A Rookie State Senator Might Get A Spot On The Joint Finance Committee

Sources around Legislative Hall are speaking loudly about a very unusual committee assignment in the Delaware Senate.  It appears to be a sure thing that a rookie Delaware State Senator will get a spot on the Joint Finance Committee.

While some think this is a most excellent idea others are fuming.  While I won’t name the Senator just yet, I can say they are a Democrat.  With a spot on JFC, this also gives a Senator or State Representative more money.  Almost $10,000 extra a year.  While the average salary for a State Rep. or Senator is around $45,000 a year, that is a big percentage more to be on JFC.  But I will say the bump is necessary because they do spend most of February and other weeks in hearings to help determine the final state budget for the next fiscal year.

A spot on JFC is something many legislators covet.  While the salary bump is nice, many legislators do not rely on their General Assembly salary as their primary income.  It is, however, a very powerful position.  This is where all the financial decisions for the entire state budget are made.  A voice on this committee is huge!  Most members of JFC earn it over the years so for a seat to be given to a rookie is extremely rare.

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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!

All The JFC Cuts & Reductions To Delaware FY2018 Budget Up To Today

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee had one hell of a mark-up session today with the State Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.  The following are programs that will be eliminated or have their budgets reduced.  I hope they have a lot of pens down there, because this process is not done yet.  Education wasn’t even supposed to happen today except for higher education.  Most of the education power-brokers weren’t even there when this mighty swath of cuts came up!

Delaware Department of Education Eliminations

Infrastructure Capacity

Professional Development for Student Standards & Assessment

Dues for Southern Regional Education Board

State Board of Education

Michael C. Ferguson awards

20% Reduction in Scholarships and Grants

Teacher Leader Pilot program

Summer School: Gifted & Talented funding

Delaware Teacher Center

Career Transition

Delaware Geographic Alliance

Center for Economic Education

Gay Straight Alliance

Teacher stipends for service in high-risk schools through the Delaware Talent Cooperative

Adolescent Day Program

College Access: Dual Enrollment Subgrants, PSAT, Competition subgrants, Delaware College Scholars, College Application Month, Scholarship Compendium, Stand By Me with DHSS,

 

Other Dept. of Education Reductions or Shifts

Professional Accountability and Instructional Advancement fund: eliminates $157 per employee allocation

Driver’s Education: implements fee for non-public school students to pay for program costs

Public School Transportation: Increase local share from 15% to 20%

Reduce $2 million in early childhood incentives

Reduce the following by 5%: Odyssey of the Mind, Teacher of the Year, Educator Certificate & Development, Professional Standards Board, State Testing Comp., Parents as Teachers, Student Organizations, Technology Operations

 

Other big cuts or reductions in the State Budget

Eliminations: FY18 Appropriation for Victim Offender Mediation, FY18 Appropriation for Child Placement Review Board, Civil Indigent Services, Kids Count, International Trade, Italian/American Commission, Delaware Center for Global Trade, Delaware Art, Library DELNET computer system and computer equipment (shifts costs to counties), Medical Marijuana Appropriation, Hispanic Affairs Appropriation, Office of Volunteer Services, FY2018 Appropriations for Dept. of Corrections for Hope Commission, Mentor Programs, Pre-Trial Services provided by Rick Vanstory, Tire Scrap Management Fund, Agriculture Advertising Line, Agriculture Development Program Line, Alternative Agricultural Products Line, Nutrient Management Planning, Poultry Litter State Funding

Reductions: Dept. of Justice Transcription Services, Contractual Services, and Conflict Attorney Rates, Two full-time employee positions and reductes contractual services for Commission for Women, Drug Court Program (Dept. of Services for Children, Youth & Their Families), Child welfare/contractual services for foster care contracts and Ready by 21 program, Vocational Rehabilitation Contractual Services through Dept. of Labor, Reductions for Fire Prevent Commission including ballistic vests and statewide fire safety education

DHSS Reductions of 20%: Health Disparities, Preschool Diagnosis and Treatment, Immunizations, Hepatitis B, Needle Exchange Program, Infant Mortality Task Force, Cancer Council, Gift of Life, Delaware Organ and Tissue Program 2, Developmental Screening, Uninsured Action Plan, DIMES, Sickle Cell, Nurse Family Partnership, Prescription Drug Prevention.

 

For a full list of all the cuts and the amounts, please see the document below:

Delaware Joint Finance Committee Cuts State Board of Education From State Budget, DONE!!!!

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee completely cut the State Board of Education out of the budget for FY2018.  Also gone is the Teacher Resource Center.  To repeat, as of July 1st, the State Board of Education in Delaware will be NO MORE!  Other pass-through programs have been cut as well.  So far, ten million has been cut in pass-through programs.

This will give the Delaware Secretary of Education, currently Dr. Susan Bunting, will have sole authority to approve or deny charter school applications, modifications, renewals, as well as regulations and any district restructuring in Delaware.  This is big folks!

