Save The Date: June 20th, Rally For Education- No Cuts To Education Funding

When legislators and Delaware Governor Carney proposed massive cuts to public education, the people responded with a loud voice.  As a result, there will be a rally at Legislative Hall on June 20th from 1pm to 3pm, rain or shine.  This event, hosted by Network Delaware, is going to draw a huge crowd.  I know several educators will taking a bus (or two) from New Castle County.  This is YOUR chance to make sure your voice is heard.  If you are tired of bloated classrooms and teacher cuts, I would make sure you are there.  From the press release on the rally:

We need to stand up and show support for Delaware legislators who are resisting cuts to education. We need to unite and show them we’ll have their backs in their fight for educators, students, and school staff as they oppose proposed budget cuts to education funding for FY18.

All are welcome. Come with creative posters! Speakers to be announced. The rally will take place on the East Side Steps of Legislative Hall. Parking is available in the Delaware Public Archives parking lot.

This event is co-sponsored by PACE Network, Delaware PTA and Network Delaware.

If you haven’t filled out our form to have postcards and letters sent to your legislators opposing the budget cuts to education, please do so now! https://goo.gl/UM6cis

I will be there, front and center.  The legislators work for us, we the people, not the other way around.  Bring your kids!  Most educators should be done with school so there are no excuses!  The Delaware 149th General Assembly ends the first half of their legislative session on June 30th/July 1st.  Time IS running out.  It is now or never!

Why Does Our State Auditor Only Find Things Like The Sussex Tech Fraud From Tips? Are There More Sussex Tech Situations We Don’t Know About?

Boom! Jack Wells sent one hell of an email to Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner today.  This is one for the record books and opens up a whole new ballpark on the question of financial oversight of our school districts and charter schools!

TO: Mr. Thomas Wagner, Auditor of Accounts

This report reveals numerous problems that were “only” revealed because the Office of Auditor of Accounts {AOA} received an anonymous complaint on 1 July 2014. 

While I am concerned about the findings, I am even more troubled why these findings were not identified in the State of Delaware Statewide School Districts’ Construction Projects Attestation Engagements conducted in fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.  

Question: Since these reports did not reveal the problems identified in the report conducted by your auditors as a result of an anonymous complaint, can you inform me the purpose of these engagements/examinations?

Comment: Some findings were revealed, however the report ending June 30,2015 states: “Our examination disclosed no instances of noncompliance or other matters that are required to be reported under Government Auditing Standards. Hopefully your answer to my question will disclose what must be reported under Government Auditing Standards.

While I am troubled by these findings, I have to wonder if these findings and others problems are not being revealed by the engagements/examinations that are being conducted each year. Provided below are the number of districts that are audited each fiscal year.

Fiscal Year     # of  School Districts  Audited

2012                   18

2013                   17

2014                   18

2015                   18

2016                   16

I have to wonder if the findings on Sussex Technical are only the tip of an iceberg.

Finally and even more troubling is the fact that audits required by law to verify expenditures of $2.3 billion annually for the education of our children were legal and used for the purpose provided are not conducted.

Amen Jack!  I am dying for these questions to be heard.  But I fear we will only hear the empty vacuum of space on this.

Colonial Under The Gun With 2nd Referendum Up For A Vote Today, Vote YES!!!!

The Colonial School District is in dire straits.  They MUST pass their referendum attempt today.  If not, expect a huge amount of cuts and layoffs.  Unfortunately for Colonial, this comes at a time when all eyes are on the state budget deficit.

I’ve learned there are three camps when it comes to referenda.

There are those who promote referenda because it is an essential must in Delaware for a school district to be fully funded.  I tend to live in this camp most of the time with very few exceptions.

There are those who believe a referendum exists to pillage taxes out of the wallets of citizens within the district.  They fight referenda tooth and nail and sometimes post “fake news” to make sure a referendum does not pass.

There are those who don’t even know what a referendum is.  They get their property tax bill and pay it, no questions asked.  These campers are by far the biggest of the three.  They don’t vote in referenda and have no knowledge whatsoever of what it even means.

Colonial’s referendum today is do or die for them.  Yes, I often state we need to see more transparency when it comes to education funding.  Our State Auditor does not conduct yearly audits of school districts even though it is required by state law.  But that doesn’t mean I oppose referenda in Delaware.  Until a new mechanism is created which changes this warped way Delaware has with funding schools, the referendum is the only way for school districts to survive.  There is a very good chance our legislators will approve Carney’s idiot idea of school boards being able to pass a one-time match tax without a referendum.  I oppose this for more reasons than I can count.  But Colonial had this referendum planned way before Carney even introduced this idiot idea.

To vote no is to vote no for students in many ways.  If you enjoy bloated classrooms with over 30 kids in the class, then you will vote no.  If you feel all administrators are an evil monopoly choking instruction in the classroom, you will vote no.  If you feel no taxpayer dollars have ever funded a school, you will vote no.  All three of the above are what the referenda naysayers like to promote.  There is a difference between wanting transparency (folks like me) and those who don’t want education funding at all (the referenda naysayers).

Many of the folks who oppose referenda don’t even have kids in the school district.  They have kids in private schools or they are elderly citizens who feel they have been taxed too much.  The private school parents actually want a school voucher system to take place so their taxpayer dollars go towards me and not the community.

I support the Colonial referendum today and if I lived there, I would vote a resounding YES!

A Review Of “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”: More Of The Same With No Solutions

A University of Delaware class called Documentary Production produced a video called “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”.  The cinematography of the video was good, but I feel it should have been renamed “Fixing Education In Wilmington” because that was pretty much what the video was about.

It gave a good history of segregation before 1954, but after that it focused solely on Wilmington.  But I found the stereotypes to be a bit too much.  The video primarily focuses on two Caucasian mothers.  One is in what appears to be a classroom, and the other is out in the suburbs in a very nice home.  When they do show African-Americans (aside from  Tony Allen), it is primarily urban Wilmington.  As if there are no African-Americans in the suburbs.

