Homeowners Set To Get Screwed With Governor Carney’s “Shared Sacrifice”

Yesterday, the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee (DEFAC) projected Delaware’s budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2018 to be $395 million dollars.  This is up ten million from the last time the committee met.  Tonight, the Christina Board of Education will discuss the impact on taxpayers.  Governor Carney is suggesting school boards raise what is known as the match tax (the portion the state matches certain funding) by having the district school boards levy the tax without a referendum.

Christina’s Chief Financial Officer, Bob Silber, created an impact budget for how this increase would hit taxpayers.  In the below example, a home that just sold for $224,000 would see their property taxes raised $46.50 with the match tax scenario.  Keep in mind, this is based on the property assessment value of $63,700, which is almost a quarter of the home’s actual value based on the sale price.

This is not the only sting homeowners, as well as all Delaware citizens, will feel starting July 1st.  State taxes, collected from paychecks, will go up for most.  State employees will see higher insurance rates.  Salary raises for state employees will most likely disappear.  Services will be cut.  It is all rather bleak.  Our General Assembly has utilized every single benefit to state funding, such as the proceeds from the tobacco lawsuit, without realizing those perks were eventually going to disappear.  State revenue does not match state expenses.  Companies, such as DuPont and soon Barclays, left Delaware for the most part, causing a severe lack of revenue and jobs.  Delaware has, and will continue to, spend more than it makes.

With the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, there was a request to raise property assessment values.  While Delaware’s assessment values are still far lower than most states, it also created an influx of senior citizens moving to The First State because of that.  But the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, already through the special education tuition tax and soon the match tax, could have a negative impact on the desire of the elderly to move to Delaware or even stay here.

Meanwhile, there has been no action on the Governor’s part to institute the basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced two bills in the last two General Assemblies to take care of this but neither bill has moved forward due to the state funding issues.  Oblivious to all the future costs by not having this essential funding in place, our state continues to bumble through special education with this very real omission to the foundation of special education students who are just beginning to manifest their disabilities.  The projected amount to fund what should have always been there is a little bit less than $13 million a year.  By not providing that funding, the state relies on the school districts or charter schools to pay for these services.  Either way, it has a negative effect.  If the school does provide those services, it results in more of a drain on local funding.  If the school doesn’t, they are not only breaking special education law if the child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program, but they are also looking at higher costs for that student in the future by not providing that foundation.  So that $13 million a year mushrooms to much higher costs for these students down the road.

Just this morning, State Rep. Earl Jaques announced a new bill on Facebook creating a fund in the Delaware Dept. of Education budget for an Educational Support Professional of the Year award.  Delaware has 16 school districts, 3 vocational districts, and over 20 charter schools.  This bill would allow each district (20, which includes one award for all the charters) to give their winner an extra $1000.00.  The overall winner would get $1,500.00.  While $21,500 in the DOE budget doesn’t amount to much, it is symptomatic of the mindset of far too many of our legislators.  Instead of finding solutions, too many of them find ways to spend even more money.  If our state was swimming in money, I would be okay with this bill.  But not now.

Delaware’s legislature is going to have their hands full when they return from Spring Break next Tuesday.  This budget deficit is not the result of a national recession like what we faced in 2009.  This is Delaware created.  We spent our way out of the recession and now we are paying the piper.  Governor Carney looks like a deer running towards headlights with his reactions to this ever-increasing budget deficit.  I predict he will have a very tough time getting re-elected in 2020 if this trend continues.

House Bill 50 To Be Heard In House Education Committee Today…. Say What?

The Delaware General Assembly returns today!  It was supposed to happen yesterday, but the impending doom of the snowstorm that didn’t quite live up to its potential postponed the return.  Today is Committee day!  House Bill 50 WILL be heard in the House Education Committee today.  Say what?  Didn’t former Governor Jack Markell veto that bill? Continue reading “House Bill 50 To Be Heard In House Education Committee Today…. Say What?”

Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?

Last Friday, Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques responded to a post I put up on Facebook concerning the Delaware State Auditor’s office.  One of his replies was news to me as well as everyone else I asked about this reveal. Continue reading “Earl Jaques Threw A Doozy Out There On Friday. Does It Have Legs?”

New 149th General Assembly Education Legislation Deals With Special Education, ESSA & Attendance

The 149th General Assembly officially began on January 10th, this past Tuesday.  But the first few weeks tend to be slow.  Especially when it comes to education.  But we already have seven education bills submitted by the Delaware House of Representatives.  No Senate education bills have come forth at this point.

The biggest of these is a carryover from the 148th General Assembly, that of funding for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  State Rep. Kim Williams made a ton of noise about the need for this funding during the last go-around, and she needs to keep making more noise!  There should be NO question whatsoever about the need for this bill.  NONE!  It should not come down to fiscal concerns either.  It needs to happen even if they have to cut some slush fund somewhere.  House Substitute 1 for House Bill 12 will be a bill I advocate for this year, no doubt about it!  I have to say I am disappointed there are NO Delaware Republicans that signed on to the substitute for this bill although Reps. Spiegelman and Briggs-King did sign on for the original House Bill #12.  This is on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 2:30pm.

