to the victories! Like when House Bill 50 cleared the House by a 36-3 margin!

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Thank you to State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf for letting my son Jacob play with your gavel!

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Thank you to Delaware Governor Jack Markell for signing House Concurrent Resolution #36 recognizing “Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month” in Delaware!

Governor Markell, Kevin Ohlandt and Jacob Ohlandt, 5/14/15

Governor Markell, Kevin Ohlandt and Jacob Ohlandt, 5/14/15

Thank you to beautiful summer days and the beach!

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Thank you to the Progressive Democrats of Delaware for an honor!

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Thank you to the friends I’ve made along the way during my sojourn into Delaware education!

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Thank you to the world for reading my crazy blog!

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Thank you the legislators and stakeholders who fight for our kids and schools!

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Thank you to my dog Bella who helped take care of me after my hernia operation!

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Thank you to my son Jacob who is the inspiration for all I do!  He is becoming an amazing young man who, despite everything, has a heart of gold!  As well, thank you to my awesome wife who puts up with more than anyone I know!

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Thank you once again, to all my readers and those who are allies and enemies, and those in-between!  We will prevail, somehow, someway!

DOE’s Own Accountability Framework Working Group Slams Regulation 103 At State Board of Education Meeting

At the State Board of Education meeting today, it was a packed house as several public comments were given in opposition to Regulation 103.  The Delaware State Educators Association slammed it, the Red Clay Educators Association slammed it, Delaware PTA slammed it, I slammed it, and parents slammed it.  One parent slammed DOE’s Smarter Balanced Assessment and their obsession with proficiency.  In my public comment, I advised the DOE and State Board of Education of the state and federal complaints I filed against them in the last week.  I could have gone on, but the clock ran out. State Rep. John Kowalko lambasted the State Board of Education on their regulatory practices when the General Assembly is not in session and vowed to fight DOE and the State Board on these matters.

One parent was denied the chance to speak.  Because of the huge crowd, and a regulation stating you must sign up for public comment 15 minutes prior to the meeting, several people were told they couldn’t speak.  Board President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray did give one last chance to sign up for public comment, but the sign-up sheet was at the Board table, not in the hallway like it usually is (even way after the 15 minute “regulation” mark).  After all the comments ended, I advised Dr. Gray there was one more speaker who didn’t hear her “last chance” comment.  Dr. Gray refused to let the parent give public comment.  This parent is going to be sending me her public comment today and I will post it on here.

The ParentStrike press conference went well.  NBC Philadelphia and reporter Tim Furlong were there, and will be airing a segment during their 5pm broadcast.  The News Journal, Dover Post, and others were in attendance between the Press Conference and the State Board meeting as well.   I spoke, as did Rep. Kowalko, State Senator Dave Lawson, and RCEA President Mike Matthews.  I had to leave the State Board of Education early to pick my son up from school, but I will be getting updates on their discussion of Regulation 103 and the Smarter Balanced Assessment results for all the sub-groups.

Any goodwill the Delaware DOE had is quickly evaporating as no one seems to be taking their side anymore.  The House of Cards has collapsed, but I did wish departing Secretary of Education Mark Murphy good luck in his future endeavors, as did others.  He was given a gift by the State Board so he could “write it all down”, which if I had to guess would be a future book???? Please don’t call it “Murphy’s Law” Mark…that would be too much…

Oh yeah, what about the Accountability Framework Working Group, otherwise known as AFWG?  Apparently, the notes from their meetings I published a few weeks ago, did not show the true story about what went on during these meetings.  It wasn’t all harmony and agreement like the minutes suggest.  DSEA member of the group, Deb Stevens, gave public comment.  She spoke as the representative for all of the non-DOE members of the group.  She indicated that this coalition from the AFWG wants the State Board of Education to defer a ruling on this until it can be flushed out even further and does not believe it is a final product at all and needs a lot of work.

I did find out former US DOE employee Deborah Delisle apparently sent a letter to the Delaware DOE indicating the participation rate MUST be used on the ESEA mandated school report card as a “consequence”, although there is nothing on the US DOE or Delaware DOE website with this letter or language.  I just emailed Penny Schwinn for a copy of this letter.  Even if it is in there, it is not regulation and the Delaware DOE is in way obligated to enforce a simple warning.

Rep. Kowalko & Senator Lawson Slam Markell’s HB50 Veto With Style & Facts!!

With permission from State Rep. John Kowalko to publish his letter that appeared on Delawareonline earlier this afternoon!

