State Reps Sean Matthews & Deb Heffernan Will Allow WEIC To Get Full House Vote

Yesterday, the News Journal posted an article about one of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill that was tabled in the House Education Committee.  In the original article, it talked about how the House Republicans and two Democrat State Representatives prevented the bill from moving forward.  In the update to the article, it appears State Reps. Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan are ready to give the bill a full House vote.

“All along, my concerns have been related to funding – and there are still many hurdles to overcome. However, after conversations with my peers and leadership, I am now confident that they are committed to addressing those concerns. For this reason, I will sign the bill out of committee so that it may receive full consideration on the House floor,” Matthews said.

“I agree that this legislation deserves a full hearing in the House,” Heffernan said, while noting she wants more than “structural changes” in the education system.

In the House Education Committee, a majority vote is required for legislation to be released.  The committee has 14 members, so 8 votes are needed.  Only one of the votes from Heffernan or Matthews would allow the bill to move forward.

The committee will be having a special meeting next Tuesday, June 21st, solely designated towards House Bill 424 at 2:30pm in the House Majority Caucus room, located next to the House chamber.  Before the committee can release the bill, a majority vote is required to lift the bill from its tabled status.  My hunch is it will be on the House agenda for a full vote on Thursday, June 23rd.

While this is not the legislation that approves the redistricting, it is meant to assure legislators and Delaware citizens that if House Joint Resolution #12, which would approve the redistricting plan, that school boards across the state will not be able to raise school taxes without a referendum.

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Delaware House Recognizes Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month 2016

For the second year in a row, the Delaware House of Representatives recognized Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month, which takes place from May 15th-June 15th, 2016.  My son Jacob and I attended the legislative session where State Representatives Debra Heffernan and Jeff Spiegelman introduced the legislation.  The House unanimously voted in favor of House Resolution #33.

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Above, Kevin and Jacob in picture taken by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams.
Below, the House Resolution.

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Thank you, once again, to State Reps. Heffernan and Spiegelman for this honor for a very misunderstood and confusing disability. And thank you as well to Susan Breakie, the Delaware Tourette Association of America Chapter Leader to inviting Jacob and I to this momentous day!

Jacob got to meet a lot of legislators and even got a lollipop from State Rep. Michael Ramone! Unfortunately, we were not able to meet with Governor Markell this year or get to play with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf’s gavel.

On Saturday, the Delaware Tourette Association of America will be holding the Delaware Tourette Awareness Walk at Glasgow Regional Park in Glasgow, DE:

Join us in Making a Difference with Every Mile!

The Delaware Tourette Awareness Walk in Glasgow Regional Park was organized to raise awareness and funds for the Tourette Association of America. When you register for the Delaware Tourette Awareness Walk you are supporting the Tourette Association’s mission to make life better for all people affected by Tourette and Tic Disorders! Encourage your friends, family, co-worker’s and neighbors to donate on your fundraising webpage so that we can reach the team’s collective fundraising goal! The funds raised will benefit research, foster awareness, and support necessary programs.Together we can make a difference!

Registration Fees
•Early Bird Registration (Age 13+/Adult) — $25
•Day of Event Registration (Age 13+/Adult) — $35
•Children age 6-12 — $15
•Free for Children 5 and younger

Online Registration is Recommended. Online Registration closes at noon on Thursday May 12th, 2016.

What You Receive

Each participant will receive a Team Tourette T-Shirt in the size of their choice and a Team Tourette medal. There will be free food, drinks, and fun for the entire family!

Event Time/Date

Check-in/Day-of registration will begin at 9:00 a.m. and the walk will begin at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 14th 2016.

Event Location

Glasgow Regional State Park

Rt 896 & Rt 40, Newark DE 19720

– See more at: http://getinvolve.tourette.org/site/TR?fr_id=1090&pg=entry#sthash.6YSsSBcQ.dpuf

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!

House Democrats Letter To Governor Markell To Remove Smarter Balanced For 11th Grade

Today, ten Delaware House Democrats signed a letter to Delaware Governor Jack Markell asking him to remove the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  The letter also mentions Senate Joint Resolution #2, the assessment inventory task force.