The TedX Wilmington videos shown in this are from Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, and Dr. Paul Herdman, the CEO of the Rodel Foundation.  Other folks shown in the video are Dan Rich from the University of Delaware and one of the main WEIC players, Atnre Alleyne from DelawareCAN and TeenSHARP, and Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick.   There are cameos from Delaware Teacher of the Year Wendy Turner and the not-even sworn in yet Christina Board Member Meredith Griffin Jr.

Here is a newsflash.  There are 19 school districts in Delaware.  Up and down the state.  I love Wilmington, but if you are going to make a video called Fixing Education In The First State, you have to focus on the whole state.  This was one of the biggest mistakes WEIC made, focusing on Wilmington and expecting the rest of state to pick up the tab to fix Wilmington issues.  Yes, Wilmington is the biggest city, but many issues with poverty and low-income exist all over Delaware.

Like most discussions about “fixing” education in Delaware, we go through the history and the present situation.  Add some current events like the upcoming Colonial Referendum to make it current.  Show some shots from a WEIC meeting a few months ago when Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting attended for some extra oomph and importance.

I recognize segregation in Wilmington schools and what school choice has done to Northern New Castle County as major problems in Delaware.  But there are other equally important issues, only one of which was briefly touched on in the video- education funding.  We also have special education with a rapidly growing population of students with disabilities, standardized testing, a growing population of English Language Learners, a General Assembly that generally makes some very bad choices for our schools, bullying in our schools,the continued fall-out from the Race To The Top accountability era, a State Auditor who doesn’t audit school districts every year even though that office has to by state law, referenda, a new Governor that is putting a ton of cuts towards school districts (but not charters), the Rodel Foundation’s stranglehold on decisions made in education, data mining of personal student information, and the upcoming and very real threats of competency-based education, personalized learning, an eventual replacement of real teachers with glorified moderators instead in a digital technology wonderland, and the upcoming Blockchain technology which will institute a full-blown “digital badge” scenario, tracking children from cradle to grave and predetermined careers and what their societal worth will be.  And yes, even Social-Emotional Learning is in the process of getting hijacked by the corporate education reformers (more on that soon).

Many of these things aren’t on the radar as much as they should be.  We are still bickering over how to “fix” education but we are stumbling with talking about what is right in education.  We are in a constant state of flux, in a state of constant improvement.  This obsessive need for improvement is actually what is fracturing education the most in Delaware.  The problem comes when we try to measure all these changes by one standardized test.

For an eleven minute video, it would be impossible to catch all the issues in Delaware education.  But showing very old videos of Tony Allen and Paul Herdman don’t do much for me.  Most Delawareans really don’t know who the two of them are.  Just because they have a TedX stage doesn’t give them more importance than a teacher giving a lecture to a class or a parent giving public comment at a school board meeting.  Those are actually the voices we need to hear more of in Delaware education, the everyday citizen.  Not a CEO of a “non-profit” making over $344,000 a year or a well-meaning Bank of America executive.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Tony Allen is a great guy, but it has become more than obvious that WEIC isn’t heading towards the destination it dreamed of and it is time to move on.  As for Dr. Paul “Rodel” Herdman, I have never been shy about my dislike of his “visions” for Delaware schools that have its roots in corporate profit.

We need to focus on what is going right in Delaware education and build from that.  It begins at the grass-roots level, in the classroom.  For that, the student and teacher voice are the most important.  And then the parent.  We go from one reform or initiative to the next, and the cycle goes on and on.

Newark Charter School 5 Mile Radius Bill & Education Funding SHOULD Be The Center Of Focus At Education Forum Monday Night

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).

Cut The Admins In Districts & Schools? How Many Are There? TONS!

If there is one consistent thing I hear all over social media, it is people wanting the number of administrators and their staff in Delaware school districts and charter schools.  I am asked constantly how many there are for various schools or districts.  Robert Overmiller of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens compiled a list showing exactly how many there are.

Updated: I’ve included the below picture which shows the student ratios required to get state funding for administrator roles:

Some of these numbers are outrageous.  While it is a local school district’s decision, there are certain laws pertaining to how many administrators schools are allowed to have per student in order to get state funding for those roles.  If they go over those numbers, the funds come from local or federal funding.  For example, a Title I or special education coordinator may get funding based on federal disbursements.

If we truly want to look at education funding, this is the FIRST place to look.  Many of these positions get high salaries.  I’ve heard of some administrators who just get jobs in a district office and do nothing all day long.  Does every single administrator need a secretary?  Because that happens more than you think!  It’s the buddy system kicked into high gear.  And our teachers and students pay the price.

Governor Carney’s Letter About Basic Special Education Funding For K-3 Is Wishy Washy At Best

I received a letter from Governor Carney in my email today.  So did over 900 other Delaware citizens.  Two months ago, a push was made to send letters to Governor Carney concerning House Substitute 1 for House Bill 12.  This is the pending legislation which would provide Basic Special Education Funding for students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  The state provides extra special education funding for all other students with disabilities who have an IEP, so why not these students who are just getting their start in elementary education?

For years, I have been advocating for this funding.  So has Rep. Kim Williams.  This is the second go-around with this legislation.  House Bill 30, from the 148th General Assembly, sat around in the Appropriations Committee from early 2015 until June 30th, 2016 and died.  I have yet to meet anyone who thinks this bill is a bad idea.  I understand we have a deficit Governor Carney, but the purpose of state funding should have a top priority of those who need it the most.  These students fit that criteria.  Response to Intervention does not take care of these students’ needs, nor as it designed to.  Please don’t perpetuate this myth.  You did not include it in your proposed budget and I am calling foul on that oversight.  I pray our elected officials in the General Assembly have the common sense to put children first when they approve the budget for Fiscal Year 2018.  They are the future of Delaware.

The letter was dated March 7th, 2017, but I just received it today.  I won’t bicker about that, but it is noteworthy.  What I will mention is Governor Carney’s refusal to commit to this funding.  I just don’t get it.  It is a no-brainer and everyone knows it.  Who is lobbying against this bill behind the scenes?

