In Defense Of Andria Bennett

I’ve seen a ton of hate pointed at State Rep. Andria Bennett since her momentous decision last Thursday night.  The whole House Bill 240 personal income tax vote.  She didn’t like what it would do to itemized deductions.  She heard from her constituents.  She did what a State Rep. is supposed to do: represent.  Let’s face it, it was a crappy bill in an even crappier situation.

It isn’t the Republicans who are trouncing her.  It is her own party.   Even some of her own colleagues in the House.  That is just wrong.  There is someone out there with a fake name called Delaware Way.  When I got the friend request, I thought it was Nancy Willing because her blog is called The Delaware Way.   But last night I defriended this anonymous troll who is NOT Nancy Willing.  This anonymous Facebook personality was bashing Bennett very hard with ugly words that are public.  This person told me to get off my high horse.  That’s fine, I own that.  I’ve been hard on many in Delaware politics at one point or another.  But I don’t bring out heavy curse words in my descriptions of elected officials.  I learned my lesson from doing that ONCE with DSEA over opt out.  And it hurt my reputation for a long time.  But I never went after someone personally and out of the realm of their lives as a public figure.  That is the key difference.

This is what I know about Rep. Bennett.  When the IEP Task Force was created back in 2014, I hounded the legislators to add parents to the task force.  I received responses from many that it was a done deal.  But Rep. Bennett, along with a few others, got the Delaware Senate to rescind their vote, add an amendment to add parents, and vote again on the concurrent resolution.  Last year, when I ran for the Capital School Board, she wrote a letter endorsing me.  This year, I watched her fight hard for a cursive bill that passed the House and Senate.  She voted against the budget back in 2015 along with five other legislators.  They were all branded by their own party as Benedict Arnolds but they all showed courage in the face of kicking the can.  That same can blew up all over the state budget this year.  She always says hi to me when I see her, unlike some down at Legislative Hall.  I am sure if I dug around a bit, there are votes she has cast that I would like and hate.  They all have those votes.

I have no doubt in the world she upset a lot of plans last Thursday night.  But the reality is simple: House Bill 240 was NEVER going to pass the Delaware Senate.  With 10 Republicans out of 21 Senators, on a vote that required a 3/5th vote?  It wasn’t going to happen.  If anything, Bennett saved the bill from an even bigger defeat.  There was NO door opening if it passed the House.  It was going to die no matter what.

The General Assembly is messed up.  The leadership is horrible.  If we don’t have legislators on the Right storming out instead of actually voting, we have certain Dems falling all over each other congratulating themselves on their monumental victory last night.  Schwartzkopf is not a good leader.  He is a great micro-manager though.  One of those bosses who is all over you if you do something he doesn’t like.  And he STILL hasn’t returned my email I sent to him a few weeks ago.  Bennett would within 24-48 hours, no questions asked.  And she isn’t even my State Representative!

Like every legislator, they wear different hats.  They have the face they put on in front of the public as an elected official.  But then they go home to their families and loved ones and they are just like anyone else.  So to trounce Bennett the way I’ve seen, calling her the things I’ve seen, that is despicable.  You didn’t like her vote?  That’s fine.  But don’t take it so personal.  She is a human being just like Pete and Val and John and Kim and Danny and Tim and all the rest of them.  She has a family and friends.  She had her reasons.  Get over it!

Behind The Scenes Discussion At Legislative Hall Could Result In 2% Pay Cut Or Major Increase In Healthcare Costs For ALL State Employees

*Please go to the end of the article for an update on this developing situation.

While it has not been “officially” confirmed, I am hearing leadership in our state government is talking about giving ALL Delaware state employees a 2% cut in pay for FY2018.  The only exception would be prison guards due to the negotiated agreement with them.  The other possible option is increasing health insurance premiums by 50%.  This is going on behind closed doors folks with ZERO transparency.  None.  It is the day before they are supposed to be passing a budget and it has not been released to the public at all.  There is NO option to get your voice heard.

The House and Senate are taking a break to eat dinner.  They should be back on the floor around 8:30pm.  Longhurst’s House Bill #240 which could gut itemized deductions in Delaware and raise YOUR taxes will get a vote.  From the legislators and folks down there I’ve been talking to, the legislators are in a panic mode with Governor Carney seemingly clueless.  No budget has been written.  This is not good folks.  At all.  I’ve heard the cuts in the budget referred to as a “bloodbath”.  We have school boards able to raise taxes through the match tax scam.  We have charters keeping their transportation slush fund.  We axed the estate tax.  There is ZERO organization here folks.  And I won’t even get into the damn bickering between the Dems and the Republicans.  Grow up.  We don’t care.  Do the right thing for our state!

