I reached out to Delaware State Representative Paul Baumbach on the proposed legislation that would remove a school district board member under certain conditions. I haven’t seen a bill pre-filed so I thought I would ask the sponsor. This is what he had to say: Continue reading
I came back from Star Wars: The Last Jedi last Friday night and saw a post from Steve Newton on Facebook. I always read his posts because I know they are going to be interesting. Once I read the second sentence, I knew somehow I was going to be a part of this post. Since Steve specifically said at the end of it not to reply with reasons or justifications, I gave a brief reply acknowledging he was talking about me and fully owning my posts about one of the two people he was talking about in his post. Since then, Steve has taken it upon himself to wage some bizarre one-man crusade against the validity of this blog. See the comments section over on Blue Delaware. You can read Steve’s opening salvo he posted on Facebook in that article. I also posted an article mainly in reply to Steve’s post. It was already in my drafts folder but I added to it due to the nature of Steve’s post.
This is what I wrote in reply to Steve’s original post: Continue reading
Enough already Paul Baumbach! In his second attempt at lowering school board terms, State Representative Paul Baumbach filed House Bill #278 yesterday seeking to lower school district board member terms from five years to four years.
In 2015, Baumbach’s House Bill #333, which sought to lower those terms to three years went nowhere. It was assigned to the House Education Committee but never came up. Due to heavy resistance to the bill, Baumbach did state he would probably come back with this bill at a later date. And he did!
Why is Baumbach so adamant about messing with school boards? Why does he not include charter school boards in this legislation? The answer is simple: he does not like certain school board members in the Christina School District. Which is fine and he is certainly entitled to his opinion, but his judgment is impaired when it comes to translating this to a statewide issue. I get that State Representatives are supposed to represent the district they were elected to, but they also pass laws for the entire state. It is not beneficial to make local issues a statewide issue. And once again, we have the very real question about WHO is asking for this legislation and how much of it is directed towards certain board members who frequently and publicly go against bad education policy in the state.
One thing I can say is State Reps in Delaware are elected every two years. So this is not a case of legislators being hypocritical. School board members do this because they want to. It is unpaid and requires a great deal of time and effort to be on a school board. I don’t think any school board member takes their responsibilities lightly. I wish more school board members would question things which Baumbach seems to have a problem with.
Yesterday, the News Journal Editorial Team covered the highly inappropriate school board member removal bill that is currently in circulation for sponsorship. They just so happened to throw in a part about school board member terms:
Also, lawmakers should consider shortening school board members’ five-year terms. Why should they have to face voters less frequently than governors, legislators and mayors?
Come on! Who are we trying to kid here? Is the News Journal Editorial Team now a part of Team Baumbach when it comes to this kind of crap? They just happen to say this on the SAME day Baumbach filed House Bill #282? I don’t mind term limits for any elected position, but school boards are NOT the same as governors, legislators, and mayors. There is a learning curve, but there is also the heart of a volunteer. There are charter school board members who have sat on their boards for over a decade! But not one word about that from the would-be demolisher of local board control Baumbach or this Editorial Team. I don’t always agree with some board members out there, but I do not think lowering the term for this function is a good idea at all.
Baumbach needs to re-examine his priorities and actually support the second largest school district in the state instead of trying to interfere with their governance process. Attending more of their board meetings would be a start. He wouldn’t dare interfere with Newark Charter School but it’s open target season on Christina. Could you be less transparent here Baumbach? Stop listening to the mouths of the few and start coming out with real and meaningful legislation that benefits the state. This is not good for your political health.
To read Baumbach School Board Terms 2.0, please see below:
Delaware State Representative John Kowalko sent a letter to State Rep. Paul Baumbach and State Senator David Sokola about the in-circulation school board member removal bill. He asked some specific questions regarding the origin of this legislation. I would love to see a response from both of them on this. You may have seen part of this in my initial article on this, but Kowalko goes into more detail. As well, Nancy Willing of The Delaware Way blog pointed out something that didn’t catch my eye until she wrote it:
Note the time Baumbach’s aide floated the bill for co-sponsorship is minutes after reporter Jessica Bies published her story on Christina’s likely rejection this morning of Carney’s most recent MOU draft.