Live, From Delaware, It’s The Carney & Bunting Education Funding Tele-Town Hall

I will get the call at 7:45pm.

For those following, Mike Matthews is also going to live comment on his Facebook account.  I told him I was going to live blog.  He said to do it cause he won’t catch everything.  I told him that is okay because I can just screenshot everything he says.

It is 7:46pm and no call yet.  Mike Matthews hasn’t received one either.  A government function running late?  Say it isn’t so!

Out of ten people on Mike’s Facebook page, only one has gotten the call.  Just got the call!

Carney is on the line!  Thanking DASA and DSEA for getting the word out.  Vehicle he has been using since he was our lone Congressman.

Been travelling up and down the state and has participated in about a dozen town hall meetings.  Legislators helped to organize these.  Has heard from people we have a structural budget problem.  This should be a balanced solution.  People want us to run government more effectively and proficiently.  Thinks with “shared sacrifice” more people will chip in.

Most folks don’t want to see cuts in programs or tax increases. People want a balanced approach with shared sacrifice.

More kids with special needs.  Forced to deal with almost $400 million dollar shortfall.

Purpose of call is to talk about education cuts and way to bring this to General Assembly.  Thinks it will be $200 million in cuts and $200 million in new revenue.  Corporate franchise tax will give us some extra bling.

Cigarettes going up a $1.oo.

Education spending is flat.  Fund teacher units based on student growth, early childhood education, teacher step increases, professional development.  Education is $1.4 billion.  $1.2 billion goes to districts to pay for teacher salaries and other costs.  State pays about 60% of all education spending in our state.  Suggesting is an across the board cut of 1.5% and $22 million cut in educational sustainment fund.  Wants districts to cut $22 million.  When federal funds went away for math and reading specialists, state picked them up.  Doesn’t want to cut anything.  Need for Delaware to be more competitive in the long-term.

Talking about spending time at Red Clay school in 2nd grade class.  Skipped around on questions.  The moderator interrupted to hear my question.  My question surrounds tuition funding for special education.

Sandy from Newark was cut off.  Cindy from Dover asked if how long it could take the state to go from 19 school districts to 6 school districts and central supply ordering.  To cut down on everything.  Carney said the idea of district consolidation has been raised in the town halls.  He said you would have to look at actual cost saving as a result.  Was done in the 1960s down in Sussex County and in New Castle County under the desegregation order.  Difference in pay scales can result in a level-up effect.  Could be higher pay and larger cost to districts.  Looking at all expenses for state through state-wide committee.

Back to Sandy from Newark.  No Sandy.  Got my question (Wow).  Asked if they are going to look at tuition funding for special education students.  Said the numbers have grown as much as twice a regular student to eight times a regular student depending on challenges for student.  Making sure students meet that qualification is important.  Dr. Bunting got on.  If a student’s needs can’t be served in the district, tuition funding kicks in to make sure those funds are used for that child.  It is also used for gifted students in Sussex County.  There are specific allocations for those costs so they do look at them.

Carrie from Newark asked how budget cuts will affect related arts teachers.  Said a lot of the decisions will be made by local districts and school boards.  He would like to see administrative overhead cuts and not personnel cuts.  Said he would much rather see higher tax revenue than cuts.  $37 million in total cuts for education out of the total $200 million they are looking for.  More than he would prefer.

Mike from Middletown is asking about rainy day fund.  Carney said it is 5% and it is a one-time amount and if you built spending on it, it would be held inappropriated against that.  It is for downturn in middle of fiscal year.  Legislature can’t appropriate more than 98% of the budget.  Rainy day plus that 2% cushion would be against the law.  It is more for emergency situation.  Can’t use those funds from year to year.

Jerry from Cape Henlopen is on the line.  He is an ESL teacher.  Hasn’t received 2% increase in five years and has more students that don’t speak English.  Said he has no support.  They have higher special education funding but none for ESL students.  Very disappointed in Delaware with this.  Said he talked to teachers in Georgetown about their needs.  Wants more funds for these students.  Biggest problem we have is the difference in proficiency levels between lower advantaged students and those from higher income.  Wants ALL students to be able to read by 3rd grade.

Kurt from Dover asked about raising gas tax. Said we have the lowest gas in the area.  Everyone would pay equally.  Has heard this suggestion.  Said if we have two funds for budget and one is transportation trust fund.  Gas tax goes towards that.  Transportation should pay for itself.  Allows us to go to financial markets and get bonds.  Started under Governor Castle.  General Assembly refused to raise this under Governor Markell.  Said they are in good shape.   Secretary Cohen said doesn’t need a gas tax.  Deficit is in the General Fund.

Jennifer from Kent County asked about classroom sizes.  How can classroom ratios meet the needs of ALL our students.  He supports the lowest ratios the districts can provide based on their funding needs.  A lot of districts take waivers in K-3 for classroom ratios, allows 22 students to teacher.  They get these waivers to allow for other programs like art and music.  Budget would keep overall spending flat, would fund teachers, step increases, professional service days, discretionary funds like education sustainability funds.  In perfect world, would love to spend on positive things.

Cameron from Woodside.  Teacher at Poly-Tech High School.  Have the budget cuts proposed looked at how tech programs could be cut?  Looking at how student transportation funding works.  Doesn’t think is as cost-efficient as it could be.  Thinks we should consolidate in some way.  Said transportation for vo-techs is same proportionate to districts.  Asking districts to take on 5% more of those costs.

Andrea from Newark talked about school boards raising taxes without referendum.  Would what they are asking for be equal to what they are asking for in Colonial’s referendum?  Carney said $22 million is relatively small amount, would amount to $40-$50 increase.  Said we can pay for these services.  Said local district money that comes from property taxes is very low compared to New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  He said that is important cause people move here based on those low property taxes.  He said that doesn’t mean people willingly want more property taxes.  Said this keeps Delaware competitive.

Bob from Wilmington asked about raising property assessment values.  They haven’t been raised in 30-40 years.  Carney said he was on the property reassessment task force under former Governor Carper.  Property assessments are not current.  State law said if reassessment is done, districts are required to lower tax rates.  That can change through legislation.  Can’t be done in five months to put together budget proposal in March and then approved by June.  Thinks it is something we need to look at.