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State Rep. Earl Jaques’ House Joint Resolution #3 would ensure both the House and Senate Education Committees see the Delaware Every Student Succeeds Act state plan before it is completed and sent to the United States Dept. of Education.  That is a step, but I would prefer the General Assembly has authority to accept or reject the plan before it goes to the US DOE!  This is also on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 2:30pm.

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The drop-out age and school attendance came out roaring through the legislative gate!  State Rep. Sean Matthews submitted two bills while State Rep. Tim Dukes submitted one.  Dukes’ House Bill #17 would increase the drop-out age from 16 to 17.  It would also include truancy.  Matthews’ House Bill #23 takes it a step further and would require a parent or guardian to agree to a student dropping out if they are over the age of 16.  Where this could get a bit sticky is what happens if a student is 18?  They are of legal age at that point.  Some students with disabilities attend school until the age of 21.  Matthews’ House Bill #24 would require a parent conference if a student misses five consecutive days without an excuse.  My take on this is if parents don’t know their kids are missing five days of school and just wandering around somewhere, it will be tough to get that parent to come to a conference if they are already so disengaged they don’t know what their kid is doing.  All of these bills are meant to discourage dropping out and keeping students in school.  I wholeheartedly agree with that.  The trick is in the details.

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This is another carryover from the 148th.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan had this one ready to go on June 30th but I have to believe there simply wasn’t enough time to get to every bill that night/morning.  But it is back with House Bill #15 which would make computer science a graduation requirement for high school students.  This is also on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 2:30pm.

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It wouldn’t be a General Assembly in the 2010s without some type of librarian legislation from State Rep. Paul Baumbach!  House Bill #34 would increase the participants in a very long-sounding scholarship name.

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The Battle For The 10th Begins As Republicans Pick John Marino

The 10th Senate District will have a vacancy when Senator Bethany Hall-Long officially steps down when she becomes the next Delaware Lieutenant Governor.  As many predicted, the Delaware GOP chose John Marino as the Republican candidate.  Who will the Dems pick?  Whoever it is, this will be a hot race.  The winner determines which party controls the Delaware Senate.  Many felt State Rep. Earl Jaques would run, but he informed me two weeks ago he is NOT running for this Senate seat.  Here is the official release from the Delaware GOP:

Republicans Choose Marino for Upcoming Special Election:

 Middletown Republican Won 49% Of The Vote in 2014

Newark, DE: The Republican Party of Delaware announced today that they have selected John Marino of Middletown as the party’s candidate for the upcoming special election to replace Lt. Gov.-elect Bethany Hall-Long in the State Senate.

John Marino is a highly-decorated retired police officer, and is currently President of J & J Homes, LLC and a top-producing Realtor®. John has been an active volunteer in the New Castle County community for many years: as the former President of Lea Eara Farms/Summit Farms Maintenance Corporation, a volunteer position which he held for ten years; as a longtime volunteer at a horse rescue; as a Little League Coach at MOT Little League, winning the State tournament and taking his team to the regional championship; as well as a past volunteer for the Appoquinimink Sports Boosters.

Marino has lived for the last 20 years in the Middletown area with JoiAnn, his wife of 25 years, and their three children.

“I am honored that the Republican Party has selected our team for this important challenge,” said Marino. “I look forward to spreading my message of reforming and improving our government to the great people of the 10th District. Delaware deserves much better than we’ve been getting from our state government, and I have a plan to get the results Delawareans deserve.”

State GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland noted Marino’s campaign experience, in particular his 2014 campaign against Hall-Long, where Marino earned 49% of the vote and fell short by a narrow margin.

“John Marino knows how to run a top-flight campaign and earn the votes of the people of the 10th District,” said Delaware GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland. “And the people of the 10th District can see that one-party rule has failed our schools, our government and our economy. We look forward to a fantastic campaign.”

Should Marino be successful, the Delaware Senate would change power for the first time in over 40 years. The Senate will be evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans following Hall-Long’s inauguration.

“The Senate Republicans have been offering consistent solutions for years, only to be shut down entirely by the ruling Democrats,” said Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley). “We’re ready to win this race and show Delaware that balanced government can make a lasting difference for them. John Marino is exactly the right person to win this race and serve the people of the 10th District in the State Senate.”

Had Hillary Clinton become President, this election would not mean as much.  It still would have been big, but now that we live in Trumplandia and all that will come from that, this should add some extra oomph to this election.

Rep Kim Williams Rips Into The Delaware DOE During Public Meeting

The Delaware Dept. of Education held the third meeting of the Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities in Delaware today.  I can’t even make an abbreviation out of that one.  Do not be confused with the Strategic Plan for Special Education that the DOE is also working on.  In any event, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams was NOT a happy camper.  While she is not a member of this committee, she attended the meeting and had some words to say to the DOE.

Apparently this committee came about as a result of an amendment on House Bill #56, the Wilmington charter school moratorium legislation signed by Governor Markell in 2015.  The Dept. was tasked with reviewing all educational opportunities in the state including charter, district, and vo-tech.  The DOE contracted with Public Consulting Group (PCG) to write up the report which came out last December.  PCG continued to work on the strategic plan and came out with another report in October.  In the October report, PCG made a reference to a District-Charter Collaboration Task Force.  Which is ironic since they didn’t post minutes nor did they come out with a final report.