So this is what you need to do citizens of Delaware: get to Legislative Hall tomorrow night around 5pm and swarm every single legislator you can.  Show up IN PERSON.

Ironically, the “Find Your Legislator” portion of the Delaware General Assembly website appears to be not working.  At least for me.  But you view a full list in the blue links here:

Delaware Senators

Delaware State Representatives

This absolute crap and farce of a state government has been operating in the shadows for far too long.  They know this is going to hurt every single state employee but they want to rush this budget and then head off on Summer vacation.  This is shady and it is happening now.  We have State Reps joking around about last names, taking up time when there could be meaningful conversation that the public can here about all this.  I heard one state rep ask for a bill to be tabled until January because of the public’s need to know more about the budget.  Schwartzkopf shot him down.  I don’t know which rep it was, but we need to hear more of that.

Remember, tomorrow.  Make YOUR voice heard LOUD and CLEAR!

Updated 6/30/17, 1:24pm: David Burris, the Chief of Staff for the Delaware Senate Republicans put a response up on Facebook that there has been zero discussion about pay cuts on their side of the aisle.

Chaos At Legislative Hall In Dover

Legislative Hall was a very odd place this afternoon around 4pm.  Usually the place is bustling on a Wednesday afternoon, but since yesterday’s announcement by party leadership that no “controversial” bills would be heard until the budget is passed, it was eerily quiet.  Of course the lobbyists were milling around, but the tone was very subdued.

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee met today and added $51 million in cuts to education and healthcare for a total of $88 million cuts.  Rumors were swirling that Democrats in the House were turning on their own because they won’t vote for the budget if it includes House Bill 240, State Rep. Val Longhurst’s very weak revenue bill.  Turns out the Democrat leadership sent those legislators to the Principal’s office (aka Governor Carney) over the past couple of days.  Way to turn on your own!  And they even got a few of the Delaware labor organizations (including DSEA) to rattle those legislators cages.

The Republicans introduced a resolution to extend state services for 30 days during July if the budget doesn’t pass.  I saw Mike Jackson who runs the Office of Management and Budget briefly and asked if we had a budget.  His response…  “For now.”  Which doesn’t mean much given no one has voted on it yet.  But the epilogue language is being written.  Grant-in-aid got slashed from $51 million to $8 million so good luck to those non-profits!

Meanwhile, the House voted on House Joint Resolution #6, directing the DOE to come up with regulations surrounding gender identity issues in Delaware schools.  Reps. Dukes and Smyk asked questions about it which basically meant they were opposed to the bills.  As one observer put it, there was definitely some “transhomophobia” in the House chamber.  The bill passed the House.  Expect similar resistance in the Senate.

Two Senators were there today who hadn’t been in the latter part of last week.  Senator Bryan Townsend’s wife had a baby boy last week.  Meanwhile Senator Brian Pettyjohn had some other stuff to straighten out.

I had some good chats with some folks.  Asked some pointed questions to a few so I am hoping to find out some answers on those in the next few days.  One of them has to do with the series of articles I’ve been writing about Smyrna.  It’s kind of putting a delay on Part 6.  I am hoping the answer is positive.

Some of us talking were in agreement the State Board of Education isn’t going anywhere.  The Delaware Dept. of Education will pick up the $213,000 tab for them.  Today the Senate confirmed former Delaware Senator Liane Sorenson as an at-large member of the State Board of Education.  I met her briefly and enjoyed our conversation.  She did confirm she reads Exceptional Delaware so that is always a plus in my book!

The next two days are going to be absolutely crazy down there.  If I’m not there tomorrow, I definitely will be on Friday.  That is an education blogger MUST!  I am hoping to get more of the Smyrna series up tomorrow.  But it depends on that one answer on how I move forward with this.

Oh yeah, the Blockchain legislation, House Bill #226, passed the Delaware Senate.  I anticipate Governor Carney will sign that faster than the Flash.  And so it begins…

I can’t for the life of me figure out why they aren’t moving forward with State Rep. John Kowalko’s franchise tax for companies incorporated in Delaware.  It would raise the fee from $300 to $325.00 and would raise $43 million in revenue.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  The last time that happened, there were 500,000 companies incorporated in Delaware when they raised it from $275 to $300.  Opponents feared it would cause companies to leave Delaware.  Now we have around 800,000 companies incorporated in Delaware.  Bills that make common sense should sail through, but we aren’t dealing with common sense in leadership at Legislative Hall these days, so once again, I digress…

It is late June in Dover, Delaware.  62 elected officials will attempt to decide how our state is run.  I trust a handful of them.  Pray for us, rest of the United States of America.  We need your prayers more than ever!