Less than a month until the legislators come back in session…
I sent the following inquiry to Representative Baumbach and Senator Sokola. I received a response from Representative Baumbach that he would not discuss the motives nor intentions of this proposed legislation so I am forwarding the same missive (and attachment) to all members of the Delaware General Assembly. It follows and is attached.
I suspect that this proposed legislation, being circulated for signatures by Representative Baumbach and Senator Sokola, may impose a constitutionally challenged contradiction to decisions made by the voters of Delaware. To suggest that an Executive branch (Governor appointed and unelected) board should have the authority to overturn the decision of the voting public disregards both separation of powers and constitutional rights of those elected. If either of the two sponsors or the promoters of such a piece of legislation have a problem with individual board members (as seems to be the case here) then they should come up with a lawful process attended to by lawful entities. This is the type of overreach that causes the public to doubt the sincerity and legitimacy of the laws we create and pass. I hope the sponsors of this proposed legislation will quickly withdraw this legislation.
I would also ask the sponsors of this legislation to explain to me and my fellow legislators what has provoked them to solicit sponsors to support such draconian action. Perhaps Rep. Baumbach or Senator Sokola can give us examples of purported or actual wrongdoing by former or current board members. I would also suggest that the sponsors divulge who solicited such legislation/authority. That might allay suspicions that this is simply an effort to coerce and silence board members, specifically board members who have criticized some of this Administration’s plans. I respectfully await a reply from the sponsors before I will consider adding my name and suggest that all my colleagues do the same.
Representative John Kowalko
I guess nobody puts Baumbach in a corner! Meanwhile it looks like Senator Bryan Townsend is all “I have a six month old baby. I’m staying out of this one!”
Aside from State Rep. Paul Baumbach, I have yet to hear from one person in support of this legislation. Zero. Zilch. Nada. But in the 24 hours or so since I posted this story, I have had many sidebar conversations with Baumbach, as well as many other crucial conversations. Continue reading
I’ve seen some insane legislation in my day. This one takes the cake. State Rep. Paul Baumbach has put forth legislation which would give the State Board of Education the power to remove a sitting school district board member. Way to take the local out of local control and hand it over to the state there Paul! Are you kidding me? I wish this was some horrible joke, but it isn’t. How would Baumbach feel if some board could take away HIS power? This guy is begging to be primaried and removed from office. You can’t even make this stuff up! Continue reading
Delaware State Rep. Paul Baumbach will be moderating an education forum Monday evening at Newark High School from 7pm to 9pm. Questions will be asked of the following: Senator David Sokola, Newark Charter Head of School Greg Meece, new Christina Superintendent Richard Gregg, Christina Board of Education President Elizabeth Paige, and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting.
Given the article on HS1 for House Bill 85 from yesterday, this forum could not come at a better time. I challenge Greg Meece and Senator Sokola to explain WHY they didn’t want Christina’s Wilmington students included in the removal of the 5 mile radius legislation. Yesterday, the Delaware House passed the bill with 27 yes and 13 no.
If you are able to get to this forum, I would strongly suggest doing so. Especially if you are a parent of a Christina Wilmington student.
To clarify on the article from yesterday, I do not believe every legislator who voted yes on the bill is a racist. I believe it was more political than anything else. But, the unintended consequences of this bill will lead to more de facto segregation.
Education funding will also be a hot topic at this forum, as it should be. I, for one, would like to know why the charters feel they should be able to keep their portion of the educational sustainment fund while local school districts don’t. I would also like to know why there is talk that the charters will keep their transportation slush fund (extra freebie money they get to keep if they spend less than their budgeted transportation amount).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several Newark, Delaware legislators submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the Delaware Attorney General’s office last Spring. The response to the complaint came out today.