Dawn from Delmar asked about lowering number of days state employees work.  Right now she works 188 days.  Said she would be willing to work 185.  Carney said his budget director proposed lowering professional development days but he doesn’t want actual paycheck cuts.  Believes that is counter-productive.  Said half the cuts he is proposing would be recoverable from the districts through higher taxes.

Ashley from Kent County asked about after-school programs.  If those programs are cut such as 21st Century, what are the plans to keep kids off the street and keep them away from legal issues.  What do we do with those students?  Carney said he supports partnering with non-profit agencies like Boys & Girls Club.  Supports grant-in-aid funding for those types of programs.  Wants sustainable budget to cover those programs and to make sure disadvantaged background students get those needs.  Said 21st Century is federal program.  His approach to budget is to maintain programs and funding we have.

Laurie from Wilmington thanked Carney for listening to teachers.  Said we spend a lot on micro-management.  Race To The Top gave us a very irresponsible and expensive accountability system.  Said we need an overhaul of this system.  Carney said he asked Secretary Bunting to reorganize the Dept. of Education be more of a resource department as opposed to an accountability machine.  Administrative overhead costs are huge according to Carney across the state.  Said this can be done with district administrative overhead.

In a poll, 68% of callers support paying higher property taxes to support education, 32% said no.

Michelle from Dover is up next.  She asked if the solutions on the table are going to fix the structural problems.  She said another place to look at is our income taxes.  She said by raising income taxes a full 1% instead of 2/10th of a percent, it would raise $160 million dollars.  Surrounding states are about 3% higher in overall taxes.  Carney said PA and MD have sales tax.  He thinks Trump’s decline in taxes announced this week is a bad idea.  He said our tax bracket is low at $60,000.  Seven states have flat rates and no brackets, like PA.  He said one of the goals is to reduce the top marginal tax rates when our top rate was 19%.  Today it is at 6.6% and he is proposing it go up to 6.8%.  Wants to get rid of itemized deductions.  Said this benefits higher income households.  Said increasing the standardized deduction helps lower-income families.  Said it is a shared sacrifice.

Jill from Smyrna asked why step raises always occur for teachers.  He said they are contractual.  They could suspend those but it is a relationship between teachers and school districts.  He said there are other groups of employees that get steps as well, can’t recall what they were.  He said it is unusual to do due to contractual obligations.

Last question is from Devon from Wilmington.  I know that guy!  He asked about assurances that shared sacrifice won’t disproportionately affect disadvantaged students.  Carney said he thinks students will get what they need with his balanced approach.  He said the WEIC group has worked on these issues for a number of years.  He wants Bunting to take a hard look at this.  He does have a million in education opportunity grants in his proposed budget.  We still get federal Title I funding for these supports.

Governor Carney thanked everyone for being on the call.  5,000 people were on the call according to Carney.  Appreciates the dialogue we’ve had.  Encourage people to talk to their legislators about the revenue package.  To all the teachers, thank you for all the great work you do every day.  Thank you, and God Bless everyone.

With that, the Education Funding Tele-Town Hall is over.  Thanks for following along!

 

 

 

 

 

Carney & Bunting Tackle Education Funding But The Red Herring Fooling Everyone Lurks Around The Corner

Delaware Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will talk to educators, parents, and citizens tonight about education funding and the state budget tonight at 7:45pm.  To be included on the call, you had to sign up yesterday by 2pm.  I signed up on Tuesday.  I will be reporting live from the Town Hall.  What concerns me the most is not what Carney is saying.  It is what he isn’t talking about… Continue reading “Carney & Bunting Tackle Education Funding But The Red Herring Fooling Everyone Lurks Around The Corner”

The Rodel Teacher Council Policy Briefs & Why Delaware Teachers Need To Be VERY Concerned

I’ve heard from more than a few teachers in the past hour since I posted about the Rodel Teacher Council’s presentation to the State Board of Education.  Many were unaware of what this very small group of Delaware teachers have been up to and how it could impact the future of their profession.  I wanted to follow-up on that article with this set of “policy briefs” created by this teacher council.  What could happen is this corporate education reform hocus-pocus is all of a sudden written into Delaware state code without anyone the wiser.  This would be done by our General Assembly who Rodel has been making nicey-nice with in the past year.  I would strongly urge all the local teacher unions and the Delaware State Education Association to get on top of this as soon as humanly possible and find out what the hell some of the teachers in their districts are doing with all this in the name of Rodel.  I’ve been warning about these possibilities for a long time.  But it will take much more than me to stop this from becoming the new reality.

For months, I’ve heard Delaware Governor John Carney talk about “public and private partnerships”.  Funny how the Rodelians mention this very same thing in their policy briefs issued last November.  If you think for one second John Carney is not under Rodel’s thumb, think again!

I’ve written about “Social Impact Bonds” before.  Where companies come in and essentially make bets on student outcomes.  Now we see “Innovation Funding”, also known as crowdsourcing, where communities “invest” in schools so someone can make a whole lot of money.  As well, the state won’t have to pay for it.  But all that comes with a price.  The future generation of students who will be fully immersed in this nonsense will become nothing more than drones to the corporations as true local decision-making becomes a thing of the past.  Meanwhile, all the “smart” and “wealthy” kids will be attending private schools paid for, in part, by school vouchers.

The below documents were created last November but they are making their rounds with the decision-makers in Delaware education.  This is Paul Herdman’s ultimate vision folks.  Everything else has just been a sideshow compared to this.  They can come out with all the pretty and colorful presentations they want.  But as long as people keep swallowing their pills, this will continue.  It will never change until people demand our Department of Education, our legislators, and our schools stop adopting Rodel’s corporate greed-driven drivel.  And for the love of all that is holy, will education stakeholders who really should know better please get off the Vision Coalition?  All you are doing is prolonging the existence of Rodel.  DSEA, DASA, and DSBA need to inform all those who pay dues to them of every single aspect of these policies and let their members decide how to deal with this.  Decisions like this should not be brought forth by 22 Delaware teachers speaking for the entire teaching force in Delaware.