We recognize that, by your order, the Department of Education is in the midst of creating an inventory of standardized tests administered throughout the state. Pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution 2, signed into law in July, the department will share its findings with legislators and the public, as well as a special work group that will make recommendations regarding possible elimination of redundant tests. While opinions will differ among stakeholders, we believe there is universal support for eliminating the Smarter Balanced test for juniors in lieu of the SAT.

I fully accept that this is Governor Markell’s order.  He came up with the “assessment inventory” idea back in March.  It is a red herring though.  I firmly believe it will get rid of many assessments that give immediate and crucial feedback for teachers in how best to instruct their students.  I also predict it will see an increase in “prep” and “interim” Smarter Balanced Assessments.  The move towards personalized learning will allow for the eventual elimination of the nine-hour test (or longer depending on the individual student’s needs).  But it will not get rid of the basic flaws in SBAC, nor will it eliminate the time taking the test.  Instead it will eventually be in shorter doses but will be just as harmful to students.

There should be universal supporting for eliminating SBAC for ALL grades.  I would caution parents not to be fooled by this letter.  This is not a direction where the Smarter Balanced Assessment will gradually be removed.  It does not address the fundamental and core issues of what is wrong with Smarter Balanced.  I fear this is another attempt to sway legislators from voting for the House Bill 50 Veto Override.  This does not get rid of the issue of parents opting out except for those who have 11th graders.  The SAT is on a downward slope in many states, and now that they are “aligning” it with Common Core, that trend may increase.

Do Not Be Fooled by this Delaware parents!  The DOE has been planning this for over a year IN RESPONSE to the opt-out movement.  They knew 11th graders would have the highest opt-outs.  But it is still implemented in 3rd to 8th grade.  The assessment inventory task force is also stocked with many who will align with the Governor’s flawed logic about standardized assessments.  It wouldn’t shock me if the DOE already wrote the report on it and they are just waiting on the group to tweak it here and there.  I will still fight for the House Bill 50 Veto Override and support parents who choose to exercise their choice to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I have been calling out the “assessment inventory” ruse since the Governor first started talking about it last March.

Delaware Education Legislation That Should Have Passed In The 148th General Assembly

I wrote earlier today about education legislation that passed the other day and went to Governor Markell for signature, veto, or no action.  To date, Governor Markell has never vetoed any education bill that has come before him.  But some legislation never gets there.  The following are bills that had tremendous merit, but for various reasons either never got heard in committee, were never voted on, never went to the other side (House or Senate), or were stricken.  Others are bills I’m going to label as very controversial and have danger flags all over them.  I’m not going to list them all, but the most important ones.

House Bill #28 Status: House Education Committee, Sponsor: Rep. Kim Williams, synopsis: Absent an agreement with the school district, charter schools are currently able to retain any funding received for the fiscal year for a student who transfers mid-year from the charter school to a school district. This bill mandates that, if a student transfers from a charter school to a school district after September 30th, such funds will be prorated between the charter school and the school district where the student is then enrolled.  

What Happened: This is the first of the many Kim Williams education bills she introduced this year.  While she has quite a few on this list, a lot of her bills passed.  She really took off, right from the very beginning of this year’s session, to get education bills out there to correct a lot of the injustices set up in the budget and with the way the DOE runs things.  Unfortunately, with the heavy-handed pro-education reform Governor Markell and his minions at the DOE, along with Rep. Earl Jaques as head of the education committee, bills like this are hard to be heard along with the stiff lobbying from the Delaware Charter Schools Network.

Prediction: State Auditor reports come out showing more charter financial mismanagement, the state desperately looking for any available funds for the budget, and Jaques either stripped of chairmanship power on the education committee or knocked down a peg or two from Schwartzkopf in the coming days of elections, and this one will pass.  The charter party in Delaware is going to get crashed, and it will change the entire landscape they are used to living in.  It wouldn’t shock me if amendment were added stripping charters from their transportation slush fund where they get to keep their excess funds from their transportation budget.  It will get strong opposition from the Republicans, but even some of them will realize the public will remember that come vote time!

House Bill #30 Status: sent to Appropriations Committee, Sponsor: Rep. Kim Williams, synopsis: 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.

What Happened: The budget.  This bill has a $7.5 million fiscal note.  The sad part is these students should have always been provided this funding from the get-go.  Unfortunately, this bill will be one of those that will rise or fall based on the budget next year.