State Representatives Paul Baumbach, John Kowalko, and Ed Osienski, and State Senators Karen Peterson, David Sokola and Bryan Townsend felt the University of Delaware violated FOIA with the posting of an agenda about a change to their bylaws. The Attorney General’s response opined the Board of Trustees at the University did violate FOIA by not posting a specific resolution they would be voting on in the agenda. The AG’s office stated even if the public had some knowledge of what could be happening it still falls on a public board to give notice of the proposed action item on an agenda.
As a result of the FOIA complaint, the University Board of Trustees will vote again on the bylaws at their December board meeting. The AG opinion wants the board to have an open and public discussion surrounding this vote.
I have been hard on Sokola in the past, for what I believe are good reasons. I wish he would demand the same transparency from charter schools. Have you ever seen some of their board agendas? I hardly ever see any action items on them even though they constantly vote on items.
In their haste to get the settlement out, did Governor Markell’s office actually blow the whole thing?
Governor Markell’s office let the settlement between the 15 charter schools and Christina School District get out to the public before all parties signed the document. Markell’s Chief Legal Counsel, Meredith Tweedie, sent an email to State Representative Paul Baumbach yesterday according to Christina School District board member John Young. Young posted the following on Facebook this morning:
If you needed any proof that the Charter lawsuit against Christina (not against the Governor’s office) wasn’t a shakedown, ask your self this: Why is the Governor’s office, a non-party, disseminating the not-yet-final settlement to legislators before the actual parties that signed it? They are clearly invested in this, and it comes off rotten. Here’s the email (you can see the document on Delaware Liberal):
From: Tweedie, Meredith (Governor)
Sent: Friday, December 2, 2016 7:14:23 PM
To: Baumbach, Paul (LegHall)
Subject: Charter settlement agreement–with some signatures
Good evening Representative Baumbach,
Attached is a copy of the signed Settlement Agreement (actually two copies, but it’s the same document with different signature counter-parts). This will be fully “final” when all of the Charter signatures are acquired, which we anticipate will occur early next week.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email me. Otherwise, have a great weekend.
When Christina approved the settlement at their board meeting on 12/1/16, the motion included that the settlement would not be made public until it was final. No legal settlement is final until ALL parties have signed. In the settlement on Delaware Liberal the parents representing the minor children had not signed and two of the charter schools didn’t either. Even if they publicly stated they would approve the settlement this does not translate to the settlement being final. Presumed approval is not the same as final approval. Since this leak from Markell’s office broke the condition of the Christina board’s approval of the settlement, does that render the settlement null and void?
Why would Jack Markell’s office leak a legal settlement that had already caused a great deal of controversy in the state to begin with? To what purpose? Why was the Governor’s office even in possession of this document to begin with before all parties signed on? And even some of those signatures are suspicious based on their authorization in some of those schools. Last night, Delaware Liberal posted the entire settlement. I knew this wasn’t leaked from the Christina board because it had the other signatures on it which would not have been on it before or even immediately after Christina’s board meeting.
According to the above email from Tweedie, there were two attachments, one for Christina and one for the DOE. What were the stipulations in the DOE settlement?
Markell and Christina… this chapter needs to close fast. Watching Markell support Christina’s referendum in a video last Spring was like watching a root canal. The man obviously has no love for the district which spread to his puppets in the DOE during his administration. Should a Governor target an entire school district? It almost seems personal for him. Certain legislators who chair certain education committees in the General Assembly don’t really hide it either. They are transparent as Saran wrap. Will Carney carry on this very obvious disdain? I certainly hope not. It has been very damaging not only to Christina but the entire education system in the state.