Updated with essential article from Delaware Public Media: http://delawarepublic.org/post/jfc-eliminates-grants-nonprofits-fire-companies-senior-centers-balance-budget

Updated again, 3:29pm, 6/29/2017: This article has been corrected to reflect that there were zero no votes for Liane Sorenson’s confirmation on the State Board of Education.

After-School SAIL Program Stuck In Harbor

The Delaware SAIL program, the legislation created by Valerie Longhurst is dead in the water, at least for this General Assembly.  As per the latest email from the Delaware House Democrats…

SAIL Program Put on Hold

With the state facing a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall requiring many difficult cuts, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst on Thursday announced she would put on hold her bill to create a new afterschool program providing homework help, enrichment activities and an extended school meal plan.

The program, dubbed the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Program, was designed to help students become more effective learners and achieve better outcomes both in and outside their classrooms. However, House Bill 240 carried a $7 million price tag. Even with a drafted amendment to make it a pilot program and decrease the cost, Rep. Longhurst said Delaware’s budget crunch necessitated hard decisions.

“I am committed to creating a quality afterschool program that will keep kids engaged, boost attendance and enhance literacy, improving the likelihood that our students will stay in school and earn their diplomas,” said Rep. Longhurst, who sits on the board of directors for the Bear-Glasgow YMCA and Police Athletic League of Delaware.

“However, when I look at the full picture of our budget, I know we cannot afford it this year. It’s hard to ask for money for this program when we simply don’t have the funds for many basic state functions and have to make tough cuts across state government. This was a really difficult decision because I have seen firsthand the need to increase children’s access to quality afterschool programs.”

As part of the move to put a hold on HB 240, Rep. Longhurst also announced her intention to create a task force including afterschool stakeholders that would review afterschool programs in Delaware; how funds are spent; how to target children not currently being served; and how to best close those gaps.

Social Impact Bonds: Will They Happen In Delaware Or Are They Already Here?

social-impact-bonds

Social Impact Bonds, or “Pay For Success” programs, exist in many states around the country.  To date, Delaware has only participated in a handful of these kinds of programs and none in the education arena.  Social Impact Bonds began in the United Kingdom and since 2011, companies have slowly started bringing them to different states.  Basically, these are programs where an investor (like Goldman Sachs) decides they can change some type of society issue (like getting pre-Kindergartners the resources they need so they don’t have to go into special education programs when they enter elementary school).  They go to the state, sign a very lengthy contract, and based on the goal (like 99% of over 200 students in Pre-K programs won’t get IEPs after their investment) and they get the money back.  If they exceed the goal, they may get more (like $277,000 for Goldman Sachs in the Utah Pre-K special education prevention program).

This issue has come up a bit in the past couple months because of a few entries in the Every Student Succeeds Act mentioning Pay For Success.  Today, Diane Ravitch wrote about it again based on a recent editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune by two federal US government employees.  One of them is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy and Early Learning at the US Department of Education, Libby Doggett, and the other is the Director of The White House Office of Social Innovation, David Wilkinson.

Instead of tearing down new ideas and innovative approaches before they have even had the chance to be fully implemented, let’s applaud those who recognize the urgency of educating children differently and better. Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s celebrate what’s working and improve where we are learning lessons.

The validity of the Utah Pay For Success program came under immediate scrutiny because of the 99% victory Goldman Sachs claimed.  Issues immediately surfaced around the reliability of the district’s data when it came to being able to identify these students for special education services.  This could never happen in Delaware though, right?  I wouldn’t be too sure about that.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell is all too aware of what Goldman Sachs was doing in Utah.  In fact, he praised them for it in a joint editorial in the online magazine called Roll Call in December, 2014.  In the opinion piece, Markell and his co-contributor stated:

In Salt Lake County, Mayor Ben McAdams is pioneering a new way for government to focus on what works best. Knowing the impact that quality pre-kindergarten programs have, particularly in lower-income communities, McAdams is using Pay for Success Bonds, where private investors pay for the up-front costs of pre-school and get paid back if the programs succeed in saving taxpayers money from fewer at-risk kids using more expensive programs such as special ed. This pay-for-success model gives government the tools to fund an ounce of evidence-based prevention on the front end out of cost savings on the back end—and can be applied to a variety of social services.