Markell Veto…..Opt-out or Cop-out

                It has been one week since we received Governor Markell’s message that he had vetoed House Bill 50 (the parental opt out rights bill). We feel it is our obligation, as responsible lawmakers, to thoroughly review and consider all aspects of Governor Markell’s stated reasons for vetoing this legislation.
Unfortunately, we found little if any reasonable logic to the Governor’s action and explanation. Quite frankly, there were a few questionable inaccuracies in the statement that lead us to believe that Governor Markell’s action was premeditated with little thought given to the overwhelming support from parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, and the General Assembly for HB 50.
We made every effort to grasp the argument that the administration was trying to make, but the indefatigable truth remains that he had no logical reason to reject the wishes of the parents and lawmakers and instead chose to diminish the seriousness of the “opt-out” movement with a series of unsubstantiated arguments.
The third paragraph of the Governor’s veto statement suggests that educators and school leaders opposed the legislation when, in fact, the reality is that HB 50 and parental opt-out rights are supported, unequivocally, by the DSEA and its membership and the Delaware PTA and its membership. There were also three of the largest and poorest school districts in the state–Christina, Red Clay, and Capital–who voted for and passed resolutions supporting parental opt-out rights. Also noticeable in its deliberate exaggeration is the Governor’s contention that the civil rights “community” opposed the legislation, while refusing to acknowledge that a larger portion of that community did not oppose “opt-out” legislation. Particularly offensive was the language in the fourth paragraph that stated, “if struggling students are disproportionately encouraged to opt out as has happened elsewhere, we may not be able to identify the children who need intervention to be successful.” Unfortunately, this type of hyperbole paints a false picture of the situation in many ways. There is no proof available or offered that a “disproportionate encouragement “of students to opt out has “happened elsewhere.” There is no evidence whatsoever that the test that will be used in Delaware does or will identify children who need intervention. Most importantly, HB 50 does not and cannot be used to encourage or discourage participation in the assessment test.
The fifth paragraph posits the unsubstantiated and unproven assertion that “students with disabilities and students of color have benefitted the most from the adoption of statewide testing requirements.” There is no valid data that would suggest this to be an accurate statement of fact. Out of respect for the office of the Governor, we will temper our comments regarding the deliberate misrepresentation of reality in that sentence and its intention to instill fear and doubt in the minority and disabled communities.
Governor Markell, in his veto statement, also suggests that HB 50 was a construct of those who feel that children are over-tested. This completely misses the point that the legislation is exclusively about parental and child rights to not participate in this specific, unproven, time-consuming distraction called the “Smarter Balanced Assessment,” which hinders their ability to learn expediently and prevents appropriately identifying their shortcomings and needs to succeed. The fact that this administration chooses to engage in the politics of distraction that could result in useful and proven tests being shunned to the detriment of students and educators speaks volumes against the Governor’s decision to veto HB 50.
In conclusion, after having thoroughly examined the Governor’s stated positions on parental opt-out rights and because of the enormous public support expressed for HB 50 by educators (DSEA), parents and families (PTA), school administrators (Capital, Christina, and Red Clay resolutions), and the huge majority of General Assembly members who supported HB 50, we have decided that it is our sworn responsibility to our constituents and all Delawareans to bring HB 50 to the floor in January for a veto override vote.

Representative John Kowalko 25th District, 14 Kells Ave. Newark De. 19711    302 547 9351
Senator Dave Lawson 15th Senatorial District  302 270 1038

My Gift From Senator Dave Lawson After House Bill 50 Passed The Delaware Senate

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What Will Delaware Governor Jack Markell Do With The House & Senate Passed Opt-Out Bill, House Bill 50?

The Delaware Senate just passed House Bill 50 by a vote of 15-6.  The very controversial parent opt-out bill now travels to Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s desk.  Will he sign it?  Veto it?  I just asked his Education Policy Advisor Lindsey O’Mara and she does not know what he is going to do.

If he vetoes the bill, he faces the wrath of many Delaware parents.  If he signs the bill he is sure to tick off US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a legion of corporate education reformers in Delaware.  Whatever the result, the passage of this bill in the 148th General Assembly honors a parents right to opt their child out of standardized assessments in Delaware.  It will also prevent schools or the state Department of Education from bullying or intimidating parents when they choose to opt their child out.  It shows respect and tolerance of parent wishes which is the heart of the legislation.

Thank you to State Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson for sponsoring the bill, along with the Delaware PTA who came through time and time again.  As well, the Delaware State Educators Association, and the hundreds of parents who fought very hard for this bill.  This is a major victory and you should all be proud!

House Bill 50 Senate Vote: 15 Yes, 6 No, House Bill 50 Passes!!!!!

It looks like they are following the agenda today, and House Bill 50 is #5 on the list.  While we are waiting, I’ll update you on the latest.  Senator Bryan Townsend appeared in a WDEL article and discussed parent opt-out.  He indicated he supports the bill, it is coming back to the Senate, and “after the House stripped the amendment off that I put on, and I’m OK with that,” and reporter Frank Gerace said “Townsend supports the bill, even without his amendment.”   So that sounds like one definitive yes vote today!  Seven Delaware senators voted no last week out of the 21 present.  Exactly one-third of the Senate.

The current bill, Senate Bill 51, is taking a while, but listening to the testimony it is a very important bill about child witnesses.  Roll call on an amendment for SB51 happening now.  It passed.  The actual bill passed as well.

They are going off the agenda now.  Senator Henry is bringing in the Nelson Mandela Washington Fellows studying this summer at the University of Delaware.  All of them are from different countries in Africa.  Very cool!

We are back on the agenda.  Sokola deferred item #3.  Onto item #4…deferred.  House Bill 50 is up!  Being read into consideration right now with the amendments.  Lindsey O’Mara just walked in the room.  Sokola is explaining how Senate Amendment #2 was stricken.  Townsend is explaining he is okay with his amendment being stripped.  He is defending his amendment.  “They are able to drive and hunt,” and he is echoing what Senator Bonini said last week.  Townsend just said the fiercest parents are basing legislator votes as a high-stakes test for them.  Lavelle said he wants to opt-out of the vote.  Sokola opposes.

HOUSE BILL 50 PASSED!!!!!!

House Bill 50’s Wild Ride In The House Passes With New Amendment, Back To The Senate….