A month ago, I participated in a forum on Delaware education funding at the monthly Progressive Democrats for Delaware meeting. State Representative Paul Baumbach from the 23rd Rep District also discussed the issue. Baumbach is very supportive of implementing a weighted education funding formula in Delaware. Last Winter, Baumbach and then Deputy Secretary of Education David Blowman presented a report on a weighted funding system to the Education Funding Improvement Commission. That commission was unable to get a consensus on any particular funding apparatus and ended the 148th General Assembly with no final report. The WEIC redistricting plan also called for implementation of a weighted funding system.
Education funding, with implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, will take center stage in 2017. As more and more citizens realize the system we have now is not working for all students, attempts at fixing the problems will appear. The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and their redistricting plan for Wilmington Christina School District students is still bubbling under the surface. Last night, Christina’s board voted 4-3 to settle on a lawsuit filed against them and the Delaware Dept. of Education by 15 charter schools that receive students from Christina. The charters claim Christina was filing exclusions that were “improper” to the Delaware DOE and the DOE signed off on them. While the settlement has not been made public, it will assuredly have an impact on local funding formulas going forward.
Baumbach’s plan is to have more money go to students with higher needs, such as low-income or poverty, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Currently, students with disabilities do receive additional funding based on a unit-count system (with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade). This system determines how much staff each district or charter school receive based on their September 30th count of students. With the funding system Baumbach is pushing for, the money would follow the student based on their needs. Another question involving this funding system is if Talented and Gifted students would be considered high need as well.
This is not equality funding but equity funding. Schools who have less sub-groups of students with higher needs would receive less money. Final accountability regulations for ESSA will require each public school in America to show the amount of funding per student based on local, state, and federal funding. The biggest problem with education funding in Delaware is property assessments. No county in Delaware has increased their property assessments in decades resulting in severe imbalances to what the current assessed values would be. As well, referenda held by school districts have had mixed results. Adding to this mix is the potential of school vouchers coming to Delaware if President Donald Trump and his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, get their way. Baumbach argued against a bill that would allow vouchers for special education students last Spring and stated it would be a violation of Delaware’s Constitution to send state funds to a religious private school. Trump also announced he wants to incentivize new charter schools across America. Capital costs for school buildings is also a major issue. Delaware has many outdated schools that have serious structural issues with the recent Christina mold problem as a glaring example.
Baumbach will most likely bring forth legislation in 2017 to change how we fund our schools. As well, there is increasing talk in Delaware about re-examining property assessments. Some state officials have even suggested consolidating school districts to save money, possibly to a county school district system with New Castle County having two districts based on the population.
For my part, I can’t support ANY changes to our education funding system until we can get more assurances the money we are already spending is used with fidelity and honesty. The recent audit investigation into Indian River showed very clearly that this district was not being honest. We’ve had far too many Delaware charter school leaders and employees committing major fraud with funds that are not getting to students. Our state auditor is supposed to audit each school district every year and publish the results. This is not happening. Charter school annual audits, usually, do not have the ability to catch financial fraud. The State Auditor of Accounts Office, run by Tom Wagner, is massively understaffed. Why in the world would we dump more money into education when we can’t accurately keep track of the money already there? This is the viewpoint of many conservatives in Delaware, but more on the left are also waking up to a reality that can no longer be ignored.
As the chief legislative advocate for a weighted funding system, Baumbach will have his hands full in the first six months of 2017. If the Republicans manage to take control of the Delaware Senate after the special election for Bethany Hall-Long’s Senate seat, the voucher conversation will become very loud at Legislative Hall. Tony Allen also warned that time is running out to fix education for Wilmington students and advocates may file a federal lawsuit against Delaware which could leave education funding and districting in the hands of a federal judge. The icing on this education funding cake is the very flawed measurement of success for Delaware schools- the standardized test. If we use them as a barometer of success or need, the system will continue to be a confusing mess with no end in sight.