Prediction: The IEP Task Force will reconvene, and in conjunction with House Bill 117, the Wilmington redistricting push, and the Senate Resolution group looking at funding, as well as IMMENSE pressure from this blog, it could pass.  Special education is about to become a huge topic in Delaware, bigger than at any time before.  Trust me on this!

House Bill #34 Status: sent to Senate Education Committee, Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, synopsis: This bill will allow a local school district board to delay new or changed rules, regulations, or administrative procedures from becoming effective during a school year once the school year has started. This will allow the rules, regulations, and procedures to be consistent for the whole school year.

What Happened: this bill, which I loved when it was introduced back in January, just passed the House on the last day of session.  It is a good solid bill which will prevent the DOE from sneaking in regulations during the summer forcing schools to submit to them without any guidance or support once they come back in August.

Prediction: It will pass the Senate, but not right away.  Spiegelman, as a young Republican in the House, wants to show some muscle.  In the Democrat controlled House and Senate, this can be dangerous.  They will not give him what he wants all the time, but they will give him lots of carrots.

House Bill #52 Status: on House ready list, Sponsor: Rep. Deb Hudson, synopsis: Under current educational standards, cursive writing is no longer required to be taught to our students, and many schools have abandoned teaching it to their students. As cursive writing is still an imperative skill in many professions, this bill will make the teaching of cursive writing a requirement for all public schools in Delaware.

What happened: not a lot.  It was released from the education committee.  It had so-so public support, but not a lot.  Both sides had pros and cons on the issue.

Prediction: If the House has a really slow day and Schwartzkopf is in a good mood, it might get to a vote.  I wouldn’t bet on it though.

House Bill #61 Status: on House ready list, Sponsor: Rep. Deb Hudson, synopsis: This bill requires that all public meetings of the boards of education of public school districts, vo-tech school districts, and public meetings of charter schools’ boards of directors be digitally recorded and made available to the public on the districts’ and charter schools’ websites within seven business days. The recordings will not be considered the official board minutes.
Currently the Red Clay Consolidated School District, Christina School District, and the Capital School District on a voluntary basis approved by their boards of education have been providing the public digital recordings of their board public session meetings via the district’s websites.
The Delaware State Board of Education is required by the State Board of Education to make available within one business day digital recordings of its board meetings on the Delaware Department of Education’s website.

What Happened: Pete Schwartzkopf.  I’m guessing the Speaker of the House really hate this bill, cause this is the third year in a row it came out of committee and sat on the ready list.  Also known as the Kilroy’s bill, the charters have fought against it by crying over the “expenses”, but it really isn’t an expensive venture.

Prediction: This will depend on charter school behavior between now and next year.  If the State Auditor finds more bad financial behavior, this could cause Schwartzokpf to finally put it to a vote.  I think it will pass with strong Democrat support, but like House Bill 186, the Republicans will shoot it down because of their strange obsession with charters.  It will pass under this circumstance.  And we can’t forget the Kilroy effect on this bill.  He is very pissed about the treatment of this bill.  He could drum up a lot of public support for this bill, and I will be happy to help him.

House Bill #107 Status: assigned to House Education Committee, Sponsor: Rep. Kim Williams, synopsis: This bill articulates the principle that local school districts and school boards should have the authority to select their own leaders and staff from a pool of qualified applicants. These are decisions best left at the local level rather than imposed by a central authority.

What happened: This bill was a reaction to the DOE and Markell’s priority schools initiative, where six schools were told by the DOE they will get new leaders because of their bad standardized test scores.  The whole priority school controversy died down quick after the WEAC recommendations, but they are still out there.  Red Clay negotiated against the new leaders and won.  Christina is up in the air due to the whole redistricting legislation, Senate Bill #122.

Prediction: This won’t go anywhere, unless the DOE pulls a priority schools sneak attack in the fall causing the dormant issue to rise again.  Then this bill has a fighting change.

House Bill #108 Status: assigned to House Education Committee, Sponsor: Rep. Kim Williams, synopsis: This bill requires that the General Assembly approve any ESEA Flexibility waiver prior to its submission to the U.S. Department of Education.

What happened: Too many bills like this, designed to give the General Assembly more control over the out of control DOE.  With the House Education Committee led by the very-friendly-with-DOE-and-probably-too-much Rep. Earl Jaques, it was never put on the agenda.

