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!

Here Comes The Jaques State Takeover Legislation! Legislators Need To Read This! You’ve Been Warned!

State Rep. Earl Jaques is actually going to do it.  According to Delaware Public Media, Jaques actually went on the record with it yesterday. Continue reading

Earl Jaques Is Really Pushing For State Takeover Of Christina

The most controversial piece of legislation in the Delaware General Assembly will be State Rep. Earl Jaques’ brainfart of an idea to have the State of Delaware take over the Christina School District.  Continue reading

It Is Time For DSEA To Regurgitate Themselves From The Bowels Of Rodel

I warned them.  Many times.  Sit at the table and you will be on the table.  The Delaware State Education Association was swallowed whole.  By who? Continue reading

Earl Jaques Planning To Draft Legislation That Would Put Christina In Receivership By The State

State Representative Earl Jaques has some mighty bold plans in the 150th General Assembly.  The biggest and most controversial will be a bill that would have the state takeover the Christina School District.  It is in the works and he is looking for sponsors. Continue reading

DOE Develops A Case Of Pretendonitis With Education Funding Transparency Meeting

The Delaware Department of Education held their first public meeting for Senate Bill #172 which is supposed to show clear transparency with education funding so people can compare how much schools are spending compared to other schools.  The poorly attended event, filled with the usual stakeholders and barely anyone from the general public, showcased a Department that really doesn’t know what this bill means or what they plan to do with it.  In other words, they have a scorching case of pretendonitis. Continue reading

Aaaaw! How Cute! Jack Got A Bike Trail Named After Him!

Delaware Governor John Carney and former Delaware Governor Jack Markell cut the ribbon on the three-mile Jack Markell bike trail today up in Wilmington.  This memorializes Jack Markell and all the advocacy work he did for biking in Delaware.

The first photo was taken from Markell’s cross-country bike ride in the Summer of 2017.  Delaware Senator David Sokola, pictured with Markell, accompanied Markell on about half of his journey.  The second picture was satirical in nature on my part, comparing Jack Markell to the even more amazing cross-country biker, Forrest Gump.

When Bunting, Sokola, & Jaques Have Lunch, How Soon Will Legislation Come Out About State Takeover Of School Districts?

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Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting informed the State Board of Education yesterday she had lunch with State Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques.  As heads of the Senate and House Education Committee, Bunting said it was to discuss upcoming legislation.  Could this lead to state takeover of school districts in Delaware? Continue reading

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!

Proposed Legislation Would Give Delaware Secretary Of Education Authority To Suspend Teacher Licenses In Certain Felony Situations

A piece of Delaware legislation that is out for consideration would seek to have the Delaware Secretary of Education obtain the authority to suspend a teacher’s license under certain felony crimes or a clear and immediate danger to students prior to certain actions taken by a school district or charter school.  Similar to a bill Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf put out a couple of years ago, this one defines the types of felonies that could warrant the Secretary exercising this type of authority.  The bill is sponsored by Senators Bryan Townsend and David Sokola and State Representatives Earl Jaques and Pete Schwartzkopf.

The synopsis of the bill is as follows: Continue reading

Meredith Chapman’s Life Cut Short, Rest In Peace

It was with extreme sadness when I received a call this morning about the death of Meredith Chapman.  While details are vague, there was a murder-suicide at her home in Bryn Mawr, PA yesterday.  17 hours ago she posted on Facebook about accepting a job at Villanova University.  I endorsed Meredith when she was against State Senator David Sokola two years ago and she came within five percentage points in the November 2016 election.

Meredith was best known for her time as Director of Digital Communications at University of Delaware.  She resigned to take the new position at Villanova as an Assistant Vice President.

Meredith was young and full of life.  Had she won, I have no doubt she would have become a vibrant voice at Legislative Hall.  Out with the old and in with the new.  Sadly, Meredith’s voice will never be able to create new laws in our state.  I can’t imagine how her husband is dealing with this as well as her friends and family.  No one ever wants to receive that call.

Please keep them all in your prayers and thoughts today.

Senator Sokola Makes My Day With Proposed Education Funding Transparency Bill

As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, all schools are required to provide more transparency with how they spend money.  Delaware Senator Sokola seeks to codify this with legislation currently in circulation for sponsorship.

I like this bill.  I believe an amendment should make sure every expense down to the school level is given a specific category.  Trying to read Delaware’s online checkbook is a lesson in futility at times and does not give an accurate picture to make sure funds are spent the way they are supposed to.  Excluding certain items, like under (2) (b) of the proposed legislation should not happen.  Yes, these funds can be tracked in a confusing way through state reporting procedures but putting the whole puzzle together can be very difficult.

What do you think?  Will this bill provide the information we need?

As Christina Passes MOU, Carney Wants Charter Students To Come Back To Christina

Last night the Christina Board of Education, in front of a packed house, passed the Memorandum of Understanding between the district, the Delaware Department of Education and Governor John Carney’s office with a 4-2-1 vote.  Board members John Young and Elizabeth Paige voted no while member Angela Mitchell abstained.  The tense meeting, which lasted over three hours, had Carney sitting in the audience the entire time.  While the News Journal, WHYY, and WDEL all came to the meeting, many parts of the meeting were not covered in their articles. Continue reading

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.

 

The Woodburn Christmas Conspiracy

Once upon a time, in the not-so-magical land of Dover, a meeting took place.  It was one of those back-door meetings that the ruler of the state liked to convene.  These were not public meetings in the sense that anyone could attend.  They were usually those of the secret sort where only a select few were invited to attend.  But because the Governor was attending, he felt obligated to report it on his public schedule.  He did this sometimes in an effort to show an illusion of transparency.

In attendance were Governor Carney, Senator David Sokola, State Rep. Earl Jaques, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Dr. Paul Herdman from Rodel, and Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education.

It was Christmas Eve and all through the Woodburn the stockings were hung near the space heater with care.  Carney put on his favorite Christmas album on his new record player.  He loved the songs from his youth and they were all included on “Rudolph and Friends”.  The eggnog was passed around to the attendees.  Little did they know two others were also in attendance… of a sort. Continue reading

Kowalko Openly Challenges Baumbach & Sokola On School Board Member Removal Bill

Delaware State Representative John Kowalko sent a letter to State Rep. Paul Baumbach and State Senator David Sokola about the in-circulation school board member removal bill.  He asked some specific questions regarding the origin of this legislation.  I would love to see a response from both of them on this.  You may have seen part of this in my initial article on this, but Kowalko goes into more detail.  As well, Nancy Willing of The Delaware Way blog pointed out something that didn’t catch my eye until she wrote it:

Note the time Baumbach’s aide floated the bill for co-sponsorship is minutes after reporter Jessica Bies published her story on Christina’s likely rejection this morning of Carney’s most recent MOU draft.

Less than a month until the legislators come back in session…

Dear colleagues,

I sent the following inquiry to Representative Baumbach and Senator Sokola. I received a response from Representative Baumbach that he would not discuss the motives nor intentions of this proposed legislation so I am forwarding the same missive (and attachment) to all members of the Delaware General Assembly. It follows and is attached.

I suspect that this proposed legislation, being circulated for signatures by Representative Baumbach and Senator Sokola, may impose a constitutionally challenged contradiction to decisions made by the voters of Delaware. To suggest that an Executive branch (Governor appointed and unelected) board should have the authority to overturn the decision of the voting public disregards both separation of powers and constitutional rights of those elected. If either of the two sponsors or the promoters of such a piece of legislation have a problem with individual board members (as seems to be the case here) then they should come up with a lawful process attended to by lawful entities. This is the type of overreach that causes the public to doubt the sincerity and legitimacy of the laws we create and pass. I hope the sponsors of this proposed legislation will quickly withdraw this legislation.

I would also ask the sponsors of this legislation to explain to me and my fellow legislators what has provoked them to solicit sponsors to support such draconian action. Perhaps Rep. Baumbach or Senator Sokola can give us examples of purported or actual wrongdoing by former or current board members. I would also suggest that the sponsors divulge who solicited such legislation/authority. That might allay suspicions that this is simply an effort to coerce and silence board members, specifically board members who have criticized some of this Administration’s plans. I respectfully await a reply from the sponsors before I will consider adding my name and suggest that all my colleagues do the same.

Respectfully,

Representative John Kowalko

I guess nobody puts Baumbach in a corner!  Meanwhile it looks like Senator Bryan Townsend is all “I have a six month old baby.  I’m staying out of this one!”

State Rep. Paul Baumbach Asking For Ouster With Pending Legislation Allowing State Board of Education To Remove Local School District Board Members

I’ve seen some insane legislation in my day.  This one takes the cake.  State Rep. Paul Baumbach has put forth legislation which would give the State Board of Education the power to remove a sitting school district board member.  Way to take the local out of local control and hand it over to the state there Paul!  Are you kidding me?  I wish this was some horrible joke, but it isn’t.  How would Baumbach feel if some board could take away HIS power?  This guy is begging to be primaried and removed from office.  You can’t even make this stuff up! Continue reading

Is Regulation 225 A Union-Busting Measure? Know When You Are Being Used!

Ever since Regulation 225 hit the Delaware Registrar of Regulations, I’ve been scratching my head over it. I’ve gone back and forth on it a few dozen times. To be crystal clear, I support any anti-discrimination measure for ANY student. No questions asked. Some of the Facebook comments I’ve seen from some who oppose the bill are filled with hate and misunderstanding. I’ve wondered what the purpose behind all this was, and today I may have received an answer. Continue reading

Tonight

There is so much going on tonight.  First up is the first Town Hall meeting (which I filed a FOIA complaint against the Governor’s Office and Christina School District for a violation of the seven day notice) for the Governor Carney let’s screw with Christina School District one more time.  Second is the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education meeting in which they pick up a new board member and tackle the resolution similar to the Christina resolution on sanctuary schools and all that.  Finally, it is the Capital School District Board of Education meeting.  My son goes to school there again so I have a vested interest in what goes on in their district.  I can’t possibly attend all of them.  So which one am I going to?  Who gets the honor? Continue reading