No matter how you slice and dice money for education, no system will please everyone. This has become painfully obvious. We need to look at what is best for Delaware students and not those of corporations who seek to profit from education. As corporate education reform is more embedded in our schools, more administrators are implementing the very bad policies from those reformers thus turning them into profiteers of education. Yeah, Baumbach is going to have a big fight on his hands with any legislation involving this system!
To read the final report conducted by Hanover Research for the Delaware DOE on a weighted funding system, please read below:
Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools. He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.
Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding. The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.
The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools. In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them. These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.
All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all. While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details. But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability. Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going. There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students. Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection? There is no consistency with where funds are going. There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other. It is a beast to understand. Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level. It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.
Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit. What would the result be? The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again. The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests. It is the heart of all accountability in public education. But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based. The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.
Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly. He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students. He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group. This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015. It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have. But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?
In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness. In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions. And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang. Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education. We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools. That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem. I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know who does. But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue. With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets. This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware. And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.
I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware. And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems. It won’t. Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.
The Progressive Democrats of Delaware will have a panel tonight on the subject of education funding. I was asked to be one of the panelists for this to which I happily accepted. But I’m up against some heavy hitters! One of the most knowledgeable experts on school district funding, Brian Stephan, will join myself, Tony Allen, and State Rep. Paul Baumbach on this important discussion. As well, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission will receive the 2016 Bob Stachnik Progressive Courage Award for their advocacy efforts on improving education in Wilmington. Tony Allen is the Chair of WEIC. Brian Stephan serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and is a contributor for Delaware Liberal. State Rep. Paul Baumbach is running unopposed for the 23rd State Rep. Seat which will give him his third consecutive term for the district.
I highly recommend coming out for this. The event begins at 7pm and runs until 8:30am. This will take place at the New Castle Democrat HQ at 19 East Commons Blvd., 2nd floor, in New Castle. I will gladly answer any question presented to the best of my ability but I do not consider myself an expert on this stuff. I know many facets but it is a very broad topic with many moving parts. But I do plan on talking about a few things I’m pretty sure none of the other panelists would mention as I have just discovered them myself. I have to imagine the very controversial charter school lawsuit against Christina and the Delaware Dept. of Education will come up. As well, funding for WEIC will surely be a topic as well. Many of the panelists want to revamp funding to include a weighted funding formula so children with higher needs are given a greater weight of money.
I knew there would be some very big education legislation coming up in the final weeks of Delaware’s legislative session. And here we go! Senator David Sokola introduced Senate Bill 277 today which deals with the Pathways to Prosperity program. This legislation would make it a permanent fixture in our schools, would create a permanent steering committee, and create a Pathways to Prosperity leadership team. Once again, parents have been shut out of being on this committee. I guess our voices no longer mean anything, right Dave? God forbid a parent might just have something important to lend. I’ll bet it isn’t even an afterthought when he writes these bills.
I don’t have anything against programs designed to help future graduates obtain jobs should they not pursue a higher education. But to actively promote this option in high school will cause long-term damage to the economic advantages we have as a state and a country. I believe that is what people like Governor Markell and Sokola want. I refer to the “Dear Hillary” letter written by the architect of Common Core, Marc Tucker, to Hillary Clinton shortly after Bill Clinton became President. It is the blueprint for all that has gone down in education since. For those who wonder why I will not vote for Hillary, there is far too much proof she not only backs this agenda but is also a proud supporter. I see the same circle of vultures circling Hillary’s wagon waiting for their big chance. So much legislation, plans, and task forces assume Hillary will be the next President and the timetable on so much of this stuff is written with a President Hillary in mind. Do not mistake this as coincidence. It is far too important for the future well-being of our country and the generations to come. This cradle to grave mindset with the people of America is not a good thing. If the government doesn’t want people to think for themselves, why don’t they just come out and say “We are communist now”. Instead they do the long con thing with crap like this.