Prediction: It will depend on Jaques retaining his chair on the committee.  With numerous issues over House Bill 50 and House Bill 186, it would not shock me if Jaques had a conversation with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf.  This will also depend on DOE behavior regarding their current ESEA waiver application and next year’s as well.  Another curve ball could come in the form of ESEA reauthorization at a Federal level which would render this bill meaningless if waivers are done away with.

House Bill #117 Status: assigned to House Appropriations committee,  Sponsor: Rep. Deb Heffernan, synopsis: This Act will create a funding source for students enrolled in Delaware public schools who are determined as low-income according to the Department of Education. This funding source will be in addition to the normal enrollment based funding provided to school districts and charter schools. The low-income unit will provide one unit of funding for every 250 low-income students in grades K-12 where the funding can be used for such purposes as providing additional teachers and paraprofessionals for classroom instruction; additional counselors, school psychologists, social workers, and intervention specialists; Response to Intervention Services; and before and after school programs providing homework assistance, and for support for English language learners. To ensure the low-income resources reach the schools where they are most needed, this Act requires that at least 98% of the units be directed towards the schools that generate the funding unless otherwise waived by a local board of education during a public meeting. 

What Happened: The budget.  Another bill with a fiscal note during very tight budget negotiations.  With the already passed Senate Resolution to look at funding in schools, and the strong push from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, this bill will be on a fast track in 2016.

Prediction: How much money will we have?  They are already projecting a $160 million deficit in Delaware next year.  Unless revenue starts pouring in, this bill could die on the fiscal vine.

House Bill #161 Status: assigned to House Education Committee, Sponsor: Rep. Deb Hudson, synopsis: AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE ESTABLISHING THE PARENT EMPOWERMENT EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT ACT.

What happened: This one was dead on arrival.  The whole idea of vouchers, which is exactly what these are, is a Republican idea.  In Dover, the Democrats rule and have for many years.  Democrats, the DSEA, and even Governor Markell are dead set against any type of voucher plan.

Prediction: if this even makes it to the House Education Committee, it will be shot down very fast.  And with states like Nevada ruling voucher programs unconstitutional, and Colorado giving a state ruling against them, any potential support for vouchers will quickly fade.  With the upcoming election year, the very thought of vouchers will be brought up by many Republicans, but it is a toxic subject opposed by many.  If you want to see how a voucher system can bring an entire country’s education system to it’s knees, just look at Sweden.

House Bill 173 Status: assigned to House Education Committee, Sponsors: Rep. Richard Collins and Senator Greg Lavelle, synopsis: The Department of Education often implements policies and educational requirements based upon directives issued by the United States Department of Education. This Bill will require that any directive received by the Department of Education from the Federal Government be automatically disclosed on the Department of Education website without the necessity for making a Freedom of Information Request. 

What Happened: Nothing.  It was introduced on 6/10/15, late in the session, by two Republicans.  However, given the shenanigans with the DOE and the many issues legislators conveyed with the DOE this year, this should have been a no-brainer.

Prediction: Up in the air.  There are other bills like this, demanding more transparency and stringent rules for the DOE and State Board.  Can all of them get passed?  It will really depend on how the DOE, Secretary Murphy, and the State Board “play” in the next year.  But this would lend transparency to the DOE, and I can see them wanting this to give the illusion…

House Bill 186 Status: Passed by House of Representatives, Sponsor: Rep. Kim Williams, synopsis of bill: Currently, all school districts, including vocational schools, are subject to the Auditor of Accounts. Edits to the November 2010 Charter School Manual removed instructions for charter schools to go through Auditor of Accounts when contracting for audits. There is presently no legislative authority to require charter schools to submit to the Auditor of Accounts processes. This bill adds charter schools to the list of entities for audits through the Auditor of Accounts. The bill takes effect so that the Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits for the time periods starting on or after July 1, 2015.

What happened: In four words, Delaware Charter Schools Network.  They openly lobbied against the bill, even setting up an email your legislator campaign on their website which several charter schools reached out to parents about.  Meanwhile, charter schools from Dover to Wilmington had allegations and reports coming out regarding financial abuse by school leaders.  This bill rolled the previous Williams sponsored House Bills #53 and 154 into one.