At one point during the meeting today, Delaware Senator David Sokola mentioned a need for low-income and special education information on school choice applications.  David Blowman from the Delaware DOE allowed me to speak and I mentioned how the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, of which Sokola was a member, voted in the majority that information like that should not be on choice applications.  I mentioned that it was recommendations from the task force but it showed a clear decision to not have those items on choice applications.  Blowman agreed with me and said those items should not be on applications.  This prompted Rep. Williams to speak…

In August, Rep. Williams contacted the DOE about this strategic plan.  She contacted PCG and discussed the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which met for a year and a half, kept all their minutes, and came out with a mammoth-sized final report which was sent to the DOE and the General Assembly.  She emailed a link to PCG.  Nothing even mentioning the Enrollment Preferences Task Force made it into PCG’s October report.  Williams blasted the DOE for this by stating she failed to understand how this strategic plan is meant to provide opportunities for ALL students.  She was clearly (and understandably) upset the report gave no mention to a task force she devoted a year and a half to.  But the District-Charter Collaboration Task Force, which had severe issues with transparency and no final report.  It was obvious to many in the audience that this oversight was not simply a mistake on PCG’s report.  I know for a fact the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson worked with PCG on their initial report which came out a few days before the final report for the Enrollment Preferences Task Force came out.

Senator Sokola asked Williams why she didn’t introduce legislation based on the recommendations of the task force during the last legislative session.  Williams explained that the legislation wouldn’t have come out until March of this year and everyone was very wrapped up in the WEIC redistricting plan.  Sokola said he can see that.  But Williams did say she will be introducing legislation based on those recommendations when the General Assembly comes back in January.  Williams argued that if she didn’t look at the October report from PCG and she didn’t attend this meeting, the DOE wouldn’t have even thought to mention the work 27 members of the task force worked on for a year and a half into this strategic plan.  There was no clear response from Blowman or Susan Haberstroh (also with the DOE).

Williams mentioned the glaring omission two times.  Eventually, Haberstroh assured the committee and Rep. Williams the Enrollment Preference Task Force report would be a part of the strategic plan.  This was supposed to be the last meeting of this committee but once the subject of enrollment barriers came up it was obvious the committee would need to meet again which all agreed to.

There is something about this committee that seems off.  Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques talked about the Christina School District a few times when talking about surplus school seats.  As well, the subject of empty buildings districts own came up.  I always find it to be odd when Sokola and Jaques, who are in their seats primarily because of voters from the Christina School District, tear into them.  I didn’t trust it when Sokola mentioned having information on choice applications he knew damn well shouldn’t be on there.

When Jeff Klein with the University of Delaware presented a report on choice applications by zip code, he did say there was a section in Maryland.  Sokola mentioned it could be a teacher sending their child to a Delaware school.  Which I assume to be Newark Charter School.  The DOE responded by saying it would be illegal for Delaware to pay for a Maryland student in a Delaware school.  Sokola had a puzzled look on his face…

Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network asked a question similar to one she asked at the meeting a few weeks ago.  She questioned why, as an example, if Woodbridge and Delmar school districts wanted a culinary program but didn’t have enough students to have a program, why they couldn’t push for opening a charter school to serve that need.  Heath Chasanov with Woodbridge explained they do have a program with Delmar that Del Tech coordinates.  I don’t fault Kendall for asking the question, but it would be more financially feasible for the districts to work together to offer programs in coordination as opposed to opening a brand new charter school that may or not fail.  This was echoed by David Blowman.

I did find out, 100%, that there are NO plans for Prestige Academy to merge into EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations.  Massett did explain that all the Wilmington charters are working with Prestige for a smooth transition for the students when the charter closes at the end of the year.

To read the reports PCG came out with in October, please see below.

Who Will Run For Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate Seat?

And you thought election season was over? HA!  Not in Delaware!  I know, many are suffering from Trump fatigue and depression.  But now that Bethany Hall-Long is the new Delaware Lieutenant Governor, there will be a special election in 2017 for her Senate seat in the 10th District.  With ten Republicans and ten Democrats, expect a lot of attention on this race.  The winner of this race determines party control of the Delaware Senate.  I know of a few possible contenders, although none have “officially” thrown their hat in the ring.

DEMOCRATS

State Rep. Earl Jaques: I see him as a top contender.  So much so that I asked him about it yesterday at a meeting at the Delaware Dept. of Education.  He didn’t rule it out, but he said it is something he and his wife are currently discussing.  Odds: 2-1

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State Rep. Quinn Johnson: He and Bethany are very tight.  He lives in the district.  But he is also well-ensconced in the House.  Odds: 4-1

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New Castle County Clerk of the Peace Ken Boulden: This could be a viable option if the state wants to save money.  If Jaques or Johnson won, there would have to be another special election for their State Rep. Seat should they win.  If Boulden won, it would save Delaware taxpayers from shelling out more money in what will be a very tight budget year.  And I hear there is interest!  Odds: 5-1

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Dana Long: Would Bethany’s husband run for the Senate?  I don’t think he could steal this election!  Odds: Infinity-1

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REPUBLICANS

John Marino: He ran for Bethany’s Senate seat in 2014 and lost.  But it was a VERY close race, with Hall-Long getting 51% of the vote and Marino getting 49%.  I can easily picture him making another run. Odds: 2-1

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Matt Brown: He ran against Quinn Johnson in 2012.  Would he be willing to run for another race?  Odds 20-1

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THE TWITTER PARTY

Precious Little: She made a name for herself in Delaware one September day in 2014.  Does she live in the district?  No, she lives in Estonia. But who cares!  This is Delaware where no one keeps track of that kind of silly stuff!  Odds: 3,000-1

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Delaware School Safety Report Shows Severe Limitations In Our Schools For Controlling Violence

If we are to have a chance to reduce and reverse this type of behavior, it is necessary to begin early and to start in the home. Efforts must be made to reach out students and to provide them with positive new directions in elementary school. Several committee members pointed out that “middle school is too late.”

“If joining a gang is the only way to survive, the kids will join gangs,” one committee member said, adding, “A lot of teachers don’t know who gang members are. You, as a teacher, should know how to interact with kids and parents because kids and parents may not have the ability to interact with us.”

The committee discussed the possibility of cell phone bans in schools, but public schools in Delaware have not done so because parents want to be able to reach their children by phone.

These were just a few of the topics discussed in the Special Committee on Public Safety.

School safety.  Two words that mean so many things to so many people.  To some, it means making sure every single student and staff member is protected from violence.  To some it means reporting requirements.  Many think of Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Others think of a mounting problem that can never be corrected.

Earlier this year, in the wake of two very violent deaths in Wilmington, a group was formed by Senator Robert Marshall.  Marshall is the Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee.  He formed a group that met twice to discuss school safety issues with various topics introduced.  Out of these meetings, Senate Concurrent Resolution #83 formed a Special Committee on School Safety.  The final report was given to the President Pro Tempore of the Delaware Senate and Governor Markell yesterday.

The below report has a great deal of information.  It is very long but it is worth the read.  Take the time to read it.  Every single word.  Whether you are for or against School Resource Officers or Constables in Delaware schools, it is important to know what is happening out there.  It affects every single citizen of this state.  Issues in schools can explode outside of schools often, but issues outside of schools are brought into schools all the time.

The one thing I took out of this report is there are no easy answers.  Issues around funding and legality are some of the biggest obstacles to making schools safer.  Trauma plays a huge role in our high-needs schools.  Family issues outside of school are one of the biggest obstacles to safe schools.

There was one recommendation coming out of the final report that I didn’t see discussed anywhere in the meeting minutes.

Provide funding for the Delaware Department of Education to conduct a voluntary, statewide survey among students, parents, and teachers to get their thoughts on improving the learning environment and ways to make our schools safer.

It can’t be a report on education in Delaware without the Delaware Dept. of Education inserting something they want, which usually involves them getting more money.  One important thing to take note of in this report is that Delaware Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques were both listed as members of this committee but neither went to any of the meetings on it or bothered to assign a designee to attend in their absence.

The parts about Senate Bill 207, which I also issued severe problems with, were echoed by many in regards to future under-reporting of incidents in schools.  I thank God the House added an amendment to the bill that still requires mandatory reporting to the Delaware DOE.  But there is one line about Senate Bill 207 in the final report which will give any Delaware citizen severe anxiety.

Picture Of The Week: What Seems Out Of Place?

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For the full story behind this picture, please click here. Thank you to State Rep Earl Jaques for getting this picture up!

Governor Markell Signs Teacher Evaluation Bill With No Press Release Or Media Mention

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Yesterday, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed House Bill 399, a teacher evaluation bill that began its journey with great intentions and wound up a victim to horrible amendments put on the bill by Senator David Sokola.  There was no announcement of the bill signing to the press.  It was not on the Governor’s public schedule  There has been no press announcement or even a mention of this bill signing anywhere on the internet.  Until now.

In attendance were Governor Markell, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the primary sponsor of the bill), Senator Bryan Townsend, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, DSEA President Frederika Jenner, one of the co-chairs of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee, Jackie Kook (Christina), Jill League (Red Clay teacher, on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee), Markell Education Policy Advisor Meghan Wallace, and Delaware parent Kevin Ohlandt.

Markell invitied the parties into his conference room and engaged in a conversation about the bill.  As he looked around and commented how it was an interesting group in attendance, Markell thanked Jaques for all his hard work on the bill.  Markell and Jaques talked about how they had many conversations about this bill.  He then went around the table and asked for folks thoughts on the bill.  Many were supportive of the bill.  One person, the parent, said he felt it was a great bill until Senator Sokola put his amendment on it.

Secretary Godowsky said two charter schools were picked for the pilot program coming out of the bill, which would allow for a teacher and an administrator to choose which test to use for Part A of Component V (with the administrator having final say), all components would be equally weighted, and student and parent surveys.  Sokola’s amendment added the administrator always having final say, the student and teacher surveys, and the pilot of three schools.  The two charter schools invited by the Delaware DOE were Providence Creek Academy and Odyssey Charter School.  Oddly enough, Providence Creek announced in a board meeting on June 21st, eight days before the Senate Education Committee and nine days before Sokola put his amendment on the bill on June 30th, that they were picked for a DPAS study by the Delaware DOE.  Governor Markell expressed an interest in having districts participate in the pilot program.  Secretary Godowsky said he thought Appoquinimink was on board but they opted out.  Markell stated he may want to see Christina or Red Clay participate.  Jenner said she would put out some feelers.

Markell was very cordial with the audience.  He asked the teachers how their school year was going and how the schools they worked at were.  He reflected on a program at Kirk Middle School from many years ago called “I Am Kirk” which was an anti-bullying program.

The time came for the bill signing, and everyone in attendance stood besides Markell as many pictures were taken by Markell staffers, James Dawson with Delaware Public Media, and even State Rep. Earl Jaques wanted a picture of the event.  When Markell was signing the bill, the parent noticed he wrote each letter with a different pen until he reached the second letter of his last name which he finished signing with the same pen.  Afterwards, he gave each participant one of the pens he signed the bill with, as seen in the above picture.  He shook hands with everyone as the crowd drifted off, with the exception of Senator Townsend who stayed.

Yes, my first bill signing.  I was very happy for the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee when this legislation was first announced.  It was finally an end to the very harmful effect of standardized testing on teacher evaluations.  It opened a door for more medicine on the corporate education reform wounds inflicted on Delaware education.  But one ex-DOE employee (who worked in the Teacher Leader Effectiveness Unit there) was able to influence one advocacy group from Wilmington to intervene.  Then throw in Senator Sokola into the mix, and the amendment hijacked a great bill.  I firmly believe having student and parent surveys as a part of a teacher’s evaluation is very dangerous.  I am not sure why the DOE contacted schools to participate in this pilot program before Sokola even introduced the amendment (much less having the Senate approve the amendment).  That isn’t the first time they have done something like that, way before something else had to be done first.

I do think it is good the pilot program could morph into a permanent thing.  With Component V not always needing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and giving the actual professionals: the teacher and the administrator the ability to collaborate and talk about a teacher’s choice is a good idea.  As well as the equal weighting of each component.  The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee worked very hard for many months and they deserve major kudos for that.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.  It is very disturbing that the Governor would not honor this bill the same as other bills he signs by making a pre-announcement of his signing and inviting any teacher who wanted to attend.  But to make it worse, by not even acknowledging he signed this bill shows something I don’t want to say right now but the words are in my head.  The disrespect for teachers that stand up for their rights is alarming.

As I eagerly awaited a picture or some type of announcement of the signing, from the Governor, Delaware Public Media, DSEA, Senator Townsend, or Rep. Jaques, with nary a paragraph or photo in sight, I was stuck with a Bic pen signed by Jack Markell.

Governor Markell To Sign Autism Legislation On 9/14

Autism advocates fought for this bill.  Now, after a long summer, Delaware Governor Jack Markell will finally sign Senate Bill 93 at Autism Delaware, 924 Old Harmony Rd., Ste. 201 on Wednesday at 9am.

An act to amend Title 16 of the Delaware Code related to creating an interagency committee on Autism and the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism

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Senate Bill 93 was one of two Autism bills sponsored by Delaware Senator Margaret Rose-Henry which were introduced on May 12th, 2015.  After more than a year, Senate Bill 92 died as the 148th General Assembly ended on July 1st.  But Senate Bill 93, with its amendments, finally passed in the House in the late hours of June 30th after amendments passed.  Senate Bill 93 will give hope for better coordination of Autism services for the many parents of children and adults with Autism in the First State.

The history behind this legislation goes back a few years.  In 2013, Autism Delaware, with the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies and the Delaware Department of Education, released The Blueprint for Collective Action.  In the last days of the 147th General Assembly, an Autism Task Force was created.  Led by Senator Rose-Henry, the Autism Task Force created what eventually became the original bills, Senate Bill 92 and 93.  Senate Bill 93 was co-sponsored by Senators Catherine Cloutier and Bryan Townsend and State Representative Earl Jaques.

Delaware Autism has been the leading organization in Delaware for decades to help those with Autism.  To see a copy of their most recent newsletter, click here.

To see exactly what this bill will do for people with Autism, please see the below engrossment of the legislation which is exactly how it will be signed by Governor Markell.

Action Alert: Support House Bill 399! Write Your Legislator! Link Provided!

Even though Delaware Senator David Sokola may not support House Bill 399, there is no reason the rest of the Delaware General Assembly doesn’t.  Thanks to the Chair of the DPAS-II Sub-Committee Jackie Kook for getting this up!

After many months, we are on the verge of much-needed revisions to the DPAS II evaluation system. These changes will have a profound positive impact on the quality and reliability of DPAS II. Rep. Earl Jaques filed House Bill 399, incorporating recommendations made by the DPAS II Sub-Committee. The bill was voted unanimously out of committee and is headed to the full House for a vote early next week. The bill could pass both chambers before session ends on June 30th.

However, we need your help in making sure members of the General Assembly hear from DSEA members regarding the importance of passing this bill.

Visit the following address to begin contacting your respective legislator: http://bit.ly/HB399-Call-to-Action. Once you have reached the site, you will see a section asking you to enter your name, email, and mailing address. The reason for asking for this information is because the site will automatically select the appropriate state legislator based on your address. All you will need to do is write your letter of support, use the pre-written letter sample, and then click “send letter.” That’s it… No need for you to look up your legislator and type in the email. The site is provided to us by NEA and the information provided is used only for the purposes of this particular campaign.

Here are the key provisions on House Bill 399:

Reverses regulation passed by State Board that would require annual evaluations for all educators. Instead it requires annual evaluations for all educators holding an initial license and allows all other educators to be evaluated every two academic years.

Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, all five components of DPAS II will be weighted equally.

For the next two years, DOE will conduct a pilot, preferably in one traditional school district, one vocational technical school district and one charter school. The pilot will include the following:

Component V will have two parts of equal weight – Parts A and B

Part A will be an individual goal created by the educator and administrator that is “based upon the school or district improvement document and demonstrate the educator’s contribution to student growth for his or her current cohort of students.”

Part B will be an individual goal created by the educator and administrator that is based upon an assessment approved by the Department.
The statewide standardized test (currently Smarter Balanced) can only be used if agreed to by both the administrator and educator.

If agreement cannot be reached:

For non-tenured teachers, the administrator will set goals, select measures and assess progress toward goals using data generated by the measures.

For tenured teachers with expectations or on an IIP, the administrator will set goals, select measures and assess progress toward goals using data generated by the measures.

For tenured teachers with satisfactory performance, both the administrator and educator will set goals (total of 4 – 2 Part A and 2 Part B – rather than total of 2) and the administrator will select measures and assess progress toward goals using data generated by the measures.

Educators will be allowed to include scores of students attending less than 85% of classes if they want to do so.

DOE must evaluate pilot in consultation with DPAS Advisory Committee and DPAS Advisory Committee must agree to content of evaluation.

For pilot to become permanent, General Assembly must lift sunset prior to June 30, 2018.

The bill puts into place the recommendations of the DPAS II Subcommittee, co-chaired by DSEA Member Jackie Kook and including Clay Beauchamp, Sherry Antonetti and Rhiannon O’Neill. Feedback and input was also given by DSEA Advisory Committee members Jenn Smith and Jill League.

 

How To Screw Over The Delaware DOE In One Fell Swoop

Hell froze over!  A bill currently in circulation for sponsorship would give Delaware teachers a choice if they want the state assessment in their annual evaluation.  As well, it gives all components equal measurements.  This revelation came about yesterday at the DPAS-II Advisory Committee when State Rep. Earl Jaques whipped it out and showed the committee.  This is big folks!  Of course, a certain former Delaware DOE employee isn’t too happy about it but that’s what happens when you leave a “company”.  They dismantle all your work and try something else.  I’m sure we will hear more whining about this bill in the coming weeks from those who profited immensely from how DPAS-II is currently.

Teachers in Delaware will breathe a collective sigh of relief over this one if it passes.  Which is great for the teachers.  But this isn’t the best for students.  It still leaves the state assessment, Smarter Balanced, in play.  If teachers can have the option for it not counting, how about students?  If teachers can opt in, why not students?  Until then, I hope the students’ parents opt out!

I imagine the sponsors on this bill are looking ahead to November at this point.  Their prior history of courting favor with Governor Markell will cost them votes unless they take some radical action now.  The Markell education foundation is starting to crack and crumble.

This draft legislation was found at the blog linked above.  Along with a lot of crying and complaining.  Boo-friggin’-hoo!

 

Live From The Delaware House Education Committee

First up, House Bill 161, the Parent Empowerment Savings Account.  State Rep. Deb Hudson is talking about the bill.  She said it would not be a tidal wave of students that would be able to participate in the program.  She said there are only 12 students eligible for the program in Delaware right now.  She said the funds would be put on a debit card for parents to choose for whatever education program they wanted for their exceptional child.  She said the parents would almost become like a contractor in the state.  There are restrictions on what the parent could use the debit card for.  WaWa is out, Hudson said.

State Rep. and Chair of the House Education Committee Earl Jaques asked if there is a fiscal note for the bill.  Hudson said no.  She is explaining the money follows the child.  Jaques is saying it could be very labor-intensive for school districts.  These funds would only be used from state funds.  The local share of funding would stay in the district according to Hudson.  She wants the child’s name to stay in the district.  State Rep. Sean Matthews asked if this includes all children.  She said that was deleted and the description is included in the amendment.  Matthews said it seems like this bill would be in conflict with the State Constitution if funds were used in a religious school.  Hudson said it could also be used for tutoring and not just a religious school.  She said this would stand up in a court of law like it did in Arizona.  She didn’t want to write a bill that would wind up in the courts.  Matthews is asking if ALEC was the initiator of the legislation.  She said no, it was the Goldwater Institute.

State Controller Mike Jackson said the fiscal note is indeterminate based on the small amount of students.  He said the impact would be there since much of the state funding goes towards enrollment and affects teacher salaries.  She said the districts get to keep the local funding so it evens out.  State Rep. Kim Williams asked about the debit card policy with a pre-determined amount of money.  She said it isn’t a Visa card.  It would be put out by the State Treasurer’s office.  It wouldn’t be able to be used at a WaWa according to Hudson since it is illegal.  She said there would be accountability behind it.  Williams said nothing could stop someone from using the debit card at WaWa.  A gentleman with the Goldwater Institute said there are merchant codes on the card that would prevent the user from using the card for non-educational purposes.  The card would be rejected if it didn’t match the merchant codes.  Williams said the State is already obligated to pay for speech therapists for all students up to age 5.  She said this could overlap and would cause problems.  Hudson said it is neutral and would be paid from either source.  Williams stressed the state already pays for it so why would they make parents pay for it?  Williams asked how additional resources would be given to families if funds can be sent to college savings plan.  Hudson said she hasn’t read the synopsis lately and she is more focused on K-12 students.  The Goldwater Institute gentleman said parents spend the funds based on the resources and additional services needed for each child.  Williams asked if a parent could put all the money into a college plan.  Hudson said if she were leaving it up to the Delaware Dept. of Education, they would weigh in on the decision.

State Rep. Kevin Hensley said the education of students with disabilities is near and dear to him.  He said IDEA is administered by the school districts.  He asked how IDEA would be able to factor into this if a student goes to a private school.  The Goldwater man said a student would have to already be on an IEP to be able to qualify for the program.  Then Hensley asked about the IEP team.  Would the IEP team come to an outside school if a parent uses this program.  He said in Arizona some parents went back to the district and others did not.  He also said there are private providers that can develop the IEPs in Arizona as well.  Jaques said private schools don’t have to follow IDEA or even grant IEPs.  Goldwater man said the private provider could develop the IEP.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan said IDEA provides Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is provided for any student w/a disability up to age 21.  She said if FAPE cannot be provided for a student a parent has a legal right to file for due process to have school district fund private education if funds cannot be met at a public school.  She said this bill is a voucher system to fund private schools because their enrollment is down 35% in Delaware.  She is in opposition to the bill.  Hudson said she doesn’t care where the child goes to school.  She just wants parents to have a choice on where they send their school in order to meet the needs of the child.  She said this is not a voucher system but a savings account.  Hudson said she does not agree with the voucher system herself.  Heffernan stressed the part about FAPE and that a parent would sue the charter school or district to be able to get FAPE for their child.  She said this bill is, her fear, that it will become a voucher system.

Jaques asked about the several mentions of the Delaware DOE in the bill and if she coordinated with them.  She said she didn’t and believes they are capable of handling it.  Hudson said the DOE would get 3% of the savings account funds for administrative purposes.  Jaques said in addition to the student not getting the local funding, now they are getting even less.  Williams said the State Treasurer would also get a percentage of funds.  Hudson said they would get 3% as well.  Williams said we have a system in place where these students get additional funds for their IEPs based on the need.  Hudson said it would be determined based on the existing IEP.  Williams asked who is going to determine that funding.  She said a student could already be in a private school.  Hudson said the DOE would determine that.  Hudson said she doesn’t visualize a student already in a private school being able to use these funds.  Williams said she appreciates the intent of the bill but she is very confused.  Hudson stressed the DOE is capable of handling this.  If she never met with the DOE how in the world would she be able to determine that?  She said the DOE is able to meet the needs of all children.  Williams expressed disappointment that collaboration with the DOE didn’t occur.  Hudson said she doesn’t mean to give a Smart Alec answer but we institute policy all the time as legislators and then work out the details later.  Williams said it is her job to understand the bill and to make sure all the resources are in place.

State Rep. Harvey Kenton asked how many teachers would lose their jobs because of this bill.  He said he has family that are teachers and he thinks this is a step to destroy public education.  He stressed it is federal and state mandated but he can’t support it.  He said all 19 school districts have contacted him and none are in favor of the bill.  Matthews said the definition of participating schools is non-governmental school and he is looking at the allowable expenses for the bill.  He asked what it means about “allowable curriculum”.  He said he never heard of anyone having to buy a curriculum.  She said that is more for homeschool students where parents sometimes have to buy a curriculum.  Goldwater man said all those expenses don’t have to be bought once a year.  Heffernan asked if any other state agencies would be involved in this private school initiative.  She said the state and the school districts have the obligation to provide FAPE.  She said the DOE can’t get the private school to do anything.  Who would the parents sue if a student doesn’t get FAPE at the private school?  Would the public school still get sued if they can’t get the private school to do anything?  Hudson said the DOE would have to approve the curriculum.  Hudson said the DOE would be able to oversee the curriculum at the private school and if it changed they could let the private school know.  She fails to realize how public education versus private schools work.  Matthews asked if the DOE is currently able to tell private schools what to do?  Hudson said no.  Matthews said this would expand the DOE’s authority and they don’t have this authority.  Matthews asked if the DOE could deny which school a student with disabilities goes to?  He looked at several DOE employees who said no.  Goldwater man said the object of the language here is to protect the private school autonomy so the DOE can’t change it.  Goldwater man said there are a lot of possibilities.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach asked what the Blaine Amendment is.  Goldwater man said there are 37-38 states that have language in their constitutions that allow for these programs.  Baumbach said the law in Delaware’s constitution would not allow for this bill to be used since we would be breaking the law.  Baumbach said:

The State Constitution forbids this legislation so I would recommend the committee not release this bill.

Secretary of Education Godowsky said he would be willing to work with Hudson on the bill but he can’t commit to the resources needed for the bill.  Bill Doolittle gave public comment said protections under IDEA are safeguards for our children.  He said giving up those safeguards is something that shouldn’t be done.  He said if it isn’t choice for everybody, it isn’t choice.  He said most parents cannot afford a private school placement even after this savings plan.  He said it is not equitable for low-income families.  Sandra Spence with the League of Women Voters opposes the bill and said the bill would take more money out of public education.  John Marinucci with the DE School Boards Association echoed the previous sentiment and said they don’t support taking more money out of education especially to pay administrative fees.  He said they oppose this being tied to a blurring of state and religious schools.  He mentioned equalization funds which would affect the fiscal note of the bill.

Mary O’Connell, a teacher at Concord High School, talked about her own son with a disability.  She said her son was supported by the Bush School but wasn’t at Carrcroft.  She said they were denied the services he needed.  Her son’s anxiety level was so high and their psychologist recommended he be removed from the school.  He wound up in a regular class with 26 students.  Whenever his teacher was out the substitute would call and she would have to pick him up.  He is now at the College School and she has never had to pick him up.  She stated he is thriving at the school now.  She said she is not a strong supporter of inclusion programs.  She said public schools cannot always help these students.  She is here to support the needs of the students.  A young girl who attended a public school but now attends a private school said she doesn’t think she could read at the level she reads at now if she had to go to public school.  She gets nervous about testing and public speaking.  She attends the College School.  Another student who also attends the College School, a bit older than the previous student, said she has dyslexia.  She said she learns better in small classrooms.  She just started there in January.  A public commenter named Laurie Smith said her children attended the Northstar school.  She begged for help and she didn’t get it.  The mother was very upset.  She didn’t qualify for occupational therapy and had to pay out of her pocket.  She said the speech therapy her child gets is better than what the public school system is able to give.  She said that is where she needs to be able to pay for these services.  She said many parents are paying out of pocket for services for their disabled children.  She saved money for college for her daughter but she has spent all those funds already.  Her daughter is going into 5th grade and she doesn’t know how they can afford the expenses.  Another commenter said she has children in the Pilot School who are thriving.  She said the small classroom sizes allow for a better environment for her children.  She is in favor of this bill.   Martha Henley, another commenter, said she is in support of the bill.  She hears the concern of private vs. public schools.  She said she started out in private schools and that school was not able to meet the needs.  She is talking about the costs involved and how students sometimes have to go to more than four years of college.  A gentleman who gave public comment said his son doesn’t fit into any category and that the category of FAPE just doesn’t work in public education.  A little boy came up to the podium who said “I’m scared”.  His mother said her son is autistic and that he attended the Brandywine School District.  The teacher said it was not the right place for her child.  She had to get an evaluation out of pocket and had to use all their savings.  She said this is about the parents and working with the teachers and all the counselors.  Her son goes to Centreville now and they are able to accommodate his needs and has a very small class.  She said there about 20 kids in Delaware that are intelligent and high-functioning that fit into this category.  Another parent said her child’s learning differences are very rare and she is the mom that is always there and is pushing the school to get the services her child needs.  She supports this bill and she knows he will do better in a small classroom.  She needs to be able to help him and he needs a chance.  Cathy Morris said she is in favor of the bill.  Her grandson has multiple learning disabilities, a numbers type of dyslexia, attention-deficit, and other disabilities.  When he was in public school they were told he chose not to learn.  He is now at the College School and repeated 4th grade and has made tremendous strides.  He had to get out of the mindset where he felt like he was failing.  She wants other parents to be able to have the choice.  She wants to transfer him into a vocational school but also have options to have supplemental vocational training or services.  Martha Durham with Garnett Valley PTA said she had to move to Garnett Valley to get the services her son married.  She spent her whole life in Delaware.  Her son has multiple diagnoses.  Her son was put into public school and started having suicidal thoughts in weeks.  She said Delaware has great schools but there are some kids who just can’t make it.  Her son is important to her.

Kevin Carson with Delaware Association of School Administrators and also on behalf of the Delaware State Education Association said the funding mechanisms already in place cause both to stand opposed to the bill.

Jaques put forth a motion to table the bill.  8 in favor.  The bill is tabled.  Hudson said she wants to continue working on this bill and said it shouldn’t be about well-to-do parents being able to get these kinds of services.

Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point.  The meeting didn’t even start until 3:30 or so.  I will update or write another article when I find out what happened with the other four bills on the agenda.  But I will say this.  What I witnessed at this meeting broke my heart.  I saw many desperate parents, some spending their entire savings to get their children special education services they should be entitled to by law, speak from the heart today.  Whether I agree with the bill or not, it is more painfully obvious than ever that Delaware is not doing the right thing for special needs children.  Something has to change…

 

 

Next Week In The House Education Committee: Autism, Vouchers, & School Board Terms

I wrote earlier this week  about the massive amount of education meetings going on next week. Add one more to the list: The House Education Committee on Wednesday, May 4th.  On tap is House Bill 161 sponsored by State Rep. Deb Hudson which covers The Parent Empowerment Education Savings Act (school vouchers for special needs students), Senator Margaret Rose-Henry and State Rep Earl Jaques’ Senate Bills 92 and 93 dealing with autism, and State Rep. Paul Baumbach’s House Bill 333 which looks to lower school board terms from five to three years.  Hudson’s bill was on the agenda a few weeks ago but disappeared.  The Senate Education Committee meeting will take place at 3pm, but as usual, no agenda is up for it.  That usually doesn’t happen until the day before.

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