JFC Snuck In A Permanent Charter School Transportation Slush Fund Racket Into Budget Bill

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee did the unthinkable.  Every year since 2010, the Charter School Transportation Slush Fund has been a part of the epilogue language in the budget bill.  This is where Delaware charter schools get to keep whatever they don’t spend in their budgeted transportation amount.  As an example, if M. Smith Charter School budgets $200,000 for transportation and they only spend $150,000, they get to keep the rest of that money the state gave them.  School districts aren’t allowed to do this.

But now the JFC actually wrote a bill into the Epilogue Language of the FY2019 budget bill, Senate Bill 235.  In past years, it was just part of the budget bill but now they are inserting what should be a separate bill into the budget bill.  In other words, if you don’t vote yes for the budget bill, you are a traitor to all Delawareans.  So pass our charter school boon or risk being lambasted by the Democrat leadership.  This is what they are actually seeking to amend in the budget bill:

  1. b) Notwithstanding subsection a), a charter school may negotiate a contract (multi-year, if desired) for contractor payment for school transportation up to the maximum rate of 70% or the charter school may publicly bid the transportation routes. If the actual negotiated or bid costs are lower than the maximum rate, the charter school may keep the difference to provide services to low-income and/or English-Language Learners. If the charter school includes a fuel adjustment contract provision, the charter school shall be responsible for increased payments to the contractor or it may keep funds taken back from the contractor.

Anyone who follows end of June politics in Delaware knows that State Rep. John Kowalko fights this every single year.  This year is no exception but he is even more offended about them actually putting a bill in a bill.  He has his amendment ready to go:

AMEND Senate Bill No. 235 on page 233 by deleting “If the actual negotiated or bid costs are lower than the maximum rate, the charter school may keep the difference to provide services to low-income and/or English-Language Learners.

SYNOPSIS

This amendment to the budget bill removes a proposed addition to the Delaware Code contained in the epilogue language that would permanently allow charter schools to “keep the difference” for transportation funding that is not used to fund transportation costs.

The proposed addition to the Delaware Code would contradict the requirement in 14 Del. C. § 508(a) that the State reimburse charter schools only for actual transportation costs, which is also required for all other public schools pursuant to the Delaware Administrative Code.

Will the Delaware General Assembly finally stop this nonsense?  Who is pushing this besides the Delaware Charter Schools Network?  Could it be a departing co-chair of the Delaware JFC who pretty much had to resign so she could get her kid into Newark Charter School despite the improbability of getting in through their lottery and the HUGE waiting list?

Delaware Senate Passes The Budget Bill 10 Days Before Legislative Session Ends & Paid Parental Leave Up For A Vote

The Delaware Senate just passed the FY2019 budget bill.  With a vote of 19 yes, 1 no, and 1 absent, Senate Bill #235 will go to the Delaware House of Representatives.  This is a far cry from a year ago when the General Assembly didn’t pass the budget until after June 30th.  They wound up passing the budget in a rare continued session which lasted until July 2nd.

The sole no vote belonged to the perennial budget naysayer, State Senator Colin Bonini.  Senator Catherine Cloutier, who has been ill of late, was absent.  I fully anticipate State Rep. John Kowalko attempting to put the charter school transportation slush fund amendment on the bill to end that practice.  This could be the year!  But it would have to go back to the Delaware Senate at that point.

What this also means is no more money is going into the budget unless an amendment specifically says so.  This point actually caused a ruckus last week between Senator Dave Lawson and Senator David Sokola.  The Senate Education Committee did not release the bill.  The main reason was the budget bill was already decided upon but Senator Lawson’s bill would have added $65 million to the FY2019 budget.  It caused both the Senators to put Facebook videos up defending their points of view.

A slew of school safety bills are pending in the General Assembly right now.  Only one, HS1 for House Bill #49, has been sent to Governor Carney.  A House Bill was supposed to be heard in the House Education Committee today with an ask of $10 million for a school safety fund but it was removed due to a Senate bill asking for $15 million.

At this moment, the paid parental leave for state employees legislation, House Bill #3, is about to get a vote in the Delaware Senate.  The Director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, Tammi Croce, is testifying about teacher shortages in our schools.  Paying for substitutes, she said, would cost more on the local side of education funding on top of paying more on the local share for a teacher’s potential 12 week leave.  She said her organization is opposed to the legislation. Senator Nicole Poore said teachers already take leave to which Croce responded most mothers take about 6-8 weeks while fathers take 1-2 weeks.  Poore said New Jersey offers a paid parental leave similar to this legislation and they don’t suffer the retention issues Delaware faces.  I will update this discussion.  It is rather fascinating.

Senator Sokola supports the bill.  He said this bill could be seen as a recruiting tool to get more teachers in Delaware.  As well, it could inspire more retired teachers to come back to long-term substitute because they would be in the same classroom as opposed to getting shuffled around different classrooms.  Croce invited Sokola to do some long-term subbing to which he said he might since DuPont dropped him three years ago.  Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long said if they have a spinning wheel in there Sokola would jump at it!