Prediction: more reports will come out from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office regarding other charter schools under investigation.  DCSN will lobby even harder, but transparency and financial controls will rule the day. Once again, the charter party is coming to an end in 2016. Remember this.  I’m not saying they will disappear, far from it.  But they will be held to higher financial and organizational standards.

Senate Bill #72 Status: on ready list for Senate, Sponsor: Senator Bryan Townsend, synopsis: This bill increases the teaching and administrative experience qualifications for the Secretary of Education from 5 years to 10 years. The Bill also clarifies that at least 6 years must be of teaching experience and at least 2 years must be of administrative experience. 

What Happened: This bill came out around the same time the Delaware State Educators Association and their local organizations in Christina and Red Clay publicly denounced Secretary of Education Mark Murphy with their vote of no confidence.  It immediately became a must-read article for newspapers and bloggers.  Shortly thereafter, the Delaware Association of School Administrators issued the same decree.

Prediction: This one is tough.  While there is certainly not a lot of love for Murphy in Legislative Hall (and in much of Delaware), he does have some things going for him.  This past Monday it was announced he was joining the board of the Council for Chief State School Officers.  This give him even more federal protection under US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s gaze.  Rep. Earl Jaques is the DOE’s House boy, so he may not put it on the agenda for the education committee.  As well, he is the perfect patsy for Governor Markell who runs the show.  Murphy does not bend for anyone if it contradicts one of Markell’s education policies.  While I think this is the funniest bill out there, it could set up an even worse situation if it passes.  Imagine a Secretary with the same  mindset as Murphy but more qualified.  Someone with charisma and public appeal.  That could be more dangerous than Murphy could ever be.  Unless Murphy does something colossally stupid over the next year, he isn’t going anywhere.  No matter what passes, Markell will never sign this bill.

Senate Bills #92 & 93 Status: on ready list for Senate vote, Sponsor: Senator Margaret Rose-Henry, synopsis for SB92: Delaware Code Title 14§1332 addresses the Program for Children with Autism and its “Special Staff.” Enacted nearly three decades ago, these regulations established a network of educational programs initially within a separate school structure known as The Delaware Autism Program (DAP). Today, this network continues as a combination of both separate school programs and within local school district support services. In addition, the code designates a Statewide Director who primarily has provided direction, training, and technical assistance within the DAP. However, current practices in special education, especially regarding inclusive education and parents’ desire to have their children educated within their local communities, seem to be incongruent with this older model of service delivery. In addition, the magnitude of the increase in students identified with ASD has clearly created difficulty for the Statewide Director to provide the level of services/support that once was offered.
Therefore, the recommended code changes also revise the concept of DAP toward a system in which the Statewide Director would work in collaboration with a team of experts to provide technical assistance and training to districts and educational entities. This recommendation reconstitutes the regulations to neutralize the distinction between DAP approved programs and other in-district options, thereby, allowing and providing adequate resources to serve on behalf of all student with ASD in Delaware. The number of technical/ training experts has been identified as one expert per 100 students statewide. It is suggested that the fiscal mechanism to support these changes should be through mandated district participation that is congruent with the current needs based funding system in Delaware. Lastly, the current mandatory committee structure is enhanced to include a Parent Advisory Committee, in addition to the Peer Review Committee and Statewide Monitoring Review board.
These changes include articulation of the qualifications and duties of the Statewide Director for Students with ASD; the addition of a technical assistance team of educational autism specialists numbering a ratio of 1 for every 100 students (currently estimated at 15 positions); and the further clarification / additions to the committee structure for family input, monitoring, and protections under human rights. This recommendation recognizes and supports the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff to be available to build capacity for teachers in all districts and other programs educating students with ASD. These changes essentially expand available supports so that excellent, evidence-based training and technical assistance can be made available to all Delaware schools and the students within them.
, synopsis for SB93: This bill establishes an Interagency Committee on Autism and the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism.  Among other things, the Interagency Committee on Autism is charged with a) utilizing evidence-based practices and programs to improve outcomes for people living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and related developmental disabilities in Delaware by sharing information, initiatives, data and communications among both public and private agencies providing services and supports for individuals and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders in the State of Delaware; and b) implementing the recommendations outlined in the 2013 Delaware Strategic Plan entitled “Blueprint for Collective Action: Final Report of the Delaware Strategic Plan to Improve Services and Supports for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
The Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism is to provide a resource for training and technical assistance for Delaware state agencies, organizations and other private entities operating in the State of Delaware that provide services and support to individuals and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders.  The Network is to support the operations of the Interagency Committee on Autism through the maintenance of the website, maintenance of reports created by the Interagency Committee on Autism and maintenance of meeting minutes, as well as other support as needed by the Interagency Committee on Autism.