The same year, a company called Start It Up Delaware formed.  Using Social Impact Bonds as their source of funding to new companies, the company was formed based on capital provided by Discover Bank.  The funding for the Social Impact Bonds came from the Delaware Community Foundation, also the chief source of funding for the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  While this particular company did not begin any education related projects, the link back to the Delaware Community Foundation and in turn, Rodel, could open this possibility in Delaware.  Markell was also well aware of this venture because he gave the opening remarks at their launch reception in June of 2014.

In 2013, Newsworks wrote about a program Delaware participated in along with the Corporation for National and Community Service.  This initiative placed AmeriCorps members in Delaware to give relief to the National Guard.  The program used part of its funding from Social Innovation Funds.  Markell, along with US Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper, was on hand for the big announcement.

Last summer, the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services met to plan a potential new program called “Healthy Neighborhoods”.  One of the potential long-term funding machines for this initiative is social impact bonds.  In fact, the Chair of the Delaware Center for Health Innovation is also the Executive Chairman of Innovative School Development Corporation, Matt Swanson.  It was his idea for social impact bonds as part of the funding for the Healthy Neighborhoods project.  In the meeting minutes for the Delaware Health Care Commission, from July 2nd, 2015, Swanson explained the concept of social impact bonds:

Dennis Rochford asked how social impact bonds work in terms of the long term sustainable funding. Mr. Swanson stated that a social impact bond is a funding mechanism that allows philanthropy. Instead of making one time grants that have an end date it is more of a renewable approach where philanthropy can come in through bond funding that will eventually be repaid through marketable innovations that have a future cash flow. Sometimes that offset of dollars is measured against social impact. Instead of repaying actual dollars on the bond there is a measurable impact that offsets the dollar repayment.

And where would these funds come from?

Mr. Swanson stated that they have state resources available and have had multiple meetings with the Delaware Community Foundation.

Not to get off point, but to read the minutes for this Healthy Neighborhoods initiative as well as the presentation on it, go here and here.

So we have the Delaware Community Foundation/Rodel connection, and now an Innovative Schools connection.  Anyone else?

There could be a very large part of the Delaware Department of Education looking to use social impact bonds in their initiatives, especially since their funding from Race To The Top expired on June 30th, 2015.  The Office of Early Learning, which oversees pre-Kindergarten in Delaware, is getting $11 million in Governor Markell’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, if approved by the General Assembly.  But I could easily see this area of the DOE utilizing the part of Every Student Succeeds Act to bring in investors to “Pay For Success” in Delaware nursery schools.  I recently attended a presentation by the Director of the Office of Early Learning, Susan Perry-Manning, at the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago.  She talked about the funding this program needs now that the feds money has dried up.  Throughout the presentation I heard the words “corporation” and “business” several times.  It wasn’t just myself that took notice of that either.

In terms of legislation which would allow this in Delaware, it already happened when nobody was even thinking about it.  Last year, Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Bill 75 which allows more advantages to “social enterprising” companies incorporated in Delaware.  According to The National Law Review, this bill was huge:

Although not an early adopter of social enterprise legislation, Delaware has become one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in which social enterprises are incorporated, and is now home to some of the largest and best known benefit corporations, including newcomers Laureate Education, Inc. and Kickstarter, PBC.  Along with other amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL), Senate Bill 75, which was signed by Governor Jack Markell on June 24, 2015, amended Delaware’s public benefit corporation law (Sections 361-368 of the DGCL), effective August 1, 2015.

While I am certainly delving into areas outside of my comfort zone when it comes to corporations, I’m seeing this as a backdoor entrance for “benefit for profit” corporations to operate easier.  Was this done in anticipation of the Every Student Succeeds Act?  It wouldn’t surprise me.  I doubt Senator Townsend was aware of this unintended consequence, but Markell signed it and it is now a part of Delaware State Code.  House Bill 235, which was recently passed in the Delaware House of Representatives, could definitely be seen as a boon to companies looking to start-up in Delaware.  This bill, introduced on January 8th of this year and shot through the General Assembly at lightning speed and signed by Governor Markell on January 27th, “reforms Delaware’s business tax code to incentivize job creation and investment in Delaware, to make Delaware’s tax structure more competitive with other states, and to support small business by making tax compliance less burdensome.”  As well as potentially being a pawn in the opt-out House Bill 50 veto override scheme, House Bill 235 would certainly benefit Markell’s education buddies in the corporate world if they planted their company flag in Delaware.

