Task Force Looking At Special Education Costs In Delaware Is Very Dangerous Ground

House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced today by State Rep. Kevin Hensley and Senator Nicole Poore would look at the costs of special education in Delaware.  Another task force, with the usual representation.  A bunch of people sitting around a table, half of which won’t have a clue what they have jumped into.  The Delaware Way.  But here is the catch with this one: most of the spending going on with special education is based on federal mandate based on IDEA.

I have a hunch what some of the impetus for this is.  For years, districts have been complaining about McAndrews Law Firm.  Most of these cases wind up in settlements and the districts are crying foul on this.  But, if the districts and charters were doing the right thing to begin with, none of these cases would get to that point.  McAndrews won’t even take a case unless it has merit.  They won’t take a case based on a notice of meeting not going out once or twice.

Good luck with this task force trying to figure out WHY special education placements are increasing.  It doesn’t really matter why.  What matters is that they are and our General Assembly better find out how to wrap their arms around it instead of ducking the issues.  I can say most of the kids who lived in my neighborhood that were home one summer day in 2006 were subjected to nasty fumes coming from an accident at the old Reichhold Chemical Plant in Cheswold.  They all have disabilities of one sort or another.  My son is one of them.  We live in a polluted state.  I highly doubt this task force would look at things like that.

Are all special education placements valid?  I don’t know.  I know Response to Intervention is horrible.  Standardized testing should never be a measurement of whether a kid needs special education.  Autism rates have been soaring for over a decade now.  I just hope the Delaware DOE doesn’t put a gag order on district teachers and administrators like they did with the IEP Task Force.  They told districts and charters NOT to have anyone give public comment at those meetings.

Still, not one peep about giving Basic Special Education costs for kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  We don’t need another task force to figure out that no-brainer.  If they really want to care, how about they allow our Auditor of Accounts office to FULLY audit every single penny in special education along with ALL of education.  We know the money isn’t always going where it needs to.  But Delaware loves their task forces to give some crappy illusion of people wanting to do the right thing.  How about just following the law to begin with?

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Senator Nicole Poore Looks Out For Students With Disabilities In Transition

Students with disabilities have big choices to make when they turn 18.  But some of them are not able to make those choices of their own cognizance.  Delaware Senator Nicole Poore introduced Senate Bill 180 yesterday which would allow for those students to have an educational decision-maker to make those decisions for them in educational decisions.  I fully support this bill.  It also states for those students who do have this capacity to retain those rights.  Co-sponsored by State Rep. Deb Heffernan, the bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.  We need the IEP Task Force to reconvene Senator Poore and Rep. Heffernan!  Please make this happen!  This group is needed now more than ever.  Former Lieutenant Governor, now Attorney General Matt Denn wanted this task force to continue when he served as the Chair.  With so many changes in education occurring on a daily basis, we need to make sure our students with disabilities are given a fair shake in all aspects of education!

Secretary Godowsky Had No Choice With Opt-Out Penalties

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With the release of the US DOE letter to the Delaware DOE about participation rates, we are getting a better picture of what happened the first week of November on the participation rate multiplier in the Delaware School Success Framework.  On October 21st, the soon to be confirmed Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky appeared before the New Castle County combined school boards at a breakfast.  He announced to the board members and superintendents of the districts that the harsh opt-out penalties most likely would not see the light of day.

The Delaware State Education Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware Chief School Officers Association and Delaware School Boards Association all publicly endorsed Godowsky for his Delaware Senate confirmation in a News Journal letter to the editor on October 26th.  Two days later, Godowsky was confirmed by the Senate with only two no votes.  Delaware State Senator Nicole Poore referred to Godowsky as “a breath of fresh air“.  On November 5th, two weeks after his breakfast announcement, Godowsky flipped on his recommendation about opt-out penalties at the Delaware State Board of Education retreat.

Yesterday we found out the US DOE letter to the Delaware DOE was dated 11/2/15.  The timing makes perfect sense.  Perhaps Markell did have a change of heart but was forced to flip back once the US DOE announced their opt-out mandates.  Who am I kidding!  Jack probably gave the US DOE the idea!  It does have his manipulative stench all over it.  I now understand why Godowsky looked like Judas Iscariot at the last Accountability Framework Working Group meeting and the State Board of Education meeting two days after.  His words said one thing, but the look in his eyes said something very different.

This may also shed some light on the bizarre Las Americas Aspiras Academy PTO email about opt-out.  Were they aware of this letter the day it was released?  I question the validity of this since their PTO leader stated ALL federal funding would be cut if 6% of their students were opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  But given the nature of federal funding I can see how someone could misconstrue that.  I’m sure the Delaware DOE sent the letter out to all school leaders and Superintendents in Delaware the first chance they got.

I am seriously questioning why the letters to the twelve states who went below the 95% threshold and the letter sent to all the states announcing definitive cuts if participation rates went below 95% two years in a row were just released to the public yesterday, on December 23rd.  It was weeks after the final Every Student Succeeds Act votes and President Obama signing the legislation.  I have to believe some of these legislators in Congress knew about these letters.  How could they not.  No one can keep a secret that long.  Not in politics.