What Happened: The budget.  This is one of those crucial bills dealing with a fast-rising population of children and adults with Autism.  This bill will cost a lot of money.   With the budget issues at the end of the session, there was no way this was going to get to a vote.

Prediction: If you thought the opt-out parents were vocal, the General Assembly may want to prepare for these parents.  The Delaware Autism Program is running out of money.  States are obligated under Federal law to provide services.  Cuts will have to be made in the budget to make room for this.  Taxes will increase after the 148th General Assembly closes shop, this is a given.  These bills have to pass.  This is one of the biggest health issues of the future, and if we don’t get control over it now, it will jeopardize thousands and thousands of children and adults with Autism.  If you think we spend a lot of money on residential treatment centers now, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the future. Anyone who votes no on this bill will instantly be seen as the state pariah and will be voted out of office. This bill will pass, but the cost will be enormous, and sacrifices will need to be made.

Senate Bill #137 Status: on Senate ready list, Sponsore: Senator Harris McDowell, synopsis: Delaware’s Community College System plays a critical role in the State’s economy by providing workforce development and transfer education that connects Delawareans with good paying jobs within the State and region. This Act gives the College’s Board of Trustees the authority to issue bonds to finance the cost of major and minor capital improvements, deferred maintenance, and the acquisition of related equipment and educational technology associated therewith and establishes the Community College Infrastructure Fund to pay the principal and interest on such bonds. This Act adopts the county vo-tech structure to finance the Fund by authorizing the College’s Board of Trustees to collect a local property tax subject to a cap.

What Happened: it didn’t get heard by the Senate Education Committee until the last week of committee meetings.  Too many other bills demanding to get a vote, got lost in the shuffle.

Prediction: this is one of those what I like to call “sneaky bills” where it gets passed, and all of a sudden citizens start wondering “Why did my taxes go up and I’m paying for community colleges?”  If this passed by June 30th, it wouldn’t have survived the House.  But in 2016, anything can happen with the budget.  This could either get a lot of support or it will die quickly.

Senate Bill #161 Status: Senate Education Committee, sponsor: Senator Gerald Hocker, synopsis: This Act requires public schools to begin their school year after Labor Day. There have been many economic impact reports done that show a positive impact from starting public schools after Labor Day. A report by the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association estimates that $369 million would be lost if schools were not required to start after Labor Day. This includes $104 million in wages and $21 million in state and local taxes. Maryland is considering similar legislation. A study of Maryland found that pushing the start of school back would generate $74.3 million in economic activity and $7.7 million in new state and local tax revenue.

What Happened: Introduced on the second to last day of the session, this bill was destined to go nowhere by June 30th.

Prediction: This is another one of those downstate bills that aren’t popular in Newcastle and Kent.  This one goes nowhere.  Even if it saved the state money, the effect wouldn’t be seen to balance the budget by 6/30/16.

A lot of these bills will depend on the budget.  This is the reality.

Exciting News About The IEP Task Force in Delaware!

In my conversation with Attorney General Matt Denn the other night, we also talked about the possibility of the IEP Task Force in Delaware reconvening.  This group dealt with issues surrounding Individualized Education Programs and special education in Delaware.  This culminated with Senate Bill 33, signed into law by Delaware Governor Jack Markell a couple weeks ago, which will launch a multitude of new laws concerning special education in Delaware.

Denn said Senator Nicole Poore was planning on introducing legislation that evening/morning to get the IEP Task Force going again, but with the very hectic schedule due to the budget issues, he wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.  I looked on the Delaware General Assembly website yesterday to see if anything did happen, and I didn’t find anything.

I contacted Senator Poore, and she did confirm what Denn told me, but she said it was absolutely crazy that last day and was not able to get it in for a vote.  However, she did state that herself and State Rep. Deb Heffernan have discussed this at length about getting the IEP Task Force going again, and they will be working during the next 6 months to examine ideas and issues to tackle when they introduce legislation in January 2016 to get the IEP Task Force reconvened.  Attorney General Denn will not be the Chair, but Poore and Heffernan would be co-running the task force.