Updated, 7:29pm: From what I’m hearing, all these changes to the State Board of Education will be included in the epilogue language of the FY2018 budget.  It will give Secretary Bunting sole authority over anything the State Board of Education had a vote for.  This also includes appeals, i.e. Patrick Wahl’s fight with Brandywine’s Board of Education went to appeal with the State Board of Ed and he won.  The Secretary would approve or deny any charter applications, revocations, formal review status, and minor AND major modifications.  Regulations brought forth by the Dept. of Education and the Professional Standards Board would be handled by the Secretary as well.

This is a major shift in how Delaware education operates in this state.  I included a list of ALL the cuts and reductions in another post with amounts for each.  Which also included $1.5 million in cuts for the implementation of a Delaware Dept. of Education Employee Reduction Plan.

More information as it becomes available.

Action Alert! Support Special Education Services In Delaware! JFC Needs To Hear From YOU!

For decades, special education has been the law of the land in Delaware and the United States.  In Delaware, our state funds special education services for all students except basic services for those in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is when children developing disabilities need those services the most.  Our state relies on a program called Response to Intervention which can not cure a disability.  Special education can’t either, but it give those children the individual resources and goals to help them succeed in education.  It is an absolute travesty that our state does not fund these students.

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee submits the final budget to the House and Senate for a vote in the final days of June.  This funding MUST be included in that final budget.  For far too long, students have either been denied special education services or local school districts have to make up the difference with what the state won’t provide.  We have a state that talks the talk about equity but when it is time to walk the walk, we still have this.

Please join the letter-writing campaign to our JFC to ensure students with disabilities get their fair shake.  Please follow the link below and make this happen!  This is not the same campaign from March where letters were sent to Governor Carney.  This is for the Joint Finance Committee!  A big huge thank you to Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams for her fierce advocacy on this issue!  If you are a parent, student, teacher, educator, administrator, state employee, or citizen of this state, we all recognize this is a tight budget this year.  But we must make this happen to make sure the students with the most needs are given a fair shot!

https://actionnetwork.org/letters/support-special-education-services-in-delaware?clear_id=true

Delaware Medicaid Cuts For Day Treatment Centers Will Make Schools A “One Size Fits All” Band-Aid

The root of the State of Delaware cutting day treatment centers that have state contracts lies with Medicaid.  The federal government issued guidance in 2011 urging states to look at their state Medicaid plans.  As a result of Delaware’s plan, it has been determined that day treatment centers can no longer be reimbursed for education through Medicaid as of June 30th, 2016.  The news coming out about the state closing these centers has not been officially released yet but something is supposed to come out from the Division of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families this evening.

What this means is day centers can no longer provide any education services for children under the age of 21.  They can only provide direct treatment or counseling.  Many students that currently attend these centers receive both.  It will force these centers to essentially shut down.  So far, it has been confirmed that the two most impacted day centers will be the Terry Center in New Castle and Seaford House in Sussex County.  But there are others, and this will impact a lot of children.

So where will these children go?  Many parents of these students fear they will be placed in their district Intensive Learning Centers (ILC).  I have found these ILCs to be more like a boot camp than a place where students with disabilities or troubled youth can get the true help they need.  The ILCs tend to treat all problems as behavior, but most severe disabilities are neurologically based.

All of this was reported by the State of Delaware through the regulatory process, but the language used in the writing is somewhat vague and never once mentions the words “day treatment center” which is the commonly used terminology for these places.  This is from Regulation 763 which was finalized on February 1st, 2016:

5. Other EPSDT Services
Reimbursement for services not otherwise covered under the State Plan is determined by the Medicaid agency through review of a rate setting committee. Non-institutional services are paid on a fee-for-service basis. Institutional services are per diem rates based on reasonable costs. These services include:
(a) Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care – see ATT. 4.19-B, Page 7
(b) Inpatient and Partial Hospital Psychiatric Services – reimbursed on a per diem basis
(c) Outpatient Psychiatric Facility Services – fee-for-service
(d) (b) School-Based Health Service (SBHS) Providers:
School based health service providers include Delaware school districts and charter schools and may provide the following Medicaid services per Attachment 3.1-A, Page 2 Addendum:
EPSDT Screens
Nursing Services
Physical Therapy
Occupational Therapy
Speech Therapy, Language and Hearing Services
Psychological and Developmental Treatment Assessment
Counseling and Therapy
Residential Mental Health or Developmental Disability Treatment
Specialized Transportation Services
19 DE Reg. 763 (02/01/16) (Final)

 

As I feared, they are taking out services that are necessary for students with disabilities and attempting to replace those with either in-home services or school-based services.  I’m sorry, but even with the strides some schools have made with special education, these students are not meant to be in an inclusive setting at times based on their disabilities.  And ILCs are a prison for these kids.  They are psychological torture.  This is very bad.  Delaware will say they went through all the proper channels, but if the Regulation was finalized in February, why are parents just finding out about this now? Why didn’t they send something to parents that have their child in the state Medicaid program to let them know of these HUGE changes?  Writing about regulations with all their confusing jargon and legalese is not the same thing as making sure that information gets disseminated to citizens in a clear and coherent way.  This is how both state and federal government get away with things.