Senator Greg Lavelle, who is a sponsor of the bill, said Croce makes some good points.  He said the bill was introduced on April 5th so why are the school districts just bringing this up in the last 4-5 days?  He said it was an abdication of duty for the school Superintendents to wait this long to oppose the bill.  He said he supports what they are saying but seems offended they waited until now.  In other words, Lavelle is being Lavelle.

Kristen Dwyer with the Delaware State Education Association is testifying right now.  Senator Poore said she understands male teachers are unable to take paternity leave unless they use sick time to which Dwyer said yes.  Dwyer said 76% of their membership are women but most of them are of child-bearing age.  She said many teachers take the 6-8 weeks of paid leave now but many of them have to take more time as unpaid leave.  She expressed how many women many have complicated labors which cause that additional time.  She said new teachers in the first five years of the profession are leaving at a rate of 39%.  She said teachers are looking for benefits just as much as salaries.

Senator Simpson asked if she is concerned about the ability of school districts to hire more substitutes if this legislation passes.  She said the incident of substitute shortages is not because of this bill.  She said she has been in discussion with others to get more pay for long-term subs.  Simpson keeps trying to press the substitute teacher issue.  Dwyer said this bill does not change what has been an ongoing issue with finding substitutes due to the pay involved.

Poore asked Dwyer if her members want this bill.  She said yes.  DSEA represents 13,000 educators and this bill represents a class of that total.  Poore said 446 births a year are attributed to teachers.  Senator Hocker said this would be about 110-120 births each quarter of the year.  Simpson said he has gotten letters from teachers in DSEA who do not support the bill.  She said she has not but she has heard of teachers who would have not received this benefit since they are past child-bearing age.

Senator Simpson said he can’t support the bill.  Senators Marshall and Sokola asked to be co-sponsors on the bill.  Simpson asked what effect this could have on private employers.  He said it might impact families who decide not to come to Delaware.  Editor’s note: this guy will find any reason not to support this bill!  Now he is bringing up how the Department of Corrections has been experiencing shortages for years.  He feels as though this will add to that shortage.

Senator Poore is giving statistics about how Chase gives 16 weeks of paid parental leave and Bank Of America gives 18 weeks.  She said this is one way to invest in the next generation.  She feels this is to incentivize teachers to stay in the profession.  Senator Simpson asked what non-banks are giving?  Poore didn’t know.

Simpson introduced an amendment to reduce the time from 12 weeks to 6 weeks.  He said it is a “reasonable compromise”.  Roll call on the amendment: 5 yes, 15 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Now he is introducing Senate Amendment #2 which adds a three-year sunset to the bill.  He feels the bill is a “grave” mistake.  Roll call- 7 yes, 13 no, 1 absent.  Amendment failed the Senate.

Roll call on the bill.  Wait, Lavelle wants to talk again.  Said he supports the bill.  He said paraprofessionals are a part of the IEP, which his son has.  He said his wife as well as Senator Poore are fighters for IEPs.  Senator DelCollo supports the bill as well.  Senator Walsh said companies don’t have 39% attrition.  Said he supports the bill to support his union brothers and sisters in Delaware.  Wants to be added as a co-sponsor.  Hansen, co-sponsor as well.  Rose Henry, wants to be co-sponsor.

Everyone is calling for the roll on the bill- 16 yes, 4 no, 1 absent.  Bill passes!

The Fiscal Year 2019 Delaware Budget Bill Released

The full budget bill for Fiscal Year 2019 came out yesterday as Delaware Senate Bill #235.  It is an interesting budget.  The Delaware Teacher Center is back!  Teachers up and down the state will be thrilled about that.  The Charter School Transportation Slush Fund is still around.  Each year, State Rep. John Kowalko introduces an amendment to have it removed and each year the votes for it increase.  Will this year be when they finally pass it?  Read the full FY2019 budget bill below!

Kim Williams Reports Delaware JFC Put Funding For K-3 Basic Special Education In The Budget!!!!

Finally!  One of the first things I pushed for on this blog almost four years ago was the funding for students designated as basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams just put the following on her Facebook page:

I am so thankful that the Joint Finance Committee voted to include funding for K-3 basic special education services in the budget. This funding will support necessary services that will help students close learning gaps and move forward to have bright futures.

This has been a true collaborative effort with my colleagues, especially Rep. Smith and Sen. Nicole Poore, my prime Senate sponsor, and I truly appreciate their leadership. These services will become a reality thanks to the advocacy of Delaware State Education Association, parents throughout the state and the many advocates coming together to support our youngest learners. Our children deserve our best efforts to help them learn and succeed through life.

Amen Kim!  As I’ve always said, many kids develop their disabilities in these grades.  Even though schools are obligated by Federal law to provide special education no matter what grade they are in, this obstacle to the funding schools would get sometimes led to students not getting the services they deserve.  In some cases, schools would deny an IEP creating a toxic relationship with parents.  Kim has worked hard for this ever since I met her all those years ago.  She is the best education legislator in the state and she will ALWAYS have my support.

We don’t agree 100% of the time, but I will take those rare times any day because what she has done for Delaware education is nothing short of astounding!  A big thank you to DSEA, Senator Nicole Poore, Rep. Melanie Smith, Delaware PTA, and all the parents who pushed for this as well!

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee put the funding in the budget today.  Of course, the Delaware General Assembly has to approve the budget as a whole by June 30th, but I am confident they will do the right thing with this.  Delaware’s projected surplus for FY2019 went up yesterday as the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee added $80 million to the surplus.

Updated, 5:32pm: The amount budgeted for the Basic Special Education for students in K-3 is $2.9 million. As well, $3.6 million went in for Reading Specialists for students in Kindergarten to 4th grade. It also looks like $2 million that was cut in last year’s FY2018 budget will be restored for school transportation.

Governor Carney’s “Invest In Public Education” Tour At Delaware Schools This Week

Governor Carney is hitting the road this week up and down the state to different schools to drum up support for some of his proposed education initiatives in the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.  Each school he visits will have a different focus.  Those areas are Opportunity Grants, Investing In Educators, Better Schools, Math Coaches, and Early Education & The Delaware STARS program.  As well, Carney and Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will hold a Facebook Live event on Tuesday, February 27th.  Which schools is he going to?  Find out here! Continue reading

Live From Delaware Joint Finance Committee: Delaware DOE Hearing!

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee is hearing from the Delaware Department of Education for their FY2019 budget at this very moment! Continue reading

Delaware DOE To Face Joint Finance Committee Tomorrow

The Delaware Department of Education will present their FY2019 budget to the Delaware Joint Finance Committee tomorrow on Thursday, February 8th at 1pm.  With a projected budget surplus for the next fiscal year, the Delaware DOE will assuredly want more of that money.  The problem is everyone and their mother wants a chunk of that change!  Will they get it?

Last year, in the midst of the budget crisis of 2017, the Joint Finance Committee had tons of questions for Secretary Bunting.  Will history repeat itself or will the JFC relax a bit with a projected surplus?  I will be there, reporting live from Legislative Hall!

Will The General Assembly Pony Up An Additional $18.5 Million For Christina By June 30th?

The latest Memorandum of Understanding concerning Governor John Carney’s plans for Christina has an ask of $18.5 million in additional state funding to implement the plan.  This is, of course, based on approval by the Delaware General Assembly as they hammer out the FY2019 budget over the next six months.

The latest draft of the MOU, authored by Carney’s Education Policy Adviser Jon Sheehan, is a red-lined version.  The new wording in the document is all red-lined.  Keep in mind this is more than the initial ask from the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission.  Carney, from all reports I’ve heard, wants this plan to go through more than anything in the world.  How much so?  He will most likely do anything to make it happen.  I’m not sure why he has made this his top priority in education matters.  I think it is a red herring with danger signs written all over it.  I believe he is counting on the Christina Board of Education to vote no on it so he can launch some dastardly punitive action against the district.  I believe it is the same tactic Governor Markell used with WEIC.  Get everyone talking about it knowing full well the General Assembly wasn’t going to approve it.  The key difference between this and that is with WEIC the state already had a budget deficit when faced with that vote.  This time around, Delaware is boasting of a budget surplus.  I believe there are some smoke and mirrors with their numbers and I believe there is some fuzzy math with their formulas.  We shall see.

From a legislator’s point of view, the funding for this is based on Wilmington schools.  As WEIC learned the hard way, giving extra and significant funding to one portion of the state and not the rest is not an easy task.  Like I said the other week, everyone and their mother will be jockeying for their share of the mystical “budget surplus”.  In an election year, incumbents will NOT want to tick off voters in their districts.  I think Carney knows this.  Or he is that stupid.  But I’ll go with the former on this one.  Which is why I think it is a red herring.

The latest draft appears to have concessions granted to the Christina Board from their last discussion.  The Christina Board wanted to change the timeline from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2019-2020 year.  But the wording in the draft suggests Carney wants the Dual Generation Center up and running in 2018.  If that went through, there would definitely be some type of building movement by August of this year.

In the meantime, check out the latest Jon Sheehan penned draft of the MOU which the Christina Board will vote on at their next board meeting on January 16th.  It would have gone to a vote tonight but the meeting was postponed due to inclement weather.

18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Kim Williams & Her Awesome Bill In Circulation

I am predicting now Kim Williams will have a HUGE year in 2018.  Judging by a draft bill she sent into circulation for sponsors yesterday, she is already starting off 2018 on a high note for me! Continue reading