Education Funding Mismanagement In Delaware

The below picture portrays exactly what is wrong with education funding in Delaware.  There is no consistency or oversight with where existing funds are going.  As a result, we have a boiling cauldron of fraud, waste, and abuse.  It seems like anyone can get paid in education and it can be catalogued however a school wants.

In this picture, we see the former Head of School from Family Foundations Academy and East Side Academy doing what appears to be consulting work for three Delaware charter schools.  Given that the amounts are very similar, I can assume it was the same type of work.  All three schools put the payments under different categories: Educational Benefits-Chld, Consultants, and Other Professional Service.  All three schools used different funds for what I assume to be similar work: Special, General, and Federal.  All three schools belong to the same Wilmington Charter School Collaborative, which is an alternate teacher evaluation system.  This initiative came about through Lamont Browne.

Lamont Browne left Delaware last summer and moved to Colorado to work his “magic” in another corporate education reform state.  So how is it he is able to do all this work in Colorado and still get paid by the State of Delaware through various charter schools?  Does he have a finders fee for this teacher evaluation system?

Governor Carney wants to talk about all these education funding decisions but has completely ignored the elephant in the room: we don’t know where existing funding is going to, especially in our charter schools.  School districts pull the same kind of shenanigans (wait until you see the next major audit investigation report coming out of Tom Wagner’s office!) but they can be harder to find.

I did go ahead and submit this as a tip to Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office as I wrote this article.  In the vein of full transparency, I am including screen shots of my tip:

When I write about this kind of stuff, all too often charter school supporters start defending the schools and say I am picking on charter schools.  While this most likely isn’t a Sean Moore kind of deal, it is symptomatic of what is wrong with our education funding oversight in Delaware.  I’m not looking for the causes as much as I truly want a solution to these kind of problems.  I would love to stop writing about these matters.  So Governor Carney, I am throwing you the gauntlet one more time: are you ready to talk about this or do I need to keep writing?

Carney’s Budget Reset Will Put The Hurt On School Districts, Charters And Citizens Of Delaware

Delaware Governor John Carney released his FY2018 Budget “Reset”.  He is calling for a ton of cuts across Delaware programs as well as increase revenue by increasing taxes.  The extremely wealthy won’t get the tax increases many have been calling for in this proposed budget.  But property owners will feel it.  Here comes the Delaware sink hole!

In education, the match tax will switch over to the local side, to be raised by school boards without a referendum.  Which is all well and good if you don’t own property.  But if you do, expect to pay more in school taxes.  As well, $15 million will be cut from district and charter operation budgets doled out by the state.  I don’t see the funding for basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade but I see $4.7 million more for early childhood education.  We poured $18 million into that last year.  I don’t see any proposed cuts to the Department of Education even though Carney ran around during his campaign saying he was going to streamline the Department.  Carney is allowing for $25.1 million for new teachers and $1 million for his “opportunity grants”.  $22 million would be cut from the education sustainment fund (thus the district boards getting to get more school taxes without a referendum like they do with the tuition tax).

In the below document, we see absolutely nothing about marijuana revenue or an increase to the gax tax.  But smokers will be gouged another buck a pack.  The retirement age for additional personal credit will rise from 60 to 65 while all senior citizens will see their Senior Citizen Property Credit reduced by a hundred dollars.

I get that you have to make up for a $385 million dollar deficit by making cuts but it is important to know how we got there.  Former Governor Jack Markell came on board as the Great Recession of 2008 spread its wings.  After that, Markell just spent and spent and spent without really getting enough revenue to stick around in the state.  Our population grew as special education services grew at a much higher rate.  Something disability communities have been saying will happen for years.   I am not a big fan of this budget proposal.  Carney, like his predecessor, refuses to make the rich pay more.  I don’t see a lot of “shared sacrifice” going on here.  If it was truly shared, it would hurt everyone.  To someone making a million bucks a year, a nominal increase in taxes isn’t going to hurt them as much as it will to a family living off $30,000 a year.  Granted, this is assuming the General Assembly approves this and the budget deficit stays the same.  It could (and I predict it will) increase between now and June 30th.

I don’t envy Carney.  He inherited most of this from Markell.  But with all his “coffee klatches” as the folks over at Delaware Liberal call them, I would have expected something a lot more different than what Markell gave us back in January.  I’ve told Carney’s people exactly what he needs to do in terms of education funding.  The response from them?  Crickets.  They hear me out and then nothing.  Just because I haven’t written as much about district and charter funding shenanigans doesn’t mean it hasn’t been foremost in my mind.  I was counting on the new administration to do the right thing here.  Looks like I’m going to have to do this the hard way and start REALLY ticking people off.

Video of “John Carney Comes To WEIC”

Instead of taking copious amounts of notes at the 2 hour Wilmington Education Improvement Commission meeting tonight, I decided to record it for video.  Please keep in mind I am an amateur with this stuff.  My laptop battery was about to run out half way through so I had to move my laptop away from the crowd to keep recording.  All of the Governor Carney visit is visible and most of the Secretary of Education Bunting visit is as well.  Once again, I apologize for the quality!

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kendall Massett

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Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads.  As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters.  This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.

As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools.  The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st.  They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out.  But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett.  As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000.  How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money?  How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?

If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters.  Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE.  This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina.  The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this.  The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it.  And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly.  But instead, they kept this a secret for many months.  They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset.  These were huge funding changes with charter payments.  This was not a wise move for the charters involved.  By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war.  It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent.  It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.

In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters.  Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.

She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.

“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.

There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement.  The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District.  As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement.  It states:

In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD.  The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students.  If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.

So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?

For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.

Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government.  They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade.  They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades.  Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined.  The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers.  It is not something the district can change on a whim.  And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for.  What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs.  Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services.  Then we get into the definition of a comparable service.  Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?

Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section.  It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways.  State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters.  As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do.  That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws.  We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware.  A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law.  Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process.  I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters.  Which is even more concerning in my eyes.  The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task.  A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.

What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability.  This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it.  Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case.  It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina.  That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have.  Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds?  Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds?  The settlement does not define that.

If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district.  They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students.  They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district.  That would take away from those students.  But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts.  They base this on projections within their own district.  How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts?  For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year.  It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.

If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money.  She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them.  Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations.  They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do.  All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters.  Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend.  And charters are free to use this money as they please.  So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get?  When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs.  In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges.  You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding.  That was the way the law for charters was set up.  It was the price of admission into Delaware public education.  So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.

Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education.  Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations.  By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns.  But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns.  The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit.  The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding.  But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are.  I have grave issues with that.  And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.

In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:

“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.

What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers?  Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law?  When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school?  When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do?  Massett cherry-picks her statements.  She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true.  And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics?  Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request?  The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information.  And what happened?  Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information.  And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools.  Kendall called that “a myth.”  Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere.  Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration.  It is not legal action.  It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education.  With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way.  For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.

Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas.  At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state.  Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics.  But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools.  They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization.  I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize.  But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from.  It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it.  That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.

In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware.  The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.  He promised billions of dollars to charter schools.  To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  A charter school lover if there ever was one.  I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events.  Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.

In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education.  She will exert her influence on the General Assembly.  If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it.  She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way.  But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole.  If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big.  But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware.  There are other things that perform the same damaging results,  but we can control how this particular relationship evolves.  Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere.  If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games.  And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra.  It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation.  Fair goes both ways.

If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement.  Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of.  It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.

Santa And John

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Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor.  He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat.  In this land, the people chose their Governor  every four years.  The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced.  As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window.  He saw the sun setting in the distance.

John was anxious to get things going in Delaware.  He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017.  “Only 47 days,” John said to himself.  He had been so busy for so long.  Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that.  His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails.  Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware.  He knew not everyone could get a piece.  He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head.  Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed.  John drove to the nearby park.  As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat.  It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered.  John walked down the trail…

Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair.  The elves were busy preparing for the big day.  Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year.  As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted.  Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t.  Today was his day off!  Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware.  Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country.  Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year.  The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business.  He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him.  Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit.  While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted.  At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.

As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans.  He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election.  All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning.  But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it.  The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C.  His office was frantic over the mess.  John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything.  Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well.  John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too.  The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education.  Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way.  John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in.  It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone.  Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.

Santa knew John’s mind was heavy.  As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders.  Leadership always carries a heavy burden.  Santa knew that better than anyone.  Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy.  He always knew John would become a leader.  John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people.  He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont.  Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College.  Santa remembers John’s awards.  As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration.  From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom.  From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger.  He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor.  But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race.  Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them.  A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won.  For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works.  But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor.  After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness.  It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.

John walked down the path.  There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright.  He used to walk down this path many times.  It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand.  John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground.  As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him.  A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.”  John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car.  He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.”  He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day.  “Who are you?” John asked.  “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.”  Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John.  His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was.  “I do have security watching me right now.  They are watching you right now.  So I wouldn’t try anything  They will find you if anything happens to me.”  “No they won’t,” Santa said.  “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?”  John wondered how this guy would know that.  “It’s me, John.  Santa.”

John couldn’t believe his eyes.  As a child, he always believed.  But as children grew older, that magic disappeared.  John saw Santa everywhere this time of year.  He began seeing him in stores as early as October.  But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods.  John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does.  John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him.  Did he visit all the new leaders?  “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids.  Come with me.”  John felt the world spin beneath him.  Santa’s words captured him.  They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time.  John looked at his watch.  It was 6:30pm.

Santa and John got in the sleigh.  The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path.  John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night.  “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked.  John read letters every day.  There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy.  John shook his head.  “Did you send it to me?” John asked.  He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance.  He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk.  “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up.  I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.”  That was a name John was familiar with the past six months.  The blogger.  “You mean the crazy education blogger from DoverThat guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John  “Watch yourself,” Santa warned.  “I have the utmost respect for the blogger.  He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.”  John responded to Santa.  “But he tends to tick off a lot of people.  People I’m going to have to work with.  I was warned to stay away from him.”  Santa’s eyes widened.  “Oh really?  Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized.  “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is?  Let me tell you something John.  You will be a leader of Delaware.  Any state has a foundation from which it must build on.  That foundation is the kids.  Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kidsThere are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth.  You surround yourself with them.  But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear.  But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”

John was familiar with what was going on in education.  He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed.  The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow.  As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting.  When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing.  Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did.  Some never got the jobs back that made them more money.  The cities were becoming too violent again.  Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street.  But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money.  John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places.  He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems.  Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems.  Not now, but down the road.  But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed.  This was happening all over the country.  There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind.  They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.

Santa, where are we going?” John asked.  “To see the children John.”

Uhm, Santa.  We are flying into downtown Wilmington.  No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.”  Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket.  “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.”  Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John.  “They won’t see us now.”  Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building.  The duo went down through the building and to the streets below.  They walked over to the playground next to the building.

In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight.  The boy was shivering as he turned a page.  “Why is this boy out here Santa?  Why doesn’t he go home?”  Santa sighed.  “This is his home John.  He lives on the streets.  During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt.  She is at work right now.”  John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy.  Covering it was a blue tarp.  John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes.  As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground.  The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth.  He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket.  The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips.  Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago.  He belonged to one of the gangs.  During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain.  He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night.  “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.”  John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.

Santa and John flew once more into the night.  It was very quiet between them.  They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them.  John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning.  Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights.  “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly.  They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses.  A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft.  Her mom asked her if she finished her homework.  “I sure did,” the girl said.  “You can check it on Schoology.”  “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked.  “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes.  She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry.  “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled.  As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left.  As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.

They flew down to Georgetown.  John was last there on Return Day in November.  All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”.  But they flew away from the town to a trailer park.  Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother.  A man came into the room.  “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked.  “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered.  The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day.  Kicking around the same ball.  “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty.  What did they say?” John asked.  “The father asked if his children did their homework.  They couldn’t because they can’t read the words.  They don’t know English very well.  They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know.  Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift.  One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally.  The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country.  He doesn’t know English at all.” 

John felt his mind stir as they flew north.  He was very troubled by what he saw.  When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware.  In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him.  When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit.  He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight.  He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand.  “Santa, I should really be getting back.  It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.”  Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. Look at your watch John.  What time is it?”  John looked at his watch in bewilderment.  It was still 6:30pm.  No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail.  “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?”  Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.

The odd couple went into the house.  Inside, a boy was crying on the couch.  His parents were arguing in the kitchen.  “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked.  “I got a call from school.  They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room.  When another teacher found him, he pushed her away.  The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him.  David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained.  “I didn’t get the call until two hours later.  By the time I got there he was so upset.”  “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked.  “I don’t know.  But this is not what his IEP says.  They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him.  He isn’t learning anything there.  He’s depressed all the time.  He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.”  John knelt down in front of the boy.  He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes.  “This boy has no friends John.  The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.”  Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism.  He could do the work, but only under certain conditions.  If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that.  His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli.  Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early.  “Special education John.  If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.

John could see what Santa was doing.  He understood that not every kid is the same.  But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change.  The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years.  Legislative Hall.  Where all the laws in Delaware happened.  John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right.  Inside, a meeting was taking place.  John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room.  There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members.  He knew them.  A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table.  A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed.  She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system.  It was all about proficiency and growth.  Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better.  John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware.  They sit around a table and talk.  This was how things got done.  They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.

You don’t get it!” John cried out.  “We can’t keep testing these kids.  They aren’t the same.  We can’t keep doing this.  Their lives mean so much more than these tests.”  Santa looked at John.  “They can’t hear you.  Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen.  They think they know what is best.  They forget what it was like when they were kids.  Even that man over there.”  Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington.  “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained.  “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school.  The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better.  And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington.  They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom.  The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row.  They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state.  In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room.  The little boy we saw on the playground tonight?  He goes to the poorest school in the state.  Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school.  They don’t understand what he needs.  That legislator over there?  She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state.  In their eyes, it did.  Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%.  To them, that is growth.  The Superintendent over there?  She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school.  She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English.  She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them.  See the man over there?  He runs a charter school in Newark.  They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District.  In return they will get more money in the future.  Remember the girl in the mansion?  She goes to that charter school.  That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school.  He will get less than he has today at school.  The man over there?  He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation.  He sees opportunity.  He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this.  He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools.  He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of.  He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies.  Sometimes they get jobs.  While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow.  They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools.  All that data, all that blessed data.  They store it all.  They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries.  They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law.  It is the way the modern world works John.  Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed.  And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education.  They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community.  They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools.  They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about.  That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department.  Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test.  She sees numbers.  Results.  Scores.  Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4.  She doesn’t see David’s disability.  Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage  in Spanish about the stock market.  She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets.  But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity.  How does she know this?  It’s what her bosses tell her every single day.  She hears the lie so much she believes it.

John and Santa left the building.  As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do.  What he needed to change.  They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did.  “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John.  I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight.  If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.”  John knew this to be true.  “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives.  These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight.  For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was.  They are fighting for these kids, their kids.  And their grandchildren.  They are fighting for their jobs.  They see beyond the results and the growth.  They see what needs to change but no one listens.  No one who can really make a difference.  Some do, but not enough to make the changes.  When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers.  Given less importance.  It isn’t right John.  What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything.  It will only cause more damage.  You can’t incorporate education.  These are children.  You need to change all this.”

John walked out of the sleigh.  He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before.  The two shook hands.  “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself.  You know if I try I will make enemies.  Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.”  Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder.  “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face.  Some succeed and some fail.  Some do it alone and some have support.  All I can say is this John-  remember what you saw tonight.  Every single time you make a decision.  Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults.  You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t.  When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that.  Let that be your shield against your enemies John.”  John hugged Santa.  “Merry Christmas Santa.”  “And to you as well Governor Carney.”  Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”

John looked down at his watch.  It was 6:31pm.  Santa was gone.

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: State Rep Paul Baumbach

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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:

DSEA President Battle Heats Up As Three Vie For The Top Spot

To date, three Delaware educators have announced their intention to run for President of the Delaware State Education Association.  All three have announced this on Facebook.  I know two of them, but I haven’t met the other candidate.  Two of the candidates are running on a ticket with a Vice-President candidate.  Who are these brave souls? Continue reading “DSEA President Battle Heats Up As Three Vie For The Top Spot”

Indian River Loses Referendum, Many Voters Lack Confidence In Leadership

The News Journal is reporting Indian River lost their referendum by a mere 30 votes, with 3,321 for and 3,351 against.  It reminds me of a recent election in our country.  I have no doubt the district will roll the dice with a 2nd attempt in the next couple of months.  But the district has to own up to the audit investigation last week.  By stating the referendum has nothing to do with that report, they are shooting themselves in the foot.  I have a very hard time with Susan Bunting and her credibility at this point.  If Patrick Miller, the former CFO, was controlling everything with finances in the district then she let him do that.  She turned a blind eye to what was going on and that shows a clear lack of leadership.  As well, the Board has the capability of determining the district’s finances.

Bunting said issues need to be addressed across the board to ensure the referendum passes if it is held again. Although an audit was released late last week detailing financial issues over the past five years, Bunting said she won’t blame the audit for the failure for the referendum to pass.

If it was one year or possibly two that Miller played with school finances, that would be one thing.  But this went on a long time.  Even more frightening that it took tips to the Auditor’s office to get to the bottom of it.  Not only was Bunting and the Board asleep at the wheel, so was our state.  What happened in Indian River should give our legislators a wake-up call as well.  They should somehow get funding from somewhere and beef up the State Auditor of Accounts Office.  Every school district and charter school in this state needs a thorough audit.  We cannot continue like this.  Our children lose every single time.  All this talk of extra funding for schools… the funds are already there.  We just need to redefine the existing funding and find a system where those funds are used equitably for all students.  We can’t afford to stick with the status quo and then act shocked when we see reports like the Indian River one last week.

Governor Markell Loses His Voice Tonight. Now Is The Time To Seize The Moment.

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At some point later this evening, Delaware will have a newly elected Governor. No matter who it is, they can’t be worse than Governor Jack Markell. I truly hope I don’t eat those words, but I can’t think of any Delaware politician who has sold out Delaware children to corporations more than Jack. Well, there is one, but I’m really hoping he gets ousted in the 8th Senate District today. If not, I expect some very frosty stares between the two of us come 2017.  But it is also my fervent hope that this particular Senator, no matter what the outcome is today, begins to see deep inside his soul what certain viewpoints on education can have on the state as a whole.  But Jack Markell…

I never gave Delaware politics much thought before 2013. I was just one of those guys who stayed in his own neighborhood and didn’t truly care about the state politics. I couldn’t even tell you who my State Rep was before that year. Or my State Senator. But then things changed in my life and I reached a point where I couldn’t live in my insular little bubble anymore. Circumstances demanded I get involved. When things happen to your child, beyond the point of a parent to control it, something happens. A shifting of thoughts begins and a need for understanding takes over. I may have gone way past the point of sanity most parents do when faced with this reality, but I felt it was my obligation to do all this.   I have regrets, but I also know everyone makes mistakes.  But no one, not even Senator Sokola or Mark Murphy, has ticked me off over education more than Jack Markell.

I quickly learned Jack cares more about corporations and their profits than Delaware students. Sadly, he found a way to combine the two and turned Delaware schools into profit centers for companies that could give two craps about student outcomes. Jack knows this. He knows the only way those companies will continue to flourish is with a steady stream of data and fix-it schemes. I suppose most states have a Jack Markell. How else can we explain the onslaught of Common Core and crappy tests like Smarter Balanced? I also learned Markell and Rodel are two sides of the same coin. They feed off each other, like twin parasites infecting their host.

My worst fear is having to continue beating up on Jack Markell. That would only happen if he were put in a more dangerous position than he is now. I see two potential Cabinet positions he could be placed in if the “nasty woman” wins. I’m hoping a rumor I heard long ago about him taking a Cyber Security position in Israel comes true. I would have loved to sit in a debate with him for a few hours and blown apart his theories and thoughts on education.

The most dangerous thing Jack Markell did with education in Delaware happened before he even became Governor. He did the interview for a man from the Massachusetts Department of Education, in their charter school office. A guy named Dr. Paul Herdman. This set up 12 years of education policy in this state that very closely aligned with what was going on across the country. And those plans aren’t done yet. Both of these men are actually very brilliant. They are strategists of the highest measure. They are futurists who plant seeds that bloom years in the future. I actually find them to be very worthy opponents in that respect. But one half of that equation is coming to an end in this state. And hopefully his replacement will be able to sever that cord.

It will be up to our next Governor to see through all the smoke and mirrors involved with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Whoever our new Governor is, I will attempt to meet with him. I intend to have a very long conversation with him, if he will let me, and let him know what I know. Maybe he already knows it already. Maybe he doesn’t. But I truly don’t want to fight him. I will give him a fresh and clean slate from day one, regardless of whatever policies he may have come out with during his campaign. I will also give every single member of the General Assembly that same respect, regardless of what may have happened pre-January 2017. They can choose to hang on to the past and hold a grudge against me.  I haven’t been easy on many.  But whether they are new or old, it is a new day. This also goes for the Department of Education and the State Board of Education. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to expose what I find out, or file FOIA requests or complaints if something happens. Everything I have fought for will continue. But I won’t do it alone.

There are many who are on my side of things on many issues. There are some who are just now beginning to see the big picture. There are those who can’t see the forest through the trees. There are so many moving parts to education and understanding the full scope of it all takes time and patience. But I refuse to allow any child to be a guinea pig or a pawn for profit. I refuse to let their personal data go out to anyone who makes one penny off it. I refuse to let our Department of Education get away with what they have been doing.

January won’t just see new leaders in politics. We will also have new leadership in the Delaware State Education Association. Knowing what little I know about potential leaders and conversation that has taken place in the last week based on a few of my posts, I firmly believe that change in leadership can’t come quick enough. But we also need changes in the charter school landscape. For far too long, advocates for charters have ignored the elephant in the room. I am not saying it is all of them, but those with the loudest voices tend to get what they want. The funding and equity issues involved are killing us as a state. I personally believe there is enough funding in our state budget as it currently stands to have every child get the resources they need. There is a ton of wasted money being spent. We just have to convince the 149th Delaware General Assembly of this fact despite what will be a tsunami of opposition from districts and charter schools alike. I am leaning towards a weighted funding system more and more but not before we make sure every single district and charter schools is held fully accountable for the funds they already have.

The next six months are going to be very slippery in Delaware. One wrong move could send Delaware education sliding off the cliff. Now will be the time for voices like never before. Opt out was a drop in the bucket. But I don’t see those voices. Not front and center. Parents need to speak up like they never have before. They need to be louder than the state, louder than the administrators, and louder than our legislators. We need to become a force to be reckoned with. We need to organize and band together. We won’t agree on everything, but I think the majority of parents in this state can agree that what we have now is not working. We need to make sure Rodel is reduced to a low decibel noise that doesn’t hold the weight it used to. We need to make sure Delaware education is what we want, not what corporations want. This does not mean increased membership in the Delaware PTA either, but they will play a role. You will be hearing from me on this more in the next few weeks. Eyes will open to things that have happened right underneath all our noses with no one the wiser.

I need you. Our children need you. We are Delaware, not them. We need to finally make sure that is understood. We need to end the discrimination and segregation in this state. We need to end the racism that is underneath it all. We need to end the hate and make peace with the past. It is the only way we can truly move forward. I won’t have all the answers. You won’t. But maybe together, we can figure it out.

Tony Allen: Lawsuit Coming If We Don’t Fix Wilmington Schools

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.