When I see legislation like Senate Bill 277 come across my screen, I shudder. It is all falling into place. And when I see Senator Brian Pettyjohn on this as well, I have to wonder. Bi-partisan support for a bill like this scares the crap out of me. It isn’t even about political parties anymore folks, it’s about the agenda. Bills like this make splashy headlines and make us think we are looking out for the kids. The reality is the ultimate smokescreen, the tracking and decreased effort to make our kids the best they can be. Just last week Markell tweeted about how kids don’t really have to go to a four-year college to be successful. He may be right, but chances are much better their lives will be better in the long run if they are about to go a four-year college versus a two-year community college. But schools like Del-Tech are huge supporters of initiatives like these. They are banking on it! Why else would we see legislation honoring their leader months after he got the position show up last week? It is all glorified ass-kissing, done in such a way that nobody will know. The “Delaware Promise” is great for those who profit off it. But for every day people like you and I? Forget about it. So why do we keep electing these knuckleheads who introduce legislation just to make themselves look great?
Sokola is winning brownie points by giving the teachers what they want with the Component V bill, which is part of their evaluations. But don’t forget who wrote the original bill which put the bad stuff into place in the first place. Hello Senate Bill 51! All eyes will be on that and the Wilmington redistricting bills while legislation like this gets passed very quietly and smoothly. Unless someone writes about it first. I oppose this bill for all the reasons I’ve written. I’m not shocked Sokola is introducing this bill today. But I do hope Meredith Chapman kicks his Markell-loving ass next November! And Paul Baumbach is not impressing me at all lately. I know he is a darling with the Newark crew, but this is all politics! The Delaware Dems need to watch out if they want to retain their power in the General Assembly next year. They are due for a monstrous shift in power. I wouldn’t necessarily assume they will all get to keep their window seats next year!
Two new bills introduced today tackle the very problematic issue with lobbyists in Delaware. State Senator Bryan Townsend and State Rep. Paul Baumbach are the main sponsors of each bill showcasing the need for transparency from lobbyists. As well, their peers in the General Assembly will have a lot more to answer for in terms of their relationships with lobbyists. Conflicts of interest will be under the spotlight, as they should be.
Senate Bill 225, sponsored by Townsend, is a much-needed bill that removes exemptions for General Assembly members not being investigated in conflict of interest and code of conduct investigations. The legislation also requires lobbyists to disclose any payments they receive, including the source of the payment and the amount.
House Bill 385, sponsored by Baumbach, would make it so lobbyists have to pay a registration fee to offset the costs imposed on the Public Integrity Commission. Many lobbyists pose a conflict of interest and this bill would actually generate funds in a situation that deals with this ongoing issue.
Both of these bills are very welcome in my opinion. We can’t cut the rot out of Delaware politics until we get to the root of it. And unfortunately for the good lobbyists, there are many bad ones. In most investigations, it becomes a standard game of follow the money. If both of these bills pass, that will be much easier.
This will get real interesting with the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) and the Delaware Charter Schools Network. In Delaware education, they are both at Legislative Hall for anything education related. I would love to know how much the lobbyists for the Delaware Business Roundtable make as well.
Updated, 5:20pm: I’m now seeing a third bill introduced today, once again by Townsend. Senate Bill 224 deals with Campaign Finance Reform and disclosure of a contributor’s occupation and employment information. This is already done in federal elections. It looks like the transparency train is finally making a stop in Dover…
I’m sorry, I had to put that headline in. I can’t believe I am saying this, but thank you to Senator David Sokola and State Rep. Paul Baumbach for coming up with the most common sense legislation I have seen in years! As a father of a school-aged son, I have seen him struggle with what this legislation deals with. It is a very heavy load for students to bear this burden. But this bill recognizes this, and I do appreciate it. As a frequent grocery shopper, I used to struggle with bags either loaded up to the point I thought my arm would fall of or they put one thing in each bag. Neither is acceptable. But this bill does actually make a lot of sense. When you hear your student complaining about back pain, it could come from the dreaded backpack!
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…
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.