The smart thing the Delaware DOE and Godowsky could have done was simply tell the public on November 2nd they received these letters.  By doing this they could have taken some of the heat off themselves and shifted it to the US DOE.  Instead, they hid it from the public for over a month and a half.  They duped the public, along with the US DOE and every other state DOE, into thinking the Every Student Succeeds Act and the clauses about opt-out would allow states to decide how to handle opt-out.  They could have said they weren’t sure what they meant, but they had to reconsider the opt-out penalties.  Maybe through collaboration they could have come up with something different.  But this is not how the most unpopular state Department in Delaware operates.  Sunshine is not the best disinfectant at our DOE.  I think we need some good old-fashioned bleach to wipe the slate clean and start over.  We have far too many people involved in education who people like, and believe they have the best intentions.  But when it comes time for them to do the right thing all we hear is “I serve at the pleasure of the Governor,” or “It’s the feds.  We can’t do anything about it.”  For a Department that demands accountability from schools, teachers and students, they sure are hypocritical when it comes to themselves… And the duplicity continues…

Delaware Enrollment Preference Task Force Final Report Released Today

Coming in at 489 pages, this is a mammoth report!  I know Delaware State Representative Kim Williams has worked on this for a long time.  Congratulations to all the members of the task force for their hard work with this group.  I only managed to get to one of the meetings, but I really wish I could have gone to all of them.  This task force came out of Delaware House Bill 90.  Its mission was to take a very hard look at how Delaware charter schools, vocational schools, and magnet schools select their students.  I haven’t even been able to come close to finishing this, but it is well worth the time.

Who Is On The Assessment Inventory Committee?

I reached out to Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques to see who is on the Senate Joint Resolution #2 Assessment Inventory Committee.  I received his response yesterday.  This is a very interesting list with a name I never saw before, but I was very familiar with the last name.  We shall see what comes out of this committee.  My guess: a massive reduction in district assessments which will lead to more Smarter Balanced interim assessments.  As well, official legislation getting rid of the Smarter Balanced for high school juniors since the SAT is going to become SBAC Jr. (my nickname for it).

Here are the members of the SJR #2 Assessment Inventory Committee:

Delaware Senator David Sokola

Delaware Senator Nicole Poore

Delaware Senator Ernie Lopez

Delaware State Rep. Sean Matthews

Delaware State Rep. Timothy Dukes

Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques

Delaware State Education Association President Frederika Jenner

New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt (filling the role of President of Chief School Officer’s Association)

Raina Allen (filling the role of “A representative of the civil rights’ community picked by the Governor”)

Equetta Jones (filling the role of “Parent picked by the Governor”, also a teacher in Red Clay Consolidated School District)

This is an interesting group.  With the legislators, it is right down the middle with who voted yes on the opt-out bill, House Bill 50, and  who voted no.  The “yeas” were Senators Poore and Lopez and State Rep.  Matthews.  The “nays” were Senator Sokola and State Reps Jaques and Dukes.  Both Sokola and Jaques are the head of their prospective education committees in the Senate and House.  Jenner is obviously represent the entire DSEA membership.  Gehrt, who also hails from the same district as our current Secretary Godowsky.   I have never personally met Equetta Jones, but I did see her speak at a Red Clay school board meeting last spring and she is very passionate.  The only person I wasn’t familiar with was Raina Allen, but a quick Google search let me know exactly who she was.

Filling roles from the Department of Education are: Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Chief of Staff Shana Young (which will be interesting given what I’m hearing), Tina Shockley, and Susan Haberstroh.  What I don’t see is anyone from the State Board of Education involved, anyone as just a teacher, and only one parent.  This is a very top-heavy group and they will be helping to make crucial decisions about the future of assessment in Delaware.  If this sounds reminiscent of the DOE’s recently defunct Accountability Framework Working Group (but no legislators were on this), where the recommendations of that committee were ignored by Godowsky and the State Board of Education, let’s hope the legislators can keep an eye on what is really important and not make this the usual Jack Markell dog-and-pony show.

IEP Task Force Bill To Get Delaware Senate Vote Later Today

Senate Bill 33 is on it’s last stop before Governor Markell’s desk.  Nicknamed the “IEP Task Force Bill”, the Delaware House of Representatives will vote on the bill today.  This long journey began June 24th last year when the US Department of Education labeled Delaware as one of three states needing intervention in Special Education.  Then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn put together Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 which created the IEP Task Force.