Poore recognized that while the original IEP Task Force tackled a lot of issues, there are certainly many more matters to tackle.  While the make-up of the group may be a bit different, I look forward to this group getting together again and discussing these issues!  Recently, Delaware was rated as “needs assistance” by the Office of Special Education Programs based on their 17 part indicators for compliance and results, but this blogger does not believe this paints a full picture of the issues facing special education in Delaware.

House Bill 50 Update And Other Education Legislation That Passed In The Wee Hours Of The Morning Yesterday

House Bill 50 is waiting.  No action has been taken by Delaware Governor Jack Markell on the parent opt-out legislation.  Matt Albright with the News Journal spoke with Jonathan Dworkin, the spokesman for Governor Markell, and wrote yesterday:

“Markell has not asked for H.B. 50 to be delivered to his desk yet, Dworkin said. Once he receives the bill, he has 10 days to veto it; if he doesn’t, it becomes law with or without his signature.

That means the Legislature would have to wait for a veto override vote until next year unless they call a special session, which is unlikely.”

I checked Delaware state code, and found the following:

“Section 18. Every bill which shall have passed both Houses of the General Assembly shall, before it becomes law, be presented to the Governor;”

The key part concerning this seems to be “presented to the Governor”.  Whose job is it to present a bill to Markell?  The last place House Bill 50 sat in was the Delaware Senate and they passed the bill a week ago today.   I contacted Markell’s office, and they indicated he has ten days to take action on a bill, but when I asked specifically about the bill being “presented”, they did not have an answer but did indicate they would check on that aspect as well as the status of the bill and would get back to me either later today or Monday since their offices are closed tomorrow.

Meanwhile, other education bills passed both the Delaware House and Senate and are also awaiting a signature from Markell.  In no short order:

House Bill 91, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Rep. Sean Matthews, Synopsis: This bill involves the public school immunization program. Currently, the Affidavit of Religious Belief does not expressly alert parents or guardians who file for the religious exemption from the program that the child will be temporarily excluded from school in the event of an epidemic of a vaccine preventable disease. This bill amends the required affidavit so parents or guardians are directly made aware of the possibility of the child’s temporary exclusion from school. The bill also adds that the asserted cause of a medical exemption may be subject to review and approval by the Division of Public Health. Additionally, the bill would require the Division of Public Health to declare an outbreak, rather than the current language of an epidemic throughout the State or a particular definable region thereof.

House Joint Resolution #6 w/House Amendment #1, passed 7/1,  Sponsor: Rep. Earl Jaques, This House Joint Resolution directs the DPAS II Advisory Committee to review and make recommendations to the current educator evaluation system. This Resolution also limits the State Department of Education’s ability to propose changes to certain sections of the Administrative Code.

Senate Bill #61, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Senator David Sokola, This Act clarifies that school buses are not exempt from the requirement to stop at railroad grade crossings regulated by a traffic-control signal or at railroad grade crossings protected by crossing gates or flashing lights. Section 4163 currently is contrary to best safety practices requiring that school buses stop at these types of crossings to ensure optimal safety for students.
This Act also makes additional changes to § 4163 in keeping with the grammar and style guidelines of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual.

Senate Bill #62, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Senator David Sokola, This Act updates the minimum insurance coverage requirements for school transportation to reflect current industry standards.

Senate Bill #94, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Senator Brian Bushweller, This Act requires the Department to develop a regulation for the identification of a “military-connected youth”. The Act further provides that this identification is not a public record, is protected by the federal Family Educational and Privacy Act and shall not be used for purposes of determining school achievement, growth or performance. The purpose of this identification is to ensure the necessary individuals at the school level are aware of any military connected youth for services and supports.

Senate Concurrent Resolution #29, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Senator Bethany Hall-Long, This concurrent resolution establishes the Behavioral and Mental Health Task Force to examine mental health in the State of Delaware and make recommendations for the improvement of services and the mental healthcare system. *editor’s note: while this is not a direct education bill, many students would benefit from a better mental health care system in the state

Senate Concurrent Resolution #39, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Senator Colin Bonini,  This Concurrent Resolution forms a working group to make a recommendation as to whether or not the Budget Bill should continue to be treated as a simple majority Bill.  *editor’s note: this working group will take a hard look at funding for charter schools, University of Delaware, and Delaware State University.  Since they are considered corporations under state law, and corporations need a 3/4 majority vote for passage, and currently the budget bill only needs a majority vote, this group will examine this legal anomaly.

Senate Joint Resolution #2 w/Senate Amendment #1, passed 7/1, Sponsors: Senator David Sokola and Rep. Earl Jaques, The amount of testing required of our students and educators has grown significantly in recent years. While the General Assembly recognizes the need to administer assessments that provide valid and reliable data about how Delaware’s students are growing academically, it is also committed to maximizing time in the classroom for our educators to teach, and our students to learn.
The Department of Education is already coordinating an inventory of all assessments required at the state, district, and school level. This Joint Resolution requires the Department of Education to report the inventory results, and any assessments that districts or the state propose to eliminate, to the public and to the House and Senate Education Committees of the General Assembly. It also requires the Department to convene a group, consisting of members of the General Assembly and the public, to conduct an in-depth review of the inventory results and make recommendations for consolidation or elimination of assessments. 

Senate Joint Resolution #4, passed 7/1, Sponsor: Senator David Sokola, While Delaware is deeply committed to preparing every child to reach his or her full potential and succeed in the new economy, the State will not be able to build a world-class education system for its children without modernizing the 70-year-old education funding system. This Joint Resolution establishes the Education Funding Improvement Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of Delaware’s public education funding system and make recommendations to modernize and strengthen the system. The Commission will include stakeholders from across the education system and will submit a report and recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly no later than March 31, 2016. 

House Bill #184, passed 6/30, Sponsor: Rep. Deb Heffernan, This bill establishes a mechanism for persons receiving special education services pursuant to an active Individual Education Plan until the age of 21 to receive license to drive.

House Joint Resolution #7, passed 6/30, Sponsor: Rep. Kim Williams, Recognizing (1) that many of our educators are assuming greater levels of responsibility and demonstrating leadership in their classrooms and schools, (2) that our current educator compensation system does not reflect the work we value in our educators or provide them with a meaningful career pathway or ability to earn additional compensation for assuming additional responsibility, and (3) that we must retain and attract great educators to ensure that our students are prepared to compete in an increasingly global economy, this bill re-establishes the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers in addition to establishing two sub-committees: the Educator Work Group and the Technical Advisory Group. The Committee will continue its work in developing a plan for an alternative compensation structure and career pathway for educators aligned with the parameters set forth in Senate Bill No. 254, including providing educators with a meaningful career pathway, including higher starting salaries and recognition for working with high-needs students, and significant leadership opportunities for career advancement that keeps talented educators in the classroom.   The Committee must submit updated recommendations to the Governor by March 31st, 2016 with sufficient detail for implementing legislation, and will continue to meet thereafter to issue subsequent recommendations for consideration. 

I will be updating the page on this blog entitled “Education Bills in the 148th General Assembly” over the next week and as Markell makes decisions on these as well.  I also intend to go through all the legislation that was passed over and is left in limbo until January 2016.

Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month Recognized By Delaware In House Concurrent Resolution 36

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Today, the Delaware House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass House Concurrent Resolution #36, which recognizes Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month, running from May 15th to June 15th in Delaware. Sponsored by State Reps Debra Heffernan and Jeffrey Spiegelman, this is the first resolution of its kind for Tourette Syndrome in Delaware.

The Chairpersons of the Delaware Tourette Syndrome Association, Susan Breakie and Pam Levin, both gave stirring and moving speeches about Tourette Syndrome and the discrimination and bullying that occurs in schools for TS students. Levin gave examples of situations TS kids and adults have to endure, such as “stop moving around and do your work in the hallway” when a student is ticcing, or an adult with TS being rejected from a job opportunity based on their disability. Breakie stressed there needs to be more awareness and acceptance of Tourette Syndrome to break the stereotypes concerning the “swearing” disease, and how it is a neurological and neurobiological disease with no cure.

A few children with Tourette Syndrome attended the event, and after the legislative session, they got to meet Governor Jack Markell and received Delaware pins from the Governor. It was a highlight for many of the attendees year to have this very unique and once in a lifetime opportunity!

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Especially for this blogger!

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