But who is going to pay for these increased services in our schools?  We don’t have enough money now to properly service public education.  Will this mean more federal grants tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act?  Or will we start to see the slow invasion of non-education entities coming into our schools?  Is this just Delaware or will other states go through this process?  These are burning questions I mean to find the answers to.

Unless the legislators don’t check their state email, they should all know about this by now.  I emailed every one of them, along with Governor Markell, Attorney General Matt Denn, DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky and several others about this today.  But this information regarding the regulation and the Medicaid situation I just found out about in the past few hours.  In reviewing the FY2017 Budget Proposal by the DSCYF to the Joint Finance Committee this year, this plan wasn’t clearly laid out to the General Assembly.  But the timing on this, when these day treatment centers would close, would be after the General Election even though Medicaid stopped reimbursing for these services as of 6/30/16.  How many people knew about this?  Did John Carney?

I have wondered over the past two years, as I fell deeper into the corporate education reform rabbit hole, how students with disabilities, especially those with the most severe, could ever survive in the upcoming personalized learning/competency-based education world.  The answer is becoming very clear: they can’t.  I believe the intent is to push them out of public education.  To force parents into homeschooling their children with moderate to severe disabilities.  The problem becomes the affordability of this.  That would mean one parent can’t work a normal 9-5 job.  It means less revenue for the state.  But these families will still be expected to pay property taxes to pay for our schools.  How is that just in any way?  I have always spoken out against voucher programs.  But if our state wants to force the hand of families of disabled children, perhaps it is time a new conversation started.

 

Even If WEIC Passes The General Assembly, It Could Still Fall Apart Over Funding Issues

Remember when the Delaware State Board of Education wanted to change a key word from “shall” to “may”?  That created a resolution unanimously passed by the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission that if the “necessary and sufficient funding” is not available at two milestones of the redistricting plan, it will collapse.  End.  Finish.  Kaput.

Today, the House Education Committee did two things: they lifted House Bill #424 from a tabled status and released it from the education committee with eight votes in the positive.  But the discussion before the vote was somewhat tense.  As the meeting started, no House Republicans were present.  Slowly but surely, two of them came in: State Reps. Joe Miro and Tim Dukes.  State Rep. Deb Heffernan started the questioning about the Red Clay Board of Education’s role if the funding is not there.  After a considerable amount of confusion, WEIC Chair Tony Allen and Dan Rich clarified that the amount for the first two years just for the funding changes is $7.5 million each year for a total of $15 million.  In the Governor’s proposed budget, he allocated $6 million: $4 million for the funding changes and $2 million for WEIC transitional costs.

Based on Tony Allen’s statement about the resolution, the necessary and sufficient funding of $7.5 million for FY2017 will not be available even if the General Assembly passes House Joint Resolution #12.  Yesterday, DEFAC determined Delaware’s revenues are lower than projected a month ago so now there is less money in the state budget for next year.  Will the WEIC redistricting plan get out of the General Assembly alive?  Or will the Joint Finance Committee give the money to the redistricting plan if it passes both the House and the Senate?

Two Delaware Newspapers Show The Rift In Education And In The House Democrat Caucus

Holy smokes!  Not sure which one I was more surprised to see, the one about Valerie Longhurst or the one about the General Fund Race To The Top 8!

Starting with Longhurst, The News Journal covered a “scathing email” situation Longhurst sent out to a University of Delaware Professor when the U of D employee questioned the General Assembly about raises given to certain employees at Legislative Hall.  The employee, Ms. Fran Fletcher, is well-known in Delaware as a mediator.  I have seen her at the HB90 Enrollment Preference Task Force and found her to be a very reasonable woman.  She is frequently called on by the Delaware Department of Education to mediate IEP meetings when parents and schools cannot agree on IEP issues.  If the allegations surrounding Longhurst’s response to Ms. Fletcher are true, that goes way beyond a constructive response to a constituent.  I would say it was filled with veiled threats to someone who dared question a legislator over a controversial issue.

Meanwhile, The Delaware State News jumped on the eight Race To The Top positions that I wrote about on Monday but they even had a quote from one of the employees who should have been cut but now seems to be working in the Executive Branch.  Shana Young said:

“While it does not have the authority to create new positions, the Department of Education, like all state agencies, has the authority to reclassify vacant positions,” Ms. Young said. “So, in the case of these eight positions, they were reclassified into existing vacancies in the department.”

It seems members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee were not too happy about this news either based on the article.  I really thought the DOE would be raked over the coals by the General Assembly during their last legislative session.  Perhaps we should gear up for an even bigger fight this year!  But the bigger fight may go down with the House Dems!