As I told folks on a Facebook thread about social impact bonds earlier today, if Delaware ever tried something like what Utah did with Goldman Sachs, I would not rest until social impact bonds were gone from Delaware.  But since many of these type of companies tend to incorporate in Delaware, we have opened up the gates for the rest of the country and the Social Impact Bond invasion.  This is just yet another example of the raiding of public education dollars in another Ponzi corporate education reform scheme.

 

 

Governor Markell Shuts Parents Out Again! SAIL Afterschool Program Has Dangerous Red Flags! Beware!

I just don’t get it.  What is it with this Governor and parents?  House Bill 240, the legislation behind the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Program was officially released today.  I have several issues with this legislation.  Before I get into that though, I do believe afterschool programs for kids are extremely helpful if done right and in moderation.  But I have grave reservations with this program due to data release, the use of non-profits in this, and the amount of time kids are away from their homes.  I agree that activities students can get involved in after school are very dangerous, especially in our cities.  But this bill seems like it is very rushed.  It is already on the Delaware House Education Committee meeting tomorrow.

First off, as per the below legislation, the whole purpose of this is so students can “meet challenging State academic standards“.  As part of this program, a new council would be developed called The Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning Council.  Sure, you would want to have some type of organization for a program like this.  Surely parents would be a part of this, right?  Wrong!  There are NO slots for parents on this council.  But it will have three members of non-profit organizations.  No Delaware PTA representation, no teachers, no special education teachers, no charter school representation, no health providers, no psychologists or psychiatrists, and NO PARENTS!  They want Delaware students and schools that “meet the approved state indication for low socioeconomic status” to be eligible for the SAIL program, but they don’t want ANY parents on this council?  They expect to have children staying afterschool for four to five days a week for three hours and they don’t want parent input?

Since this looks like it will be partly run by non-profits, the idea of a “data share” between teachers and the afterschool coordinators that are NOT employees of the state or the schools is frightening in my opinion.  “A computer based student information system” will be implemented with what?  What safeguards are in place to prevent student data from getting out there more than what it already has?

As a “means to measure the program“, school attendance and grades and at least one (but it can be all) of these factors shall be used: behavior evaluation through school discipline reports, surveys of teachers, standardized test scores, criminal justice records, physical health evaluations, student and parent surveys, class participation, course completion, homework completion, and afterschool program attendance.  That is a huge amount of data that would be put into outside hands, away from the school district and local control.

It seems like Delaware and the feds want children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to essentially became wards of the state for the vast majority of their academic lives.  And the potential data sharing has red flags all over it.  I could easily see Rodel becoming involved in this initiative.  I would NOT want my child’s health or behavioral or any type of information going to them, period.  And who decides who gets the program and who doesn’t?  The Delaware Department of Education.  I cannot support this bill as written.  I’m sure more will come out about it, and I would hope to God our legislators have the good sense to ask all the questions I have and more.

According to the Every Student Succeeds Act, these “21st Century Community Learning Centers” will require 95% of the grant funds will go to the Local Education Authority (districts or charter schools), only 1% can be used for administrative purposes, and the rest can be used for state activities.  If this law is already indicating non-profits must be used, isn’t that already stripping the local school districts of any control over how the program is created?  Yes, there are three Superintendents on the SAIL Council, the DSEA President, and the Secretary of Education (or his designated representative), but that is an extremely small amount of representation for programs that have 95% of the funds going to the districts or charters.  And sorry, I don’t trust the DOE or their ability to disperse these funds with fidelity and honesty.

According to this release  from the National Council of State Legislatures, activities for these programs can include “music and the arts as tools to support student success through the promotion of constructive student engagement, problem solving, and conflict resolution.”  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that was the purpose of students learning music and art.  I thought it was so they could expand their creativity.  Who writes these things?  It doesn’t sound like anyone who is around children and teenagers too much.  This guidance also states “mental health services” could be used at the learning centers.  The potential for abuse and manipulation in that arena is too frightening for words…

Schools are not parents.  They will never replace parents.  I recognize that students in poverty and neglect suffer immensely without proper parental supports, but this solution is very radical and very dangerous.  Valerie Longhurst may have put this bill together, but this legislation is just a small part of the corporate education reform movement that is taking students away from parental control more and more every single day.  Our children are OUR children, and they don’t belong to you.  I would really like it if they get their grubby hands out of our children’s minds and schools.

To read the full legislation, please read below: