13 Delaware Legislators Urge Secretary Bunting To Drop Ridiculous Match Tax Scheme For Charters

Led by Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, a total of thirteen Delaware legislators wrote a letter to Delaware Secretary of Education about the recently announced match tax giveaway to Delaware charter schools.  I wholeheartedly agree.  FY2018 budgets have already been approved by local school boards, tax warrants have gone out to the three counties, and districts are still hurting from the budget cuts when Governor Carney signed the budget on July 3rd.  I hope Secretary Bunting ends this ridiculous farce.  Watch the charters try to sue the state if Bunting decides to drop it because THEY based their budgets on it.  Sometimes I just want to scream at the money grabs going on in Delaware…

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Enrollment Preferences Bill Released From Committee But Newark Charter School Exclusion Remains Controversial

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 was released from the Delaware House Education Committee today.  There are very serious concerns due to a “compromise” brought forth by the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The bone of contention surrounds the Christina School District and Newark Charter School.  Since a portion of Christina exists in Wilmington, those students would not be considered in the enrollment preference which includes all students in a choice school’s district.  The line of thinking appears to be the district section of Wilmington is not connected to the rest of the district.  However, those who oppose this section of the bill feel it is a barrier for Wilmington students who are part of the Christina School District.

Today, State Rep. John Kowalko is bringing forth an amendment but no one on the committee knew specifically what the amendment was.  State Rep. Kim Williams, the primary sponsor of the bill, stated she assumes it would be to remove lines 7-9 of the bill which would give Newark Charter School their Wilmington exclusion.  Williams said she would not support the amendment because she gave her word to Senator David Sokola.  This, apparently, was an addition to the bill from Senator Sokola which caused the House Substitute bill from the original House Bill 85.  State Rep. Joe Miro said he would not support the bill if the amendment passed.

State Rep. Sean Matthews said he is in support of the bill but does not feel the bill serves all students in the Christina School District.  He felt the bill does not allow for Wilmington students to go to Newark Charter School and the exclusion for NCS was put in so it can pass the Delaware Senate.

If Newark Charter School is so good, they should take all students. -State Rep. Sean Matthews

State Rep. Deb Heffernan agreed with Matthews.  The bill was released with 11 votes in favor of the bill.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting said the Delaware Department of Education is taking a neutral stance on the bill.  Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said former State Board member R.L. Hughes was on the Enrollment Preferences Task Force and voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius. Kristin Dwyer, the Delaware State Education Association Director of Legislation and Political Organizing,  said she is happy the conversation is opened with this bill but DSEA does not feel the bill goes far enough.  DSEA feels the 5-mile radius should be completely removed.

My concerns with this bill are the very nature of Newark Charter School to begin with.  Even with their 5-mile radius, their student populations do not reflect that of the Greater Newark area.  This is the public comment I gave to the committee and my idea for a potential amendment.

While I am very happy to see this bill, I have concerns around Newark Charter School. When the charter school had their major modification approved to build their high school, they were instructed with formulating a plan to allow for more diversity in their district.  I have yet to see that materialize, even within their current 5 mile radius.  While their special education numbers have increased, they are still woefully under what the state average is, much less the Christina School District.  In the school profile for this school year, African-Americans represent 10.7% of their student population compared to 39.4% of Christina.  While factoring in the African-American population of the Wilmington contingent of Christina student population, the greater Newark area has a much higher population of African-Americans compared to NCS.  I would recommend an amendment be placed on this bill for a weighted lottery for charter schools, magnets, and any choice school where the demographics are disproportionately lower than that of the surrounding district to allow populations that do not seem to be getting access to certain charter school even footing and representation within those schools.  Enrollment preferences are meant to allow the most disadvantaged students into choice schools, not to keep them out. Thank you.

The bill, if passed, would take place immediately.  However, it would not be able to kick in until the 2018-2019 school year since the school choice calendar for the 2017-2018 school year closed in January.  During the House Bill 90 Enrollment Preferences Task Force, the majority of the members voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius as an enrollment preference for choice schools.  Williams said she does not necessarily agree with the Newark Charter School exclusion, but felt compromise was necessary.  If the bill didn’t move forward, she would not be able to help any students.

Once Kowalko’s amendment is public, I will add it to this article.

Demand Funding For Delaware K-3 Basic Special Education Students

The Delaware Special Education nightmare has gone on long enough.  Years ago, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed a bill to give extra funding for special education students.  With categories such as basic, complex and intensive, this unit-based funding model allots funds based on the number of special education categories there are in each grade at each school.  For basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade there is no difference in the funding than their peers in regular education in those grades.  Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 30 which would give this funding to students in those grades.  It was released from the House Education Committee soon after but it has sat in the House Appropriations Committee ever since.  Meanwhile, our Governor, in his latest proposed budget for FY2017 has failed once again to give that funding.

The result of this is hundreds of Delaware students not getting proper special education services, required by Federal law.  This is what happens: a parent requests an IEP.  Many schools in Delaware deny the IEP in those grades since they know they won’t get the funding for it unless it is a higher category.  If they do approve it, they have to use the miniscule federal IDEA-B funding they get and the rest comes from their local funding.  In many cases, services written into the IEP such as occupational therapy or counseling are not given to students because of this obscene lack of funding.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is misguided if they truly believe any funding for their redistricting plan will give funding for students in K-3 who are considered basic special education.  The Governor did not put it in the budget.  But they still present to public bodies that these students will get these funds.  And every time I call them out on it, someone tells me “we’re working on it”.  If it was truly a priority, it would be there.  No questions asked.  I’ve been telling them this since day one.  The Wilmington advocates can talk about how many generations of students have lost because of no services.  How about the millennia of people with disabilities who have always been cast aside with education funding as if they aren’t even worth it.  Federal law requires the funding to be available to be provided for students with disabilities.  If you want to talk about discrimination and mistreatment, please remember that.  And also remember many African-American students also have disabilities, statewide.

Our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell want to provide $18 million in funding to early education for the next fiscal year.  One of the goals of this, according to them, is to reduce the amount of students needing special education services in their first few years of school.  On the surface, this looks honorable, but be assured that it is not.  What Markell and the DOE have failed to recognize (or know completely) is the fact that disabilities are neurologically based.  By giving them the extra support in those early years and then putting them into Kindergarten without the funding to sustain those services, these children will suffer.  It is not right to put the bulk of this funding on the local education agencies.  By not giving this funding, these children have suffered.  No amount of Response to Intervention is going to cure a disability.  I firmly believe it is a tactic by which these special needs children are purposely denied this funding.

These students don’t do well on state assessments.  Markell and the DOE have always known this.  State assessments are not designed to make students proficient.  They lose their meaning if everyone does well.  So the powers that be want these students to do bad on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I have heard horror stories this year from teachers who say it takes students with disabilities five times longer to do sections of the test than their regular peers.  And they still won’t reach this mythological proficiency.  This was something that could only be carefully planned.  It is why the Governor gave NO allocations for it in any budget since he signed the needs-based funding bill.  It would interfere with his Education Inc. testing buddies and their huge hedge fund returns.  It is also far easier to give these students a career path towards menial jobs than to give them the funding they deserve so they could perhaps have a shot at success.  You may fool people all the time, but you have NEVER fooled me.  One only needs to look at Delaware Online Checkbook to see this strategy of yours has hurt many students and families over the past four years.

So please sign the change.org petition: https://www.change.org/p/peter-schwartzkopf-pass-house-bill-30-in-delaware-giving-basic-special-education-funding-to-students-in-k-3 and demand our General Assembly pass House Bill 30.   The time is NOW for this bill to move forward.  We can no longer sit by and watch while the most vulnerable to students suffer needlessly.  Tonight at the Red Clay board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty told the board and the audience to support HB30.  Their board passed a resolution supporting it.  All Delaware school boards need to do the same.  I asked the Capital Board of Education months ago to do the same thing but they have not addressed this at all.

redclayhb30resolution