After a crazy failure for House Bill 50, the legislation was reconsidered with the originally failed House Amendment #2, which passed the second time around, and then the whole bill passed.  Now it goes back to the Senate.  Trust me, I’m confused, but maybe this will help.  Timeline time:

House Bill 50 timeline:

3/12/15: Introduced by Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson

4/22/15: House Education Committee releases bill from committee, brings it to full House Vote

5/7/15: House Amendment #1 added by Rep. Sean Matthews removing “state assessment” and changing it to just “Smarter Balanced Assessment”, passes House

6/11/15: Senate Education Committee releases bill from committee for full Senate vote

6/17/15: Senator David Sokola adds Senate Amendment #1, changing “Smarter Balanced Assessment” to all “state assessments and district-wide assessments”, passes Senate

6/17/15: Senator Bryan Townsend adds Senate Amendment #2, allowing high school juniors to opt-out of the assessment, passes Senate

6/17/15: Senate passes House Bill 50, but because two amendments were added, it goes back to the House

6/23/15: Rep. Jeff Spiegelman introduces House Amendment #2 which takes away Townsend’s Senate Amendment #2, fails to get enough votes

6/23/15: House Bill 50 fails 2nd House vote, bill is dead

6/23/15: Rep. Spiegelman asks for reconsideration of vote on House Bill 50 under Delaware House of Representatives House Rule #41, House passes motion

6/23/15: House passes House Amendment #2

6/23/15: House passes House Bill 50 again

Now it goes back to the Senate.  Whether it will be heard by next Tuesday or if it extends it until January when the 148th General Assembly is back in session is unknown.  But what I do know is this.  I blame all of this on three people: Rep. Earl Jaques, Senator David Sokola, and Senator Bryan Townsend.  They have played games with this bill and do not care about parents.  And from what I’m hearing Senator Colin Bonini had quite the chuckle after the bill originally failed in the House today.  These are legislators who really don’t care about parents or their rights.  I resisted Spiegelman’s amendment at first cause I just wanted it to pass, but he is absolutely right.  He brought up a point I didn’t think of: what if the junior wants to opt out but the parents don’t want him to?  That would set up some very thorny issues for all involved: student, parent, teacher, school, district, and even the state.  So thank you for your wisdom on this one Rep. Spiegelman!

Our no votes on the 2nd House vote today are as follows: Dukes, Gray, Heffernan, Jaques and Q. Johnson.  Not voting were Barbieri and Bolden.  So all the no votes or absents are the same from the original House vote last month, except for the additions of Gray, Heffernan and Q. Johnson.  What made them flip?

For the 2nd vote on the House Amendment, only Dukes voted no and Barbieri and Bolden didn’t vote.  Three reps had left so there were three absent.

If I were any Delaware parent (I am), I would be absolutely livid at the games being played with this bill.  Shame on Jaques, Sokola and Townsend for not caring enough about parents to even ask them about their bill-killing plans prior to their attempted hijackings.  If I were Townsend, I might want to reconsider that run for Congress.  You ticked off A LOT of voters tonight.

Senator Dave Lawson’s House Bill 50 Introduction

More from the Senate Education Committee.  The following is Senator Dave Lawson’s introductory comments on House Bill 50 from last Wednesday.  I’ve always like Lawson.  He is a very calm speaker, and he gets down to the nuts and bolts very fast!

Thank you very much.  I appreciate the opportunity, cause the bill boils down to a simple parent obligation.  Parents are obligated to look after the best interest of their children.  And they will opt out, and I think it is one of those things parents have a right to do.  They have a right to do a lot of things.  To go to private school, or homeschool.  There is no opt-out method, but this lays it out so that parents have the right under Delaware law to pull their children from Smarter Balanced.  (I think Mark Murphy said “Until when” to Senator Lawson, or someone near him).  Until what? Senator Townshend said the test has not been proven.  So we will test out?  Until the point it’s not of any value.  So just to continue to hammer our children with more and more tests, more stress, is unjust and should not be allowed.

Live From The Senate Education Committee Meeting Discussing House Bill 50: Parent Opt-Out

The Senate Education Committee in Delaware is about to hear House Bill 50, the parent opt-out bill.  The bill already cleared the House in Delaware by an overwhelming majority, 36-3.  This is the next stop on the bill’s journey.  There are lots of proponents and opponents of this legislation here today.  If it passes here, it goes to the full Delaware Senate.  If it is voted down today in committee, the bill is dead.

Who is here?  Representatives from the Delaware Department of Education. Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor, Lindsey O’Mara.  Dr. Paul Herdman with the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  Red Clay Educators Association President Mike Matthews.  Delaware PTA Vice-President of Advocacy Yvonne Johnson.  Executive Director of the Delaware State Board of Education Donna Johnson.  Wilmington Education Advisory Commission Chair Tony Allen.  John Radell with the Faith & Freedom Coalition.  Bill Doolittle with the Delaware PTA and also a member of the Governors Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.  And More!

House Bill 50 is up first.

Senator Townsend is speaking about how frightening this issue is for parents to be this worried.  He is upset there wasn’t years of research done on this issue and the Smarter Balanced Assessment has not been proven.  Parents want to see a test that works.  He wants us all to work together to decide the issues.  He has to go to another committee meeting but he will vote yes for releasing the bill.

Senator Lawson, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, is speaking about the bill.  “Parents should in fact have the right to opt-out.  This lays it out so they can under Delaware law.  Senator Sokola is upset this test is aligned to international standards.  He would put in an amendment to allow parents to get the reasons for the test.   He is talking about an email from a 3rd grade teachers about all the testing going on.  He thinks if parents can opt out of this test, they should be able to opt out of all of them.  This is why he introduced Senate Joint Resolution #2.  “We all want what’s best for our kids.”  He doesn’t like the amount of time between the actual Smarter Balanced Assessment testing and when the results show up.  He refers to No Child Left Behind as No Challenge Left Behind.  He said the DSTP (the first major standardized test in Delaware) did give him a little bit of heartburn.

Senator Dave Lawson is talking about how the test has changed 3 times and how $70 million from Race To The Top went towards this test and the desired results.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy is speaking about children’s “educational journey to excellence”.   He is talking about how we use this measurement to understand what’s working, how we allocate budgets, which schools need which resources.  “We are testing too much.”  He is now talking about the assessment inventory, and whether the tests have quality or if they are redundant.  “These assessments help to unlock doors.”  “We all need this information to move forward.”