The group met from September to December last year, and a report was issued to Governor Markell in January.  Senate Bill 33 went through some rough patches on the way, but once that was done, it sailed through the Delaware Senate and the House Education Committee.  For those who haven’t seen it, this is what Senate Bill 33 will do for special education and IEPs in Delaware:

And also Amendment #3

Delaware IEP Task Force Legislation To Be Heard At House Education Committee Tomorrow

Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Delaware Senator Nicole Poore, will be heard in the Delaware House Education Committee tomorrow at 2:30pm at Legislative Hall in Dover.  While this bill is not nearly as controversial as House Bill 50, there is some controversy surrounding it.  Just search Senate Bill 33 on this blog for past articles.  From the legis.delaware.gov website which thankfully has fixed the linking issues since they redesigned the site last month:

Chamber: House

Chairman: Jaques

Location/Room: House Chamber

Date/Time: 04/29/2015 02:30:00 PM

Revision Num:

Agenda

SB 33 w/SA 3 AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATION AND THE INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM.
Sponsor : Poore

HB 52 AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS.
Sponsor : Hudson

HB 81 AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATION PROFILE REPORTS.
Sponsor : M. Smith


Comment:

Meeting Minutes:

Alternate Testing Approved By Senate Bill 229 Last Summer Won’t Start This School Year

Last June, Delaware Senator Nicole Poore sponsored Senate Bill 229, which allowed for the most disabled of students to take an alternate assessment as opposed to the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  In the past, these students took what was called the DCAS-Alt, but a new “portfolio” test was supposed to start this academic year.  That is not going to happen.

Due to some issues with the wording in the new regulation, Senator Poore went to the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens and the State Council for Persons with Disabilities and put forth new parts to the regulation which had been approved by the Delaware State Board of Education at their December meeting.

Because of the changes in the regulation, it has to go up for a 60 day comment period.  The updated regulation was published on February 1st, giving the comment period until April 1st.  The earliest the State Board of Education will be able to approve the new regulation would be at their April 16th board meeting.

What this means is any new alternate test won’t go through this year.  These students will still have the DCAS-Alt, but some students with extreme communications issues will have a shortened version.

Delaware Senate Bill 33 To Implement Findings of IEP Task Force

Senator Nicole Poore submitted legislation yesterday to turn the recommendations of the IEP Task Force into law.  House Bill 33 is now in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.  I think the most important change will be from paragraph 3131, section d.

148th General Assembly
Senate Bill # 33
Primary Sponsor: Poore Additional Sponsor(s):    & Sen. Lawson & Rep. Heffernan & Rep. Miro & Rep. Hudson
CoSponsors: Sens. Blevins, Hall-Long, Hocker, Lavelle, Sokola, Townsend; Reps. Baumbach, Bennett, Hensley, Jaques, Q. Johnson, Kenton, Mulrooney, Paradee, Ramone, M. Smith, Viola, K. Williams, Wilson
Introduced on : 01/29/2015
Long Title: AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATION AND THE INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM.
Synopsis of Orginal Bill:
(without Amendments)
 
Current Status: Senate Education Committee   On   01/29/2015
Full text of Legislation:
(in HTML format)
Legis.html Email this Bill to a friend
Full text of Legislation:
(in MS Word format)
Legis.Docx   (Microsoft Word is required to view this document.)
Fiscal Notes/Fee Impact: Not Required

Actions History:

Jan 29, 2015 – Assigned to Education Committee in Senate

House Bill 30 Introduced To Deal With Special Education Funding in Delaware

Last July, I found a startling piece of information while investigating the Delaware Department of Education Exceptional Children Resources Group.  For students listed under basic special education in grades Kindergarten through 3rd grade, they receive no additional funding even when they have an IEP.  This is based on the needs-based funding, which was House Bill 1 in the 146th General Assembly and was signed by  Governor Markell in February 2011.  With this bill, these students would receive additional funding that is desperately needed.

This can help the schools hire more special education teachers and get more funding for further resources needed to help the critical needs of these students.  Sponsored by Delaware State Representative Kim Williams and Delaware Senators Poore and McDowell, this bill finally allow students at a critical juncture to get the proper funding they need.  I think it’s a good sign this bill has 32 sponsors!

There is an excellent article on this here: http://www.dehousedems.com/press/bill-would-extend-special-education-all-students-k-3

Primary Sponsor: K. Williams Additional Sponsor(s):    Sen. McDowell & Sen. Poore
CoSponsors: Reps. Barbieri, Baumbach, Bennett, Bolden, Brady, Carson, Heffernan, Jaques, Q. Johnson, J. Johnson, Keeley, Kowalko, Longhurst, Lynn, Matthews, Mitchell, Mulrooney, Osienski, Paradee, Potter, Schwartzkopf, B. Short, M. Smith, Viola; Sens. Bushweller, Ennis, Henry, Sokola, Townsend
Introduced on : 01/28/2015
Long Title: AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
Synopsis of Orginal Bill:
(without Amendments)
This bill provides State funding to kindergarten through third grade for basic special education. State funding already occurs for intensive and complex special education during these grades. Currently the basic special education funding runs from fourth through twelfth grade. This bill is an effort to promote earlier identification and assistance for basic special education needs which should then mitigate costs over the long term.
Current Status: House Education Committee   On   01/28/15