Exclusive: A Delaware Legislator Is Not The Hero For Public Education They Appear To Be

I’ve been wrestling with something for a long time now.  I found out something.  Something big.  Usually my first instinct is to get it out there.  But this was BIG, and if I was wrong about it, it could have shot me in the foot.  It concerns a legislator and an election.  But more than that, it concerned friends.  Friends who are very supportive of this particular legislator.  I’ve had wrestling matches in my head before about these kind of things, but usually the need for truth prevails.  This time though, it was different.  Continue reading

Charters Making Out Like Bandits With Minor Capital Improvements Loophole!

Delaware State Representative John Kowalko requested information on how much Delaware charters are getting in minor capital improvement funding through Governor Markell’s proposed budget.  In the past three fiscal years, Delaware charters were allowed to receive $351,857 total from the state budget.  This year, Markell has an astonishing $1,587,310 allocated for charter school minor capital funding.  This is approximately four and a half times the average yearly amount.  Kowalko is not happy about this and asked to share this letter he wrote his colleagues in the 148th General Assembly.

Dear Colleagues,

Here is the amount of minor cap improvement money spent on Charter School facilities. This is out of a proposed $11 million in the Governor’s budget for MCI allotted for all public schools in Delaware including the many crumbling and outdated buildings in Wilmington and elsewhere.  It should not be necessary to point out to all of you that none of these charter school facilities are owned in whole or part by Delaware taxpayers and every dollar spent goes to enhancing the value of privately owned facilities. Not one penny will come back to the taxpayer if these buildings are sold or abandoned. This is an abuse of taxpayer monies and an abdication of our responsibilities to those taxpayers.

Representative John Kowalko
A voice of reason in an out of control charter friendly General Assembly!
And here are the amount each charter will get.  Of course, this is subject to the approval of the General Assembly when they pass the budget.

CharterMinorCapFundingPt1

CharterMinorCapFundingPt2

Yeah, I wasn’t too happy when I saw this either.  So aside from this surplus funding which was not part of the original charter school law but got added in to House Bill 165 in 2013, charters also get funds from the charter school performance fund, the charter school transportation slush fund, and many donations from places like the Longwood Foundation, Rodel, and The Welfare Foundation along with others.  When will the madness stop?  Kendall Massett spoke at the House Education Committee meeting last week to speak against House Bill 231, sponsored by State Rep. Sean Matthews.  His bill would require charters to have all teachers as part of the state retirement fund.  Massett spoke against it stating that the original charter school bill allowed charters to have extra flexibility from state bureaucracy.  But apparently when it benefits the charters, they don’t speak out against that…

16 To Watch In 2016: State Senator Colin Bonini

ColinBonini

For the past six months, I have heard the entire state of Delaware talk about how John Carney is the heir apparent to the Governor’s mansion.  Because he is a Democrat.  Because he should have become the Governor in 2008.  On the Republican side, the leading contender is State Senator Colin Bonini.  For the past 21 years, Bonini has been a Delaware State Senator, winning every election.  He did run for State Treasurer in 2010, but lost to Democrat Chip Flowers.

Bonini will definitely be one to watch in the coming year.  Many Delawareans are not happy with the “one-party rule” that has existed in the First State for many years.  With education a complete mess, a looming budget deficit, and a general feeling of unhappiness with our state government, it may just be a time that is ripe for change.  There have been no Republican governors in Delaware since 1993.  Many feel that John Carney will just be “Jack Markell light”.

Bonini has been preparing for the election drumming up support from many different areas of the state.  As recently as December 1st, Bonini sent a letter to the leadership of the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate to request the creation of a standing Civil Rights committee in the Delaware General Assembly.  I think this is an excellent idea!

boninicivilrights

In terms of voting history on crucial education matters, Bonini voted yes on the very controversial charter school bill, House Bill 165 and yes on the equally controversial Senate Bill 51, concerning teacher educator licensure.  On the flip side though, Bonini voted no on the Smarter Balanced Assessment bill, House Bill 334, and voted yes for House Bill 50, the parent opt-out legislation Governor Markell vetoed last summer.  His primary opponent, John Carney, voted yes for the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Last summer, Carney voted no for an opt-out bill introduced earlier in the year.  I think it would be foolhardy for everyone to assume Carney has this in the bag.  While Carney has been strolling around the corridors of Washington D.C., Bonini has been in the first state tackling a lot of the issues.  His loss to Flowers in 2010 was very narrow, with Flowers carrying 51% of the vote for State Treasurer.

Both candidates need to speak openly and candidly about education in Delaware.  This conversation needs to start now.

 

Delaware MET Needs To Return Their $175,000 Charter School Performance Fund

First off, I don’t think any charter school that has not even opened should be getting a “performance award”.  They haven’t done anything yet.  Second of all, it is obvious their “long-term” strategy for this school didn’t work as they are closing a little over a month after they opened.  Third, if they don’t, I know at least two legislators who will be screaming foul on this.  And rightly so.  Finally, they should openly, honestly, and with great transparency return ALL unused funds immediately.

The Delaware
Met
$250,000 $175,000 High-quality plans for start-up or expansion; AND Serve high-need students Start-Up Costs Funds may not be used for marketing materials or mentor appreciation/exhibition events No

In the above chart, it was taken straight from the 2015-2016 list of Charter School Performance Award winners.  They requested $250,000 for “start-up” costs, even though they already received $250,000 from the Longwood Foundation in 2014.  They won the $175,000 out of the $250k requested.  In their application for the performance fund the school stated they needed a special education coordinator in the amount of $46,000.00 to “ensure we can meet the needs of our high IEP student population“.  Don’t federal funds coming under the IDEA-B allocation already cover that need based on how many special education students they already have?  This means the school already knew they would be having a lot of students with disabilities and they had not even hired a coordinator as of July 7th of this year, a month and a half before they opened.

The big question is where these funds even come from.  Do they come from the DOE, or somewhere else in the Delaware Government?  If you look at Delaware Online Checkbook, it shows them receiving $39.83 in revenue this year. These are funds that have already been sent to these schools. So where is the money and where did it go to? Why isn’t it being reported by the state?

To be on the safe side, I checked Kuumba Academy who received $425,000 last year as their charter school performance fund. This was announced after Fiscal Year 2015 started.  Even though the budget states the charter school performance fund comes from the General Fund, since the funds are allocated to a specific purpose (i.e. a special education coordinator), it would then go the Special Fund once the General Fund sends funds to that allocation. In the bill for Fiscal Year 2015, on page 59 of this pdf: Senate Bill 225 Final FY2015 Budget it shows $1.5 million allocated to the charter school performance fund, coming out of the General Fund.  But Kuumba shows no revenue in their General Fund for FY2015 on Delaware Online Checkbook.  So it had to come out of what is called the special fund. But the only special fund items listed with an amount higher than $425,000 are “Donation Contributions” of which Kuumba received $1,671,735.39. $500,000 of that was a donation from the Longwood Foundation at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015. And in their May 2015 board meeting minutes, Kuumba’s board announced they were getting another $1 Million from them as well. So that is $1.5 million alone in their “Donation Contributions” section which is the only place $425,000 could have possibly gone. But it doesn’t fit with $1.5 million being donated by Longwood, so where is it?

Even though the Delaware MET is showing less than $40.00 in revenue, that doesn’t mean the $175,000 wasn’t sent to them. It’s just a question of where, in the maze that is Delaware funding, the hell it is.  This charter school performance fund is one of the abominations that sprang out of House Bill 165 during the first half of the 147th General Assembly back in 2013.  Maybe the 2nd half of the 148th General Assembly can get rid of this monstrous waste in taxpayer funds by next June, and save the state some semblance of money.

Opt-Out Haters Of Delaware: Who is Senator David Sokola And How Has He Damaged Public Education For A Quarter Of A Century?

Delaware Senator David Sokola certainly had his moments with parents this legislative session, myself included.  After a tumultuous four and a half months in the General Assembly, House Bill 50 eventually passed.  Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill to the amazement and anger of, well, Delaware.  But the fallout from that one bill may echo into the second part of the 148th General Assembly as a potential veto override could take place as early as January, or barring some miracle where the General Assembly agrees to come back in special session between now and then.  While State Rep. Earl Jaques was certainly the biggest obstacle in the House of Representatives, Senator Sokola was clearly the largest obstacle of the bill as a whole.

I wondered why a State Senator who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee would oppose legislation that would codify the rights of parents to opt their child out of harmful testing.  I did some research on Sokola, and found his legislator history is filled with controversial education bills.  Over the last twenty-five years, he has served as a State Senator in the First State.

In 1995, Sokola was instrumental in getting the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200, passed.  When Newark Charter School opened, Sokola was a board member and helped create the school.  According to Kilroy’s Delaware, Senator Sokola sponsored legislation in 2002 that repealed the law surrounding the impact of new charters on other schools in the area.  This led to Kilroy blasting the Senator in 2013 when he wrote a letter of recommendation for the never-opened Pike Creek Charter School, which was within his own district.  Last year though, legislation sponsored by Sokola brought this law back into place with Senate Bill 209.

In another article, Kilroy slammed Sokola for creating the DSTP in Delaware.  The DSTP was the state standardized assessment prior to DCAS, and was widely considered to be just as damaging as the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“Many forget or might not know Senator Sokola is the godfather of DSTP the former standardized student test that was flawed from day(one)! Remember those 3-tiered diplomas grading student(s) based on one test like sides of beef in the supermarket.”

In fact, Sokola was opposed to DCAS and wanted another kind of standardized assessment in Delaware, but he was not granted his wish, and Delaware received the kinder and friendlier DCAS.  But last year, Sokola was the Senate sponsor for the very controversial House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment into Delaware State Code.  It would stand to reason he would oppose a measure whereby the state recognized and honored a parent’s right to opt out of a state assessment he sponsored legislation for.

In 2013, Sokola co-sponsored a bill to update the original Senate Bill 200 charter school law.  This one brought out a lot of fighting in Delaware and helped set up some of the current animosity against the Delaware Charter School Network.  House Bill 165 went through more amendments that were defeated or stricken than any bill in recent memory.  It set up the whole transportation slush fund and the annual charter school performance award.  The bill went through in a little less than a month with local school districts even more afraid of the impact a slew of charter schools would have on their enrollment and funding.  Side deals occurred like crazy, and the blogger Kavips gave a list of the reasons why House Bill 165 was a very bad bill.

Another Sokola sponsored legislation caused the current wave of teacher resentment against the DOE with Senate Bill 51.  This very controversial bill created the harsher evaluations currently used against Delaware educators.  While the educators have received a two-year pass from the Smarter Balanced Assessment impacting their evaluations, there is plenty in this bill that ticked teachers off.  And John Young with Transparent Christina warned citizens of Delaware:

“So, we have a group of legislators who have signed on, including my own Senator. But why? Well, I can only guess because it sounds so good and intuitive and simple and pure. All of which, when you are talking education should make your spine crawl.”

His latest offering to Delaware, signed by Markell yesterday, is Senate Joint Resolution #2.  Like most Sokola offerings, this bill looks really great on the surface, but it is injected with a poison.  SJR #2 is a convening of a group to look at district and state assessments and pick out which ones are good and which ones are bad.  Kids are over-tested, sure.  But this bill all but guarantees the further implementation of Common Core as assessments will be picked that are aligned with the state standards.  This will give districts less autonomy in figuring out what struggles students are having and how they can help them.  SJR #2 is filled with controversy.  Shana Young with the DOE sent out an email in early May fully stating this bill was designed to be a counter to the parent opt-out bill, House Bill 50.  When I submitted a FOIA for this email, the DOE claimed it never existed even though I have seen it with my own two eyes.

During the Senate Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50, Sokola graciously allowed the opponents of House Bill 50 all the time they wanted for public comment, but stopped the supporters short and towards the end would interrupt them.  He then introduced an amendment to House Bill 50 when it came up for a Senate vote all but guaranteeing it would kick the bill back to the House of Representatives for another vote.  It did just that, and another amendment put on the bill by Senator Bryan Towsend almost killed the bill, but common sense prevailed and Townsend’s amendment was shot down after a 2nd vote.

I am sure Sokola is presently making the rounds about an override of House Bill 50.  It would need a 3/5ths vote in both houses to pass, and I have no doubt Sokola and his counterpart but not so smart buddy in the House Earl Jaques are making the calls as I write this.

A pattern begins to form with Senator Sokola’s greatest hits.  Rigorous testing, more charter schools and autonomy for them that they clearly don’t deserve, and what many view as unfair accountability for teachers.  Sokola has gone on record as recently as last month in saying we need to compete with other countries with standardized assessments, but he seems to forget that was the argument two years ago for Common Core.  It is very hard for me to trust any legislation introduced by Senator David Sokola when it comes to education, cause something always seems to come back to bite public schools and educators in the ass, with the exception of his beloved charter schools.   He has used his position and created multiple conflicts of interest but the Delaware Senate looks the other way.  Just like the Delaware Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education seem to want.  In a sense, Sokola could be directly blamed for the current status of segregation in Wilmington with his original charter school legislation and his demands for rigorous standardized testing that has done more damage to schools than anything Governor Markell could ever hope to do.  He will pretend to stand up for black students, but his actions speak otherwise.

Senator Sokola is up for re-election in 2016.  Will he run again, or does he possibly have something else lined up now that he has retired from DuPont?  Rumors circulate, but at this time they are just that.  Will he fade into oblivion or end up running some huge charter management company in Wilmington?  Or will someone finally hold this man accountable for his actions?