State Rep. Kowalko came in.  He is going over the essential facts concerning House Bill 50.  He is talking about the lack of law on opt-out which is for or against.  “This is not an indictment against Smarter Balanced Assessment or Common Core.”  He and Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, President of the State Board of Education, had an interview with WHYY earlier today.  He told her and he is telling the committee how this test is not needed and parents see this.  “If a parent feels…this can harm (their child) psychologically, they have that right.”  “It’s about parental rights, pure and simple the rights of the parents.”

Sokola has a problem with the local districts and the amount of money they spend on tests.  He served on an international committee going over the assessments, and all the kids are taking these tests in the high-performing countries of the world.  In no country, other than this country, are they taking these tests every year.  “If kids aren’t learning, we have to figure out a way to teach them.”  Kowalko said “It would be disingenuous for parents to opt their child out of any test.”  There is no track record in place, he explained, but the bill does not say we are getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  “All we are doing is giving an opportunity for those who know their child best.”

Sokola asked why it was changed to just the SBAC.  “What happens in two years if we change to the PARCC?”  (Dear lord, no!!!).  Kowalko explained that he didn’t want to shut the door prematurely if a test is designed that will give the results that matter.  Sokola said this was why he introduced SJR #2.  “We have real important issues we have to change.”  This test is needed, according to Sokola, to help students that are having issues.  He said “We can get real good data from this.”  Kowalko spoke about the many emails he received from parents regarding the psychological damage done to parents and students over this test.

Bob Byrd with the Delaware Business Roundtable is speaking about their group’s opposition to this bill.  “We think this is the wrong thing to do at this particular time.”  He presented a letter from their chair, Ernie Dianastisis.  Lorraine Gloede is speaking about how her neighbor opted her child out and there was definite repurcussions for his child in opting out.  John Radell said every professional in the country are saying this test is not proven.  “It is a disaster around the country.”  “This is an experiment.”  He said children should not be guinea pigs.  “We don’t need more gimmicks!”  We are testing kids based on empty skillsets.  These kids don’t have time to be told six years down the road to find out this test doesn’t work.

Dr. Paul Herdman from Rodel Foundation is speaking.  He has three kids in Delaware public schools.  He has tried for eleven years to bring public and private education together.  He opposes HB50.  He said there is a lot of frustration around testing.  He is referring to House Rep. Matthews News Journal opinion piece and how he said “He hopes that enough parents are getting out of the test that the data becomes invalid.”  His concern is what’s next, and all the expense gone into this.  “Every civil rights group in the country has come out against opt-out.”  If you make this test invalid for one student, you make it invalid for all students, according to the civil rights groups.  “We undermine the trust in public education.”  He said we get $90 million dollars a year from federal funding for Title I students, low-income students.  His concern is can we afford to risk losing these funds when we are already facing a $100 million dollar deficit in this state.  “I don’t believe House bill 50 is the right way to go.”

The Delaware Chamber of Commerce spokesperson is speaking in opposition to the bill.  They oppose HB 50 and support SJR #2.  Mike Matthews is talking about how it is business group’s rights to talk about education, but they aren’t advocating for higher wages for the parents of low-income students.  Yvonne Johnson is speaking about how she has never received so many emails and complaints in her many years with the PTA as they have with the SBAC.  She is opposed to SJR #2.  She doesn’t think SBAC is the answer to our children.  HB 50 is a symptom to a larger problem.  “No one is losing federal funding.” I spoke next and railed against the whole Smarter Balanced Assessment and how it is dangerous. Senator Sokola cut me off stating I was repeating things as I brought up the never-talked about in this meeting letters from the DOE indicating how it was illegal to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. He said they have other bills to hear. Dr. Teri Quinn Gray spoke about the need for this data and how she is there to speak for the students. She was not cut off as she was allowed to speak much longer than myself. Tara Greathouse spoke and was cut off by Sokola when she asked questions about what is best for her children.

Due to other committees in session, the bill is being circulated so we do not know the results yet.

**UPDATED** 5:02pm, still no word on House Bill 50 and whether it has been released from the Senate Education Committee.

Markell & News Journal Education Article: My Spin On This & The Two Words Not Mentioned By Anyone

The Delaware News Journal had an article about Governor Markell and education as a front-pager today.  Some of the comments certain folks made were very shocking while others had the usual drivel coming from their education reform views.  What nobody talked about was special education in Delaware.  While the DOE reports about 13% of students having IEPs in Delaware, I’m going to say as many as 20% should have an IEP.  So with 1/5th of Delaware students not even being mentioned in an article on Delaware education is insulting.  Even though my estimate of an IEP population of 20% is high, I would definitely say it affects over 50% of education in Delaware.  Read on as I go through this article part by part with some cold hard reality.

After years of pushing education reforms in Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell is facing a revolt in the General Assembly.

You are also facing a revolt from parents and teachers.  We are sick of all of this.  Especially parents of special needs children.  While you think you are helping, you are making it worse for our children.

Lawmakers, including many from his own party, have little faith Markell’s Department of Education knows what everyday educators think is the best way to improve schools. They are skeptical the $119 million federal Race to the Top grant, one of Markell’s signature education achievements, has done any lasting good.

Markell’s signature education achievement was using $59 million to beef up the DOE with high-paid employees and contract after contract with little or no results.  And it keeps going on.  In the month of May, the DOE has put up seven proposals for “professional services” because they don’t know how to do the work themselves.

Legislators are sending a clear message that they need to more actively make policy on behalf of classroom teachers and district leaders, rather than approving a top-down state agenda led by Markell and his education secretary, Mark Murphy.

But there are still some very tricky legislators who still bow to the Emperor.  Unfortunately, they run the education committees for the House and the Senate.  How long until their house of cards crumbles?

“It’s not just the representatives and the senators who are having problems with the way things are going, it’s parents, it’s teachers, it’s people on the local level,” said Rep. Kim Williams, D-Newark. “There are loud voices out there saying, ‘We’re done. We’re tired of being told how to teach and how to run our schools.’ “

Amen Kim!  No one should be afraid to stare Markell dead in the eye and say “You are wrong!”  It is also parents who have less to fear about speaking up.  Those of us who are screaming at the DOE and Markell are not easily intimidated or fooled.

Markell acknowledges he and Murphy are taking heat for some of their proposals.

Now this is the understatement of the year…  You and Murph are taking heat, but it isn’t for some of your proposals.  It’s for about 90% of them.  And the only reason we aren’t tackling the other 10% is because we haven’t found the catch in those yet.

He contends the education system is improving, pointing to a steadily declining dropout rate, a growing number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement and college-level classes, more low-income students in highly-rated preschool programs and more students applying to college.

I’ll give you a sort-of pass on this.  I question the validity of some of these numbers.  What I can say is homeschooling in Delaware has never been higher.  These are mostly special needs children.  What does that say about special education in Delaware when parents reach such a high level of anxiety and don’t feel the public school system in Delaware can provide a Free Appropriate Public Education for their children?  This will go down as your greatest failure.  While you are trying to “improve” the lives of these children, they have been drop-kicked out of the rights they are legally entitled to.  We have so many denied IEPs, schools openly violating IDEA law, and “counseling out” going on in charters, and no one on your staff is addressing these issues.

“It’s no surprise to me that there’s some controversy and angst over some of the things we’ve done,” Markell said. “But the results speak for themselves. And I’m more concerned about results than I am about what people think about me.”

No matter who pays the price, right?  And I don’t buy for one iota of a second that you don’t care what people think of you.  You and I both know this to be true.  Don’t try to play the “I’m going to take the high road on my actions now” card cause you aren’t fooling anyone.  Everything you have done with education in Delaware has been to serve YOUR future and those of your corporate education reform buddies.

A bill strongly opposed by Markell that would let parents pull their kids out of standardized tests sailed almost unanimously through the State House of Representatives, and several other bills aimed squarely at reducing the authority of the Department of Education are in the works. Budget-writing lawmakers slashed in half a request to continue Race to the Top initiatives and balked at a request to pick up the tab for 10 department positions paid for in the grant.

I am appreciative of what these legislators did, but the DOE doesn’t need a budget increase, they need an audit and an accountability of every single penny they have spent.  Those who have squandered taxpayers funds need to be sent packing.

“I think there’s frustration among parents and educators and students that education policies don’t seem to be based on feedback coming from the classroom,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark. “I think also though that now is a natural time for us to take a step back and re-assess what we’re doing. Race to the Top has naturally come to an end, and I think we’re at a point where the question is, what’s next?”

Massive improvement Senator Townsend!  We need to take an excruciatingly hard look at special education in Delaware.  We need to find out why a student was kicked at a charter school by a special education teacher.  We need to find out why, as of a year ago, there were 60-70 pending special education lawsuits and only a handful of due process hearings.  We need to know why the DOE wants to write Common Core into IEPs without having the ability to fix the IEPs that are already out there.  We need to find a way for parents, teachers, and school districts to effectively collaborate with special education and stop the battleground mentality.  Why are these children and their parents being put through the wringer while the DOE and school districts think they know best?  This philosophy is a dying breed, but no one is listening.

The challenge, Townsend argues, is moving in a new direction without abandoning some of the good things that have happened in schools.  “It’s about our educators who are very justifiably tired of yet another iteration of education reform, but it’s also the business community that sees a lot of progress and wants to see some accountability,” Townsend said. “It’s parents who are trying to be involved in the process. I’m worried that, whatever the next steps are, that people are going to view them as just another round.”

Then my suggestion would be to invite more of them to the table.  The biggest problem with Markell’s policies is they are approved with little or no oversight, and then parents and teachers are invited to rate them with pre-determined results.  As well, the amount of lobbying by companies like Rodel and the Delaware Charter School Network needs to stop.  And yes, I will throw this in there as well, DSEA as well.  Here is a novel idea: parent lobbyists.  They are the most important.  We also do that little thing called VOTING!!!!

There is no better symbol of lawmakers’ willingness to buck Markell’s will than House Bill 50, which would explicitly allow parents to “opt out” of the statewide standardized test.  Markell says that’s a bad idea because the state needs good test-score data to make smart policy, especially when it comes to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

If the state needs “good test-score data” then what the hell are we doing with the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  And enough about the achievement gap.  The only gap I want to see closed is the one between your upper and lower lip when it comes to education.  The only “smart” policy going on right now is parents exercising their rights when it comes to the educational outcomes of their children.

But when the House took up the opt-out bill, sponsored by firebrand Markell critic Rep. John Kowalko, only three representatives out of 41 voted against it.  That’s a massive margin in a Democrat-controlled chamber for a bill that a Democratic governor has so strenuously protested.  “I was frankly stunned by the margin,” Kowalko said. “That hasn’t happened before.”  Kowalko, who has fiercely criticized Markell in previous years, believes there is a “new awakening” where lawmakers are starting to look more critically at what the executive branch proposes.  Lawmakers say they voted for the bill because they routinely hear from teachers and parents that Delaware tests students too much and stakes too much on the results.

It was also about hundreds of parents actually opting out and emailing the legislators.  It was a wake-up call for the legislators that said “we vote for you and the power we give you we can easily take away.”  This is something folks like Earl Jaques, Michael Barbieri, Timothy Dukes and David Sokola don’t understand.  I don’t buy the whole idea that lawmakers voted yes on HB50 cause they heard from parents their children were being tested too much.  That was the same rationale they used to pass House Bill 334, which allowed Smarter Balanced to officially infest our lives.  I think it was them actually listening to parents and realizing Smarter Balanced is a horrible test.

The Delaware Parent-Teacher Association and the Delaware State Education Association union both urged lawmakers to vote yes.

I would definitely say the Delaware PTA urged lawmakers to vote yes.  They came through hitting grand slams left and right.  DSEA…maybe a bunt here and there.  I see the DSEA’s contribution as being a bit sheepish.  They kind of sort of supported it, but they could have done a lot more.  Look at the New Jersey unions.  They put up billboards and videos all over the place.  That is the kind of support I would have liked to see from the DSEA.  Instead we got the “time to teach, time to learn” videos without once even mentioning parent opt-out.  If that’s the full pressure DSEA can use to support a bill as important as House Bill 50, it’s obvious new leadership is needed.

Markell has acknowledged the concerns over testing, and the Department of Education is reviewing tests to see if any extraneous ones can be eliminated. But Markell says he isn’t backing away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the state test that teachers complain is overused in judging students, teachers and schools.

Albright and Starkey, you keep talking about the teachers.  What about the parents?  That’s what House Bill 50 is about.  You are both making the SAME mistake Markell and the DOE keep making: underestimating the will and resolve of parents to protect their kids.

Markell has not said whether he will sign the opt-out legislation if it clears the Senate and reaches his desk. If not, it would not be the first time Markell has wielded his veto pen.  But the governor, working throughout his term with a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, has not found himself in that position much.  Markell has vetoed just 13 pieces of legislation since 2009. And he has never vetoed a bill related to education.

I heard the WDEL interview with Rick Jensen, and when Markell was asked if he would veto House Bill 50 if it came to his desk, there was a distinct “yeah”.  It might have been edited out, but it was there.  I heard it, and so did others.  I hope he realizes if he does veto it, parents will haunt him as long as he holds any semblance of power in Delaware.

The other major education legislation this year would redistrict Wilmington schools and create a weighted funding formula to students. The Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, led by Bank of America Executive Tony Allen, has led the charge for those changes.  Though Markell created the Committee, it has operated independently of the governor and the Department of Education.

Nothing operates independently of Markell and the DOE.  And throw in Rodel there for good measure.  I’ve met Tony Allen, and he’s a great guy.  But I have to wonder what the grand picture is here.  The timing on this was a little too perfect…

Markell supports those bills. But he said his primary focus right now is making sure some of the programs he thinks are most important and have already passed the legislature — higher academic standards and more access to good preschool, for example — grow and are implemented well.  “I don’t have any big new bills that I’ve spent a lot of time on, for sure,” he said. “We’ve started a lot of big things. So a lot of it is not necessarily legislative in nature at this point.”

Except holding the DOE accountable for their actions during your reign.  I can see why you wouldn’t be a big supporter of those bills.  You will sign anything that gets your agenda going, but if it doesn’t you make a few phone calls and get bills stalled or killed.

Legislators are taking steps to shrink the size and power of the Department of Education, which many school district educators believe has grown too powerful under Race to the Top and Markell’s tenure.  There were signs this would be a tough legislative session for the Department well before HB 50.  Near the start, lawmakers grilled Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and senior Department of Education staffers for hours, both in the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and the House Education Committee.  “You may have a view of the wonderful things Race to the Top has done, but the public does not appear to share that view,” said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley.  During legislative budget meetings last week, lawmakers expressed concerns with Markell’s education policy, and voted to cut by half the governor’s $7.5 million plan to fund high-paid positions in the Department and programs previously covered by the Race to the Top.  “I can’t support this spending, this continually throwing money at something that’s not working,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “It’s just a poor investment. I don’t think anyone in this room, at this table, would put money into it out of their own pocket. I’m very disappointed in what I’m seeing from the top.”  Members of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee took extra steps to show they had little confidence in Markell’s education bureaucracy to use the money as intended.  They moved most of the remaining appropriations, more than $3 million, into budget lines that directly fund school district operations, not the Department of Education. And they approved epilogue language that prevents the Department of Education from using any of the money to add or retain positions in the department.  “We want to make sure the money that we did fund goes to the purposes that we’ve specified,” said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, a budget committee member. “I just think that the epilogue language clarifies and makes it perfectly clear where that money is going to go.”

Why does it take the amount of money being spent before some legislators wake up after falling asleep at the wheel after years of rampant spending by this Department?  It’s good they are doing it, but next time we get some program like Race To The Top, please do this before millions upon millions of dollars are spent with little or no results for the students.

In addition to shrinking the size of the department, some lawmakers think the state exerts too much influence over schools that should be locally run.  Williams, for example, has filed a bill that would give local administrators and school boards sole authority over hiring and firing.  That’s a direct response, she says, to the state’s controversial Priority Schools plan to improve six inner-city Wilmington schools. State leaders said the plan would funnel much-needed money and talent into schools with sagging test scores, but they soon drew outrage from those schools’ parents and teachers.

What the Delaware DOE should be doing is holding school districts and charter schools more accountable for special education results.  Solely going by the 17 indicators for US DOE compliance and sending letters to schools saying “fix this” is not effective.  I am not against a DOE in and of itself, but they should only be monitoring activities that are outright illegal or not truly for the benefit of students.  Just think what this Department could actually accomplish with special education if they actually did what is necessary?

The Department of Education, which said elite educators could turn around those schools’ sagging test scores, clashed with the Red Clay and Christina School districts, which bristled at the notion that state leaders should have any say in who runs their schools.  Williams and other lawmakers say the fight over Priority Schools, more than any other debate over education, energized opposition among teachers and parents.

What the priority schools initiative did was open the eyes of the general public to what the DOE is willing to do in accomplishing their goals at any cost.  It was very stupid of them to attempt this at the time they did.  That’s what cockiness and arrogance will do every time: bite you in the ass.

Some lawmakers have taken aim at Secretary Murphy in particular.  “We don’t see him day-in, day-out in Legislative Hall, having conversations with us,” Williams said. “I think, unfortunately, people have lost faith in the Department and Secretary Murphy. They’re not willing to just go along with them anymore.”  Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, has filed a bill that would require the Secretary of Education to have at least 10 years’ experience in schools, at least of six of them as a classroom teacher.  That bill aims to address criticism of Murphy, who was a classroom teacher for only three years before climbing the ranks of administration and education nonprofits.  The Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, voted no confidence in Murphy earlier this year, the first time the organization has taken such a step.

I think Townsend’s bill obviously sends a message, but it could also cause someone with Murphy’s ideology but more experience to insert themselves into the DOE.  It would be a very frightening thing what a more knowledgeable and assertive Secretary of Education would be like in this education reform world.  A vote of no confidence is only as good as the ability to follow-up on it, which I have not heard from DSEA.

Murphy, in a statement issued through a spokesperson, cited the same educational achievements as Markell.  “There’s no question that this work has not been easy and we have asked a lot of everyone involved in our education system,” the statement said. “We understand that not everyone agrees with everything we have done and that many pieces of legislation proposed have been in direct response to certain initiatives that have been controversial. That said, the progress our students are making shows that an enormous amount of positive work is happening. We are committed to continuing to make that progress.”

Please Murphy, just be quiet.  We are ALL sick of hearing the same boring things coming out of your mouth.  You have more corporate education reform Kool-Aid around it, and I don’t think you even realize what an idiot you sound like anymore.

Markell said people are rushing to judge the Department because of a few controversial proposals. The Department doesn’t get enough credit, he argues, for coordinating things like the state’s College Application Month, where kids signed up for college during the school day, or Pathways to Prosperity, where students get real-world experience that sets them up for careers.  “Most of what the Department does is not controversial,” Markell said. “And even our biggest detractors have recognized that [Priority Schools] has brought some much needed attention to these schools, even if it got a lot of people really riled up.”

And who has benefited the most from these initiatives Jack?  That’s something on my to-do list.

Markell has his defenders, including Rep. Melanie George Smith, the budget committee’s co-chair who came to the governor’s defense amid criticism last week.  “What we have in front of us is our governor….who has spent an awful lot of his administration really focused on what we can do better to help teachers, what we can do better to help students,” Smith said during public budget negotiations.

Wow! I would say he has spent far too much time during his administration interfering and causing disruptions in education.  The fact you want to defend this man while our education is damaged is very telling….

Some political observers say backlash is almost a given.  “When you try to make drastic change, you’re going to hit nerves, on both sides,” said Rhett Ruggerio, a longtime Democratic operative and Dover lobbyist who represents charter schools. Everybody is well intentioned. The problem is they have strong philosophical differences.”  Ruggerio said much of the disagreement appears to have stemmed from Race to the Top, and questions over whether the program’s experiments have helped Delaware’s public schools.  Ruggerio defended Murphy, saying he “has been pretty aggressive, I think for the right reasons. He wants to make change,” Ruggerio said. “It’s very difficult to do that unless you’re willing to take a risk.”

Who let the Delaware Charter School Network in on this article?  Out of all the folks not hired by the state, you use DCSN as your “impartial” third party observer?  When any legislation is opposed by Markell and the Kool-Aid gang, these non-profits like Rodel and DCSN send in their overpaid lobbyists to whisper sweet nothings in the legislators ears.  Ruggerio and his boss Kendall have obviously benefited from the reform agendas Markell thrust upon Delaware.  This is where you lose a tremendous amount of credibility News Journal.  How many everyday parents did you contact for this article?  By my estimation, that would be a grand total of zero.  I guess parents aren’t part of the process…

The growing backlash against “education reform” in Delaware mirrors a national trend that has seen the rise of groups like the “Badass Teachers’ Association,” a loose coalition of fed-up educators. In places like New York, the outcry has gotten so loud that some school districts have seen more than half of parents opt their kids out of standardized tests.

A loose coalition with well over 50,000 members.  Wake up Albright and Starkey.  Just like that “small but vocal minority” of parents who want to opt-out.  I love the way you try to reduce these groups that have tremendous impact while pumping up groups like DCSN.  No bias here…

Delaware lawmakers “are focused on making sure all Delaware public school students have a real chance to achieve success,” said Frederika Jenner, president of the Delaware State Education Association, the teachers union.  With the expiration of Race to the Top funding, “now is the time for the General Assembly to weigh in on what they believe has worked and what hasn’t worked,” Jenner said.  If the momentum really is shifting in Delaware education policy, many people, like Sen. Townsend, hope that doesn’t mean everything built in the past few years crumbles.  “I think a key point is that there have been successes and there have been some not-so-successes,” Townsend said. “We understand there’s a need for course-correction. But let’s not pretend that everything hasn’t gone well.”  Townsend said, for example, that the state’s move to the Common Core State Standards will be a good thing, even though some schools have faced hiccups in implementing it. Common Core is a set of new, higher academic expectations for students.

So Senator Bryan Townsend is a supporter of Common Core but is against many of the evils that crawled through the back door in Delaware education when the DSEA, Delaware PTA and all the school districts and charters signed up for Race To The Top?  After coercion and political wrangling by the DOE and Markell?  This is part of the whole education reform movement.  People want to remove bits and pieces, but as long as the foundation is there, it remains.  I define this movement as Common Core, high-stakes standardized assessments, labeling and punishing schools over test scores while increasing the number of charter schools, the illusion of increasing supports for special needs students while teachers and administrators fight parents over the most basic of supports, hundreds of reform “non-profits” and “for-profits” invading every aspect of education and making billions of dollars that should be going to our schools, and the eventual destruction of public education and the teacher unions.  Senator Townsend, you can’t cherry-pick what stays and goes.  And let your legislator and DSEA friends know this too.  It’s all for one, and one for all.  I would be very wary about trying to fill the power vacuum when all of this crumbles without getting everything cleaned out of the wound.  I would be even more wary about your support for Common Core if you hope to get elected again.

Markell frequently says adopting and defending those standards in Delaware in the face of growing national criticism is one of his highest school priorities. In other states, lawmakers have eliminated or drastically modified Common Core, but, though some teachers have criticized the standards’ implementation here, no serious repeal effort has gained steam in the General Assembly. 

See my previous paragraph.  What Jack is saying here is even though he is being challenged on many fronts, he is working behind-the-scenes to make sure the foundation is still there long after he is gone.  Don’t worry Jack, Common Core and it’s elimination is coming sooner than you think.  This isn’t a forgotten issue.

Some of the inroads Markell’s administration has made with getting the business community involved in education, connecting students with jobs, internships and real-life learning experiences, should be made more common, Townsend said.

Markell has made it a priority to get the business community to take over education in our state, whether it was homegrown in Delaware or out-of-state.  And all of these lower-paying jobs and internships save these companies millions of dollars in salaries they would otherwise be paying.  Some of it is good, but the motivation behind it is not for the benefit of students.  It was, is, and always will be about money with Markell.

Though Townsend agrees with many teachers that the state’s way of judging teachers needs a great deal of work, he says Delaware is ahead of other states in some ways.  “I think this concept of trying to have accountability is important,” he said. “We need to improve it, definitely, but let’s not just get rid of this idea entirely.” 

This is the big elephant in the room.  If we don’t judge teachers by standardized tests, what do we judge them on?  Should teachers be blamed for events outside of the classroom in students regular lives?  Absolutely not.  But if their actions contribute to those actions, than I would say yes.  As an example, say a student with disabilities doesn’t have her IEP followed.  As a result, she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability because those supports aren’t being enforced.  As she becomes more frustrated, she starts acting out at school.  This becomes a part of her very fabric and it spills over into the “outside” world.  So while she was having problems in school, it is now everywhere.  Should teachers and schools be held accountable for things like this?  I think every single parent of a special needs child who has faced these kinds of issues would say yes.  It is essential that teachers and schools know special education and IDEA law like the back of their hand.

With Markell approaching the end of his second term, many lawmakers say the next governor will play a big role in steering the state’s educational future.  “I think one of the things our next governor is going to be elected on is education,” Williams said. “I know that’s going to be the biggest factor for me.”

Some would say Jack Markell was elected because of his talk about education before he was elected. I would personally like to see a gutting of the Delaware DOE, build it up from the bottom all the way to the top with employees who care more about education than what we have seen in this “corporate education reform” world.  I would also like to see less talk from a state Governor about education and more about creating more jobs in our state and reallocating funds so the citizens of the state don’t suffer needlessly.  Whoever the new Secretary of Education may be, it would be my hope he/she is the spokesperson for education in our state, and has the skills, knowledge and compassion to truly fix education in our state, not make it worse.

Mark Murphy Tries To Come Off Like Markell, But Sounds More Like Little Bo Peep

In the Dover Post today, four people gave their opinion on opt-out.  Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and Alissa Schubert, a parent and Media Relations for the Delaware Charter School Network were the anti-opt-out folks, while Delaware Senator Dave Lawson and Vice-President for Advocacy for the Delaware PTA, Yvonne Johnson were on the pro-side.

Murphy shied away from saying “Parents aren’t allowed to opt-out, but he did have some of his usual Murphyisms.

“Measuring the progress our children make in school is essential for providing teachers, parents, taxpayers, and leaders throughout the state with honest, objective information about whether they are learning the skills and gaining the knowledge they need to be successful now and in the future…”

“The “smarter” assessments have been designed, tested, and validated according to the highest standards…”

Nice try Mark.  We’ve heard it all before.  And once again, don’t try telling this parent what is best for my special needs son.  That’s my job, not yours!

And how about this…the reporter, David Paulk, contacted me over a week ago.  He wanted to know if I knew any parents who were opposed to opt-out.  I told him about some educators who spoke at the House Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50, but I really couldn’t think of any normal parents.  So he found someone from the Delaware Charter School Network.  Of course they are opposed to it!

But the best line in the whole story is from Lawson:

“Smarter Balance is a test created by a for-profit company that makes money every test that is given.”

Lawson hit the nail right on the head.  Yvonne Johnson rocked it as well, with her never-ending support for House Bill 50.  Schubert just came off sounding like all the education reform folks who are opposed to HB50…. I’m getting bored with that.

The full link can be read here: http://www.doverpost.com/article/20150524/NEWS/305249990#305249990/?Start=4&_suid=143248401592807283983035871071

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

Will DE Senator Dave Lawson Submit Legislation Again To Ban Common Core?

On the last day of the 147th General Assembly, Delaware Senator Dave Lawson threw out a teaser.  It was the controversial Senate Bill 269.  What made this bill controversial was that most people didn’t know it even existed.  SB 269, if passed, would have eliminated Common Core from Delaware schools and would have prevented any federal, corporate or outside interference with Delaware education.  The state would have been free to form its own standards for eduction, unencumbered by the US Department of Education breathing down its neck.  As well, this bill would have put a stop to the “longitudinal data” collection by the Delaware DOE and the US DOE.

Will Senator Lawson put this in again?  Say he did, and it passed, would Governor Markell ever sign off on it?  And what would that do to the Common Core themed Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Kudos to Senator Lawson for breathing some fresh air in the legislature.  I’m looking for a repeat, and very soon!

Take a look at the original bill: