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?

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2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report.  This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools.  As I predicted, special education students rose again this year.  To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide.  The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year.  Overall state enrollment went up by .9%.  Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year.  No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case.  Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters.  Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading “2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment”

***UPDATED***Delaware Approves $20.7 Million So Markell & Sokola Can Have Safe Bike Rides But Ignore Special Education Funding Bill?

markellcyclingThis is the heart of what is wrong with Delaware.  In an article by Bike Delaware, the group brags about how the General Assembly approved $20.7 million for bike trail improvements in Delaware.  Meanwhile, students considered to be basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, go for a sixth year without special education funding from the state.  Pork indeed!  Now before bicycling enthusiasts come at me, I fully support bicycle safety and awareness.  While I don’t ride a bicycle these days, I think it is important for further safety for the sport.  But not at the expense of children in public schools!  And we can say this is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget.  But money shifts around ALL the time at Legislative Hall.

We are especially grateful for the leadership of State Senator Dave Sokola, the co-chair of the committee that wrote the capital budget, and Governor Jack Markell. It’s not a coincidence that Senator Sokola biked to work yesterday (about 60 miles) and Governor Markell biked to work today (also about 60 miles).

I have no doubt it isn’t a coincidence!  And by mentioning how Sokola is the co-chair of the committee that writes the capital budget, you might as well throw out the words “conflict of interest”.  Are we really saying, as a state, that despite all the arguments about education funding and how we will “commit to doing better next year” that our General Assembly approved $20.7 million in taxpayer funds for what amounts to a select special interest for a hobby?  But the legislators who question this kind of nonsense are considered “unpatriotic” by people like State Rep. Melanie Smith…

This is a disgrace.  How much longer will high-needs students continue to go without while fat-cats like Senator David Sokola and Governor Jack Markell can bike to Legislative Hall?  While I was not always supportive of the WEIC plan, I think that was much more worthy than bike trails.  We have schools that desperately need restoration and improvements, but paths for cyclists are more important?  What the hell is wrong with this state and when will our legislators finally step up and say no as a collective body to this insanity?  We have homeless people, increasing violence in our cities, and jobs that don’t pay as much as they used to.  We have police that aren’t getting the funds they need to effectively do their jobs.  But this is okay?

House Bill 30 would have guaranteed funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade with the designation of basic special education.  Based on a unit-count system, these children get no state funding in these grades.  It is one of the most transparent and visible flaws in Delaware education funding.  But I suppose it is okay to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable of children so people like Jack Markell and David Sokola, whose very agendas and laws have further demeaned these children multiple times, can get more out of their bicycle hobby.  What a joke!

What kind of Governor bikes sixty miles to work?  What if something happens to him?  Is that in the best interest of the state to have your Governor biking to work on a hot day?  Do his bodyguards have to bike with him?  Do they get extra duty hazard pay for that?  Since we don’t have a Lieutenant Governor and something happened to Jack while bike-riding, who steps up then? Schwartzkopf?  Good lord!

I can think of many different ways we could have allocated these funds in a “tough budget year”.  The Delaware Joint Finance Committee and the folks on the Bond Committee need to open their eyes and see what they are doing to this state.  Meanwhile, cyclists across the state rejoice!  While students suffer…

Updated, 7/5/16, 2:35pm: On Bike Delaware’s Facebook page, the group responded to comments made on there about this article with the following:

80% of this money comes from the federal government for transportation system (capital) investments. The federal government does not permit this money to be spent on schools (or anything not related to transportation). It’s deeply unfair to criticize Governor Markell and Senator Sokola for failing to spend these federal transportation dollars on schools. Neither Governor Markell or Senator Sokola have any authority to re-program this money this way. (They can spend it on walking and cycling projects rather than new roads but they can’t spend it on schools or libraries or hospitals or anything not related to transportation.)

To which I responded:

Be that as it may, it is just more pork. Even more distressing this comes at a federal level when IDEA Special Education funding at a federal level is at 37.5% of what it should be when the law was reauthorized in 2004. While that has absolutely nothing to do with Bike Delaware, it is symptomatic of a disease in our country where those who already have so much more than others get more while those who don’t have those luxuries lose out. I’m pretty sure an argument could be made somewhere that Delaware’s transportation grants from the Feds could be used to get rid of the Neighborhood Schools Act which has further segregated our schools, especially in Wilmington. Funding is twisted all the time in our state, this should not be an exception. Once again, though, I do want to reiterate this is not a slam against those who enjoy biking, but rather what I consider to be a misuse of funds during a time when others desperately need funding for more apparent reasons.  With your permission, may I update my article with your comment?

And their response:

Please do. To repeat, it’s not within either Governor Markell’s or Senator Sokola’s discretion to spend these federal transportation dollars on anything other than transportation projects. All they have done is take about ~5% of those FY17 dollars and dedicated them for improving the state for people walking and cycling. And, given that Delaware is the deadliest state in America for pedestrians, it’s not out-of-line for the state to be making improvements that make it safer for people to walk and bicycle. Not to mention, that 2/3rds of Delawareans are overweight or obese and making it safe for people to be more physically active is a critical public health priority. And, if you are an environmentalist, every bike trip that replaces a car trip means less air pollution….These are urgent public policy priorities that have absolutely nothing to do with anybody’s “hobby.”

I appreciate Bike Delaware’s response, but like I said, this is a matter of what side you agree on.  Regardless of where the funds generate from, we live in a country where those who have the luxury and time to bike over bridges along the C&D Canal in Delaware have that ability.  But I fail to see how these bike trails, while I’m sure are utilized by some who are less fortunate, will solve obesity problems and pedestrian deaths.  In my opinion, I think pet projects like this are pushed by people like Markell and Sokola so they can enjoy them, not the people who probably aren’t even aware things like this exist because they are too busy looking for work, or already work several jobs, just to put food on the table.  And it goes all the way up to a federal level and funds are locked in for specific purposes like this so they can only be used for pet projects by legislators and Governors.

*the above picture is from DelDOT

National Education Association To Advocate For Full IDEA Special Education Funding

I didn’t want to put “news” up on the 4th of July, but this one was too important to pass by.  The National Education Association (NEA) is having their Annual Representative Assembly in Washington D.C. this week.  They just passed an item to launch a digital campaign to advocate for the full funding of IDEA.  Since it was reauthorized in 2004, the feds have never given the full amount of funding for special education in America.  Here is how it works now: The feds, through IDEA Part B funding, pays about 10-15% of special education costs while states and local districts pay the rest.  However, the original intent was for the feds to pay up to 40% of a student’s special education costs.

This glaring omission on the feds part results in states and districts bearing the brunt of the costs.  And in a state like Delaware, where there is no Basic Special Education funds from the state for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, the local district or charter is forced to pay for 100% of special education services for these students.  Despite excellent legislation that would have provided these funds over a period of years for these students, the Delaware General Assembly as a collective body refused to allocate these funds in their most recent budget and the bill didn’t move past being released from the House Appropriations Committee.  This should be a no-brainer, but our budget is filled with pork that could have easily been cut to make room for this.

I salute the NEA for their advocacy on this issue.  As states struggle with different education funding models, the US DOE needs to step up and do their promised part.  But it is up to Congress to allocate these funds.  Thank you NEA!

NEASpecEdFunding

Thank you to Mike Matthews for putting this picture up on Facebook!

Teacher Evaluation, Charter School Audits, & WEIC Extension Pass The General Assembly

It was a wild and crazy night-morning at Legislative Hall in Dover.  I can honestly say I have never bounced back between the Senate and the House as much as I did in the past six hours.  But some of my “must list” legislation passed.  Some with changes and some intact.

House Bill 399 passed but not without some amendments and an odd conversation about teachers and a comment Jack Markell made years ago in the Senate.  Senator Colin Bonini talked about how Governor Markell gave a speech on the Senate floor many years ago and told everyone only 19% of students in Delaware were college and career ready.  But yet our teachers were rated 99% effective.  He couldn’t grasp these facts.  He said he would support the bill.  But then Senator Dave Lawson spoke against the bill and said the system isn’t working.  The bill passed with 19 yes and 2 no votes.  The no votes were from Senators Lawson and Henry.  The amendments added on can be seen here and here.  Apparently, this was the only way it was going to pass.  In looking at the first amendment, they changed a lot and many teachers won’t be happy about those changes.  But this was the compromise reached.  Will Governor Markell sign the bill?  We shall see.  I did speak briefly with Secretary of Education Godowsky and asked him if he thought they were good amendments and he said yes.

After four previous bills, the Kumbaya compromise charter school audit bill, House Bill 435, passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning.  It hadn’t been on the agenda for the Senate.  I emailed Senator Sokola, and it appeared on there a few minutes later.  It passed soon after.

And the WEIC redistricting plan.  I thought rigor mortis was setting in on this plan, but it rose from the ashes.  A crucial amendment by State Rep. Kim Williams which deleted some of the unnecessary language in Senate Bill #300 seemed to be what is going to keep that train chugging.  This is what happened: WEIC is still alive, and they will plan for another year.  The $7.5 million initially requested in the final recommendations has been appropriated for FY2018.  But I will get to more of that after a message from Tony Allen, the Chair of WEIC:

Delaware General Assembly Affirms the Commission’s Plan
Governor commits the “necessary and sufficient funds” for next year
Commission suspends timeline

Tonight, an older African American woman stopped me on the Senate Floor and said “if you believe in this, you keep fighting on.” We did!

As the 148th Delaware General Assembly legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 17, an interim affirmation of the Delaware State Board of Education’s approval of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan and Senate Bill 300, which clarifies the funding implications and supports further analysis by the Commission.

In a related action, Governor Markell committed to put no less than $7.5 million in his FY 2018 plan to support the Commission’s plan, specifically to begin to change the 70-year old student funding formula. In a letter to the Wilmington delegation, Markell said, “I am proud to have worked alongside you in these efforts and pleased to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of the funds necessary and sufficient to fund the first year of implementation of the proposals of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, specifically an amendment to the unit count that would carry additional support for low-income students, English Language Learners and students with special needs statewide.”

Earlier this morning, I noted that because the “necessary and sufficient” funding has not yet been provided that we will immediately call on the Commission to suspend the timetable for implementing its plan.

While I am disappointed with several aspects of this legislative season, SJR17 allows the Commission to fight another day. After 62 years of waiting, fight on we will. The Commission is wholly committed to reducing the fragmentation and dysfunction caused by 23 different school systems currently serving Wilmington children, less than 10% of Delaware’s student population. In addition, the Commission will continue to focus attention on the needs of low-income students, English language learners, and other students with special needs in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. That includes meeting the non-instructional needs of these students, engaging empowered parents in school reform, and changing the antiquated funding system for students and schools that has for many years created sustained inequities dating back to well before Brown v Board of Education (1954). I am grateful to the 22 other commissioners, the previous members of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, and the more than 10,000 community members who have been participating in this process.

I urge your continued resolve.

There are some key words in this, especially Markell saying “to commit that I will recommend an appropriation of funds…  That isn’t a guarantee that the next Governor will do the same or that the 149th General Assembly will either.  We don’t know what the state’s financial picture will be a year from now.  But for now, WEIC lives after most thought it was dead and buried.  I find it odd that Allen talks about how 23 different school systems serve Wilmington students but the WEIC plan would only reduce that to 22.  Granted, Christina has a lot of Wilmington students, but that is still a lot students going to other districts or charters.  I will see what this additional year of planning will produce.  But it looks like I am not done writing about WEIC despite what I wrote earlier today.   I talked to Rep. Charles Potter after the vote and he said this isn’t what he wanted, but it keeps WEIC alive and it is about the students.

Senate Bill 93 passed, one of two Autism bills introduced last year.  Senate Bill 92, however, was another victim of funding issues in the state.  An amendment was added to Senate Bill 93 in the House which got rid of the Senate Amendment that had the DOE getting involved.  The Autism community in Delaware felt that was an unwelcome presence.  Good for them!

It was a long second half of the 148th General Assembly.  House Bill 50 had two shots to override the Governor’s veto in the House of Representatives and it failed both times.  But I want to thank Rep. John Kowalko for trying and standing up for parents.  I respect and admire him for doing that.  Had the House ever been able to actually vote on the override, I believe it would have passed.  The fact that they were never able to get to that point shows the will of the Governor influencing certain members of the House in very inappropriate ways.  My other “dream legislation”, House Bill 30, which would have finally given students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade considered to be “basic special education” students, never received a full House vote despite coming out of the House Appropriations Committee weeks ago.  I know Rep. Kim Williams fought hard for that bill.  I still remember when she first told me about it a year and a half ago and I truly felt it was a no-brainer.  For both of those bills, the 149th General Assembly will tell the tale on opt out and special education funding.

I will write more over the next few days about all the bills that passed and those that are now dead.  In the meantime, Happy Fiscal New Year 2017!

The Next 55 Hours Will Determine WEIC, HB399, HB30, The Budget, The Bond Bill, & Possibly The Election Season

We are down to the homestretch on the 148th General Assembly.  It is the bottom of the ninth with two outs.  The next batter is up.  This will be Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s last sphere of influence with Delaware legislation as Governor of the First State.  For that, we should all have reason to celebrate.  As of July 1st, all eyes will turn towards elections in Delaware and the USA.  But there is a bit of unfinished business in Legislative Hall.  We will know by about 4am on Friday, July 1st what happened.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting resolution is ready for a Senate vote.  The Executive Committee will clear it for a full vote.  But then, it gets very interesting.  I reported a few days ago that one Senate Democrat was a no and another was on the fence.  Now we can make that three Senate Dems as a no.  And the Senate Republicans which gives Senate Joint Resolution #12 a vote of 9 yes and 12 no.  But, I’m also hearing from the cracked walls of the basement of Legislative Hall that there might be new legislation kicking the can on this down the road into the 149th General Assembly.  Will Red Clay and Christina say “Enough” and get out of the whole thing?  Or will we have another year of “will they or won’t they” speculation?  In the chance SJR #12 does pass, the question then becomes “what happened to $6 million dollars”?  The Senate passed the budget today and WEIC was not in it.  I did find out the answer to this.  The funds are in reserve but they don’t want to put it in the budget without an affirmative vote on SJR #12.  What happens to the $6 million if SJR #12 doesn’t pass?  It goes to the Bond Bill.  For those who don’t know what the heck a bond bill is, in a nutshell it is a capital improvements bill.  Here is an example from FY2013.  We should see the FY2017 bond bill in the next 24 hours.

The Basic Special Education Funding for K-3 students, House Bill 30, has not received the full House vote yet.  I hope we will see it, and then a rush to the Senate, but I am not optimistic.  I did hear today that the Education Funding Improvement Committee may ask for an extension, but then that they may not.  We will know if a final report is issued to the General Assembly in the next 27 hours.

House Bill 399, the teacher evaluation bill, has become a very odd bill with a great deal of power.  As the story goes, State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola’s tiff is still going on.  Today in the House Education Committee, Jaques pulled Sokola’s teacher certification legislation, Senate Bill 199, from the agenda.  House Bill 399 is on the Senate Education Committee agenda for tomorrow.  Apparently a deal was reached whereby House Bill 399 will get to be heard in the Senate Education Committee and will most likely be released for a full Senate vote.  In exchange, Jaques will “walk” Senate Bill 199 for signatures from the House Education Committee members.  But then House Bill 399 has to go before the full Senate.  Which is a toss-up for how it could go there.  I’m hearing different things from different people.  Honestly, if anyone is still concerned about defying the will of Governor Markell, I would think twice before using that empty-handed justification.  Did you hear that quacking sound?  It is the sound of a lame-duck desperately grasping for power in a vacuum.

There is more at stake here than current bills.  Election season is coming fast and broken alliances and grudge matches could make things real ugly for the Delaware Democrats.  I’m pretty sure if WEIC fails in the Senate, Senator Margaret Rose-Henry and State Reps. Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and Helene Keeley will have a lot to say about that!  They say Wilmington wins elections for state-wide positions in Delaware, but the reality is that Jack Markell would not have become Governor if he didn’t win crucial votes in Kent and Sussex County when he beat John Carney in the primary in 2008.

Speaking of Carney, it looks like he is finally getting around to reaching out to different groups and state agencies in Delaware to firm up support for the Gubernatorial election in November.  He still hasn’t officially filed for the 2016 election yet, but he has until July 12 to do so.  We also have filings from Republican Lacey Lafferty and Libertarian Sean Goward.  Nothing from Republican and current State Senator Colin Bonini.  Goward and Lafferty have been the most visible on Facebook.  In my mind, you have to work for my vote and get your name out there.  I want to know your original ideas, not more of the same-old I hear now.  Many Delawareans are in this mindset.  If I had to vote today, Carney would not get my vote.  The only candidate who has reached out to me and presented many ideas I agree with is Sean Goward.  And not just about education either.  I would reach out to him and hear what he has to say!

The Congressional race in Delaware is going to amp up big time as well.  The News Journal declared Townsend as the “front-runner” a couple of weeks ago, but it is still a long ways off.  Townsend has massive support over at Delaware Liberal with some calling him one of Delaware’s best legislators.  He does certainly get a plethora of bills passed.  But Lisa Blunt-Rochester also has a great deal of support from the African-American community which could change this tale.  In terms of signage, I can’t speak for what is popping up in New Castle or Sussex County, but I can say Hans Reigle signs are all over the place in Kent County.  And not just roadside ones, but also property signs as well.  I have seen Mike Miller and Sean Barney popping up a bit more on the Democrat side.  While Townsend may have amassed the biggest war chest thus far, how much of that will be spent on the primary between five candidates?  I’m sure some will drop out between now and then.  This will be a contest between Townsend and Blunt-Rochester when it comes down to it.  Assuming no one else files on the Republican side, Hans Reigle will have an all-clear until the General Election.  After the primary, we will see massive competition between Reigle and the Democrat candidate.  With a growing feeling of disillusionment with the Democrat party in Delaware, especially in an environment with more in-fighting among themselves, I wouldn’t count Reigle out.  Delaware might be a “blue state”, but this year could change things.  Look at how much traction Trump has gotten in the past year.  I would like to hear more from Scott Gesty as I think he has some very interesting ideas as a Libertarian candidate.

In terms of the State Rep and State Senate races, we may see a mad rush of filings in the next couple weeks.  While some are already saying the Republicans don’t have a chance of changing the power structure in Dover, I wouldn’t be too sure.  At least in one House of the Delaware General Assembly.  People don’t like what is going on.  They see a lot of the egregious glad-handling and deals being made in Dover and they don’t like it one bit.  This is becoming a more vocal community, especially on social media.  I’m going to go ahead and predict many new faces in Dover come January.  I think the citizens of Delaware deserve a more balanced legislature.  Too much on one side has not been a good thing for the middle-class and lower-income families of the state.  I don’t like the assumption that certain people should win office because they are Democrat, or that certain bills will pass because they have Democrat support.  I like to hear both sides of the issues, but all too often some voices are drowned out by the high-fives and fist-bumping going on.  By the same token, there are some Republicans who need to realize they could be on the cutting line as well come November, or even September.  They should stop thinking of this as a frat club.  If you want respect, you have to show respect.  Especially as an elected official.  For those who are about to call me a hypocrite, bloggers don’t count!

Things are going to get very interesting over the next 55 hours and in the next four months.  This is Delaware.  Anything can happen!  The crazy action will take place on Thursday night in the General Assembly.  I’m not sure about the Senate yet, but the House begins their legislative session at 7pm.

Oh yeah, what about House Bill 50?  And the Autism bills, Senate Bills 92 and 93 with their assorted amendments?  To be continued…

Delaware FY2017 Budget As Of 6/23/16, WEIC Redistricting Funds Are NOT In The Budget!!!!

Updated, 6:31pm: I’ve just been told the $6 million allocated to WEIC will be in a separate budget bill pending the results of the Senate vote next week.  Not sure how all that works, but okay…

Senate Bill 285 was introduced yesterday on the Senate floor in Delaware.  This is the Delaware State Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 as of 6/23/16 after the Joint Finance Committee made cuts a couple weeks ago.  Let me stress this, and I looked everywhere.  The budgeted $6 million for WEIC is not in Senate Bill 285.  The bill was left on the table.  Which means they will pick it up again next week and make many changes I’m sure.  The epilogue language has been written into the bill.  Anything underlined is new epilogue language.  That is where a lot of changes take place, and for education that is where we see things like the charter school transportation “slush” fund.  I am also including the Governor’s proposed budget, Senate Bill 175, to compare what Governor Markell put in there and what has changed since.

I went through the entire thing with a fine-tooth comb.  I wrote about the changes between the proposed budget and the current one below.  This is strictly for education.  But if you want to look in all departments the documents will have those.  Of note is the fact DEFAC found another $7.5 million earlier this week.  The state refinanced some bonds at lower costs based on interest rates.  But it was announced on Wednesday at the Joint Finance Committee those funds would not be going toward WEIC.  So where did the $6,000,000 allocated for WEIC in the Governor’s budget disappear to?  I just read the entire budget bill, word by word over the past two hours.  There is nothing with WEIC in there at all.

I did see that instead of being a line item, the $500,000 allocated to Autism legislation will come from the Tobacco Fund.  The charter school transportation “slush” fund is still in Section 342 (paging John Kowalko).

SEED Scholarship went down from $6,156,600 to $5,656,600 –$500,000

Student Assessment system went down from $6,051,100 to $5,916,500 –$134,600

Energy Costs for the DOE went down from $75,000 to $72,100 –$2,900

Charter School Performance fund taken out for $500,000

Technology Block grant went down from $3,500,000 to $2,500,000 -$1,000,000

Educational Sustainment Fund went down from $4,000,000 to $1,000,000 -$3,000,000

Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning Program taken out for $1,000,000

Career Pathways taken out for $250,ooo

**Wilmington Education Improvement Commission taken out for $6,000,000**

Teacher Compensation Reform taken out for $1,000,000

Academic Excellence Block grant went down from $39,560,700 to $38,753,800 -806,900

Early Childhood Initiatives went down from $18,255,900 to $16,255,900 -$2,000,000

Education Block grants went down from $55,156,300 to $54,394,400 –$761,900

Special Needs Programs went down from $47,006,300 to $45,006,300, -$2,000,000

Total decrease for Department of Education from Governor’s proposed budget to current budget: -$16,956,300

 

DELAWARE SENATE BILL 285: THE BUDGET BILL

GOVERNOR MARKELL’S PROPOSED BUDGET FOR FY 2017

 

 

 

Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting

Delaware WILL get a “Needs Intervention” label for their Annual IDEA Determination from the Office of Special Educations Programs at the United States Department of Education.  The Delaware DOE knows this, but they aren’t announcing it.  My guess is they are waiting for the “formal” letter to come from the feds before they publicly release this information to the public.  Even though they were told this information at least four weeks ago.  If I were a betting man, we won’t find this out until after June 30th.  I predicted this three weeks ago when I found the letters that went out to the districts and charters.

At the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting on Tuesday night, the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE gave a presentation to the council on the Local Education Authority (LEA) portion of the annual determination.  The presentation was given by Barbara Mazza and Maria Locuniak from the DOE.  In this presentation, there were several absolute lies that are in this article, for which I caught them red-handed.  It is very alarming they would try to dupe a state council devoted to the improvement of outcomes for persons with disabilities. Continue reading “Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting”

Delaware Basic Special Education Funding For Kindergarten To 3rd Grade Students Bill Released From Appropriations Committee!!!!

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams just announced on Facebook that House Bill 30 was released from the House Appropriations Committee.  This is excellent news, and I pray this leads to positive action on the legislation by the Delaware House and Senate.  House Bill 30 would give what is considered Basic Special Education funding for Delaware students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade.  Currently, this funding is not given to students in this category, but it is for students considered “intense” or “complex”.  Students currently under the basic designation in 4th to 12th grade do receive this funding.  It has been like this since 2011.

Introduced about a year and a half ago, the bill sailed through the House Education Committee but was sitting in a “sent to appropriations” status for well over 15 months.  Advocates for special education, including myself, have pointed out this extreme inequity in education funding for years.  This is a very positive step forward in correcting this inequity.

I will certainly let readers know the second the next action occurs with this legislation.

Why Did Mike Matthews Bill The General Assembly For Almost $250,000?

Earlier this week, Red Clay Educators Association President Mike Matthews sent the Delaware General Assembly an invoice for $235,000.  What was the reason for this?  You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?  I am putting in the read more tag so you can, you know, read more!  There is a very good reason why he billed our legislators. Continue reading “Why Did Mike Matthews Bill The General Assembly For Almost $250,000?”

Demand Funding For Delaware K-3 Basic Special Education Students

The Delaware Special Education nightmare has gone on long enough.  Years ago, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed a bill to give extra funding for special education students.  With categories such as basic, complex and intensive, this unit-based funding model allots funds based on the number of special education categories there are in each grade at each school.  For basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade there is no difference in the funding than their peers in regular education in those grades.  Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 30 which would give this funding to students in those grades.  It was released from the House Education Committee soon after but it has sat in the House Appropriations Committee ever since.  Meanwhile, our Governor, in his latest proposed budget for FY2017 has failed once again to give that funding.

The result of this is hundreds of Delaware students not getting proper special education services, required by Federal law.  This is what happens: a parent requests an IEP.  Many schools in Delaware deny the IEP in those grades since they know they won’t get the funding for it unless it is a higher category.  If they do approve it, they have to use the miniscule federal IDEA-B funding they get and the rest comes from their local funding.  In many cases, services written into the IEP such as occupational therapy or counseling are not given to students because of this obscene lack of funding.

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is misguided if they truly believe any funding for their redistricting plan will give funding for students in K-3 who are considered basic special education.  The Governor did not put it in the budget.  But they still present to public bodies that these students will get these funds.  And every time I call them out on it, someone tells me “we’re working on it”.  If it was truly a priority, it would be there.  No questions asked.  I’ve been telling them this since day one.  The Wilmington advocates can talk about how many generations of students have lost because of no services.  How about the millennia of people with disabilities who have always been cast aside with education funding as if they aren’t even worth it.  Federal law requires the funding to be available to be provided for students with disabilities.  If you want to talk about discrimination and mistreatment, please remember that.  And also remember many African-American students also have disabilities, statewide.

Our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell want to provide $18 million in funding to early education for the next fiscal year.  One of the goals of this, according to them, is to reduce the amount of students needing special education services in their first few years of school.  On the surface, this looks honorable, but be assured that it is not.  What Markell and the DOE have failed to recognize (or know completely) is the fact that disabilities are neurologically based.  By giving them the extra support in those early years and then putting them into Kindergarten without the funding to sustain those services, these children will suffer.  It is not right to put the bulk of this funding on the local education agencies.  By not giving this funding, these children have suffered.  No amount of Response to Intervention is going to cure a disability.  I firmly believe it is a tactic by which these special needs children are purposely denied this funding.

These students don’t do well on state assessments.  Markell and the DOE have always known this.  State assessments are not designed to make students proficient.  They lose their meaning if everyone does well.  So the powers that be want these students to do bad on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I have heard horror stories this year from teachers who say it takes students with disabilities five times longer to do sections of the test than their regular peers.  And they still won’t reach this mythological proficiency.  This was something that could only be carefully planned.  It is why the Governor gave NO allocations for it in any budget since he signed the needs-based funding bill.  It would interfere with his Education Inc. testing buddies and their huge hedge fund returns.  It is also far easier to give these students a career path towards menial jobs than to give them the funding they deserve so they could perhaps have a shot at success.  You may fool people all the time, but you have NEVER fooled me.  One only needs to look at Delaware Online Checkbook to see this strategy of yours has hurt many students and families over the past four years.

So please sign the change.org petition: https://www.change.org/p/peter-schwartzkopf-pass-house-bill-30-in-delaware-giving-basic-special-education-funding-to-students-in-k-3 and demand our General Assembly pass House Bill 30.   The time is NOW for this bill to move forward.  We can no longer sit by and watch while the most vulnerable to students suffer needlessly.  Tonight at the Red Clay board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty told the board and the audience to support HB30.  Their board passed a resolution supporting it.  All Delaware school boards need to do the same.  I asked the Capital Board of Education months ago to do the same thing but they have not addressed this at all.

redclayhb30resolution

 

Breaking News: The Wilmington Redistricting Plan Becomes Legislation!

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan to move the Christina schools in Wilmington over to Red Clay has entered its final leg in the long journey.  House Joint Resolution #12 was filed today with primary Sponsors State Rep. Charles Potter and State Senator Margaret Rose-Henry with the following co-sponsors: State Reps Baumbach, Bentz, Bolden, Brady, Jaques, J. Johnson, Keeley, Lynn, Mitchell, Mulrooney, Osienski, Paradee and Viola; and State Senators Marshall, McDowell, Poore and Townsend.  There are some names I thought might be on here but aren’t.  Including any House Republican.  Kim Williams is also absent, but I suspect that has a lot to do with the fact House Bill 30, which would provide basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade has, for the most part, been ignored by the General Assembly.

HouseJointResolution #12

HJR12

This is where it will get very interesting folks!  Since it is a joint resolution, it must go before the education committees in both Houses of the General Assembly.  Unless they should happen to suspend the rules, but with legislation as controversial as this, I would tend to doubt they would do that.  All of this rides on the final budget numbers.  What do you think?  Will the General Assembly move forward with the WEIC redistricting plan?  Or will Tony Allen’s “once in a generation” moment disappear?

My Observations From The Education Funding Task Force Meeting Tonight

I attended the first half of the Delaware Education Funding Task Force meeting tonight.  After Delaware Governor Jack Markell gave some brief opening comments thanking the members of the committee for their hard work, he advised them this isn’t an easy task force.  As he was leaving, he made a point to greet and shake hands with everyone in the room.  And I mean everyone!

Members trickled in so the meeting didn’t start until about 5:20.  There are some very vocal members on this committee with very strong ideologies.  The bad part is when many of them are different.  I have no clue how this group is going to come to a consensus in the next couple months.  I saw members on this task force who belong to the General Assembly (who listened for the most part), DOE, State Board, the traditional districts, the charter crowd, Rodel, school boards, the business community, Delaware PTA, GACEC, and advocates for ELL students.

Donna Johnson from the State Board of Education did make it a point to talk about the group’s discussions about basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  I do recall seeing a potential funding model where funds were reallocated in the needs-based funding formula for the state.  But this shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation for an education funding task force.  Put House Bill 30 up for a full vote and get it done.  It’s what, $11.5 million to fund that bill?  Make it happen.  Maybe the DOE can get rid of a ton of their vendor contracts and their non-vendor paychecks for all these people who show up on Delaware Online Checkbook with no transparency surrounding these payments whatsoever.  After all, the DOE were the ones that torpedoed this funding when the topic first came up six years ago.

It was interesting hearing some members talk about the lack of authority for a school principal to make funding decisions.  This was more from the charter side of the equation.  But members on the other side disagreed, saying they have the authority based on the pool of money they get from the district.  One member said even if they do find the right number or formula for funding, how do you audit that?  Does that money allocated as extra support for low-income and ELL students mean reduced classroom sizes or more teachers?  Some members felt that because 41 states have successful funding formulas that will translate as success for Delaware.  But how is that success measured?  By standardized tests?  Graduation rates?  Will they have pilot schools or districts to try it out?  What does low-income and poverty mean in terms of percentage of students?  Since the state changed how they measure poverty, but the DOE goes by one thing and DHHS goes by another, which is right?  If the group doesn’t necessarily agree with the WEIC funding formulas, what does that mean for the General Assembly when they vote on the redistricting in Wilmington?  If the majority of the group believes changing property assessments is the way to go what does that mean for the property owners who have no voice on this committee?  We should do what California does and vote on propositions like this.  Then we will see where the real voting power exists!

There were people at this meeting who I have never seen face to face but I have written about them a bit.  One as recently as last Thursday.  I had to pick up some groceries and my son REALLY wanted Dairy Queen so I snuck out while the group was on their pizza break.  I wished I could have stayed, but family first!  I am very curious what comes out of the final report.

Education Funding Improvement Commission Meeting On Tuesday

The Education Funding Improvement Commission, which came out of Delaware’s Senate Joint Resolution #4, will have their next meeting on Tuesday, April 19th at 5pm in the Tatnall Building in Dover.  Originally, the report for this was due to the General Assembly on March 31st, but Senator David Sokola had it extended until June 30th with Senate Concurrent Resolution #56.

I would still like to know why there is NO mention of basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Are they purposely ignoring this?  Governor Markell didn’t put it in the state budget proposal back in January either.  I’m sorry, I can’t buy any kind of new funding for schools when this glaring omission exists.  And people wonder why I feel insulted by the General Assembly at times…  We have a perfectly good bill with House Bill 30 and its ignored for well over a year now.  What is the disconnect here?  Why is no one aside from State Rep. Kim Williams and a few others pushing for this?  This is Governor Markell’s number one failure with education.  But sadder is the hundreds of children who suffered because of it.  No apology, nothing.  I will never believe it is all about the students as long as this gaping hole in school funding exists.  All the supports in the world don’t matter at all if children suffer.  They can pull out all these models and put on a big show, but show those models to the students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade who just aren’t good enough for all these great education initiatives.

I can’t change what happened to my son.  But I can try for the hundreds of others who are out there.  The ones with the denied IEPs.  The ones who aren’t given accommodations on their existing IEPs.  I’m mad.  I’m raw.  I’m tired of fighting.  I can show the entire state what is going on, but it isn’t enough to make a difference to those in power.  We can talk about pre-school being the next big thing until the cows come home, but if we are missing the boat on the true foundation for learning right when it starts, in Kindergarten going to 3rd grade, then we are failing all those children with disabilities.  All of us.  Most experts agree that if these kids don’t get this foundation then, it becomes very difficult for them to acclimate in later years.  So yeah, if I get angry and lash out, imagine how those kids feel.

SJR4EdFundTaskForceAgenda41916

Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

DelawareJFC

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.

Delaware’s Moral Imperative: My Email To The JFC, DOE, State Board, WEIC, & Governor Markell

SpecialEducation

Today, the Delaware Joint Finance Committee is meeting with the Delaware Department of Education to discuss proposed changes in the DOE’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  This hearing will allow the DOE to answer questions about the funding increases they are requesting.  One of the hot issues is the $6 million allocated in Governor Markell’s budget for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for the students of Wilmington.  I had very strong thoughts about this last weekend and a response from a member of WEIC prompted another article on the matter.

At the heart of this is the basic special education funding for Delaware students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Currently, students in Delaware do not receive any additional funding if they qualify as basic special education in K-3.  Within a month of starting this blog, I wrote about this eye of the hurricane in Delaware special education and broke down the categories for the funding for these services:

Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.

Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Schools here get one unit for every 6 students.

Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.

Today, I emailed all the members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Maryann Mieczkowski (the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the DOE), Delaware Controller General Michael Morton, Elizabeth Lewis (oversees education funding with the Delaware Office of Management and Budget), State Rep. Kim Williams (the sponsor of House Bill 30 which would give this funding), State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s core leadership team: Dr. Tony Allen, Dr. Dan Rich, Kenny Rivera, and Elizabeth Lockman. I addressed the need for basic special education funding for ALL Delaware students in K-3:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Smith Melanie G (LegHall) <melanie.g.smith@state.de.us>; McDowell Harris (LegHall) <harris.mcdowell@state.de.us>; Bushweller Brian <brian.bushweller@state.de.us>; Ennis Bruce <bruce.ennis@state.de.us>; Peterson Karen (LegHall) <karen.peterson@state.de.us>; Cloutier Catherine <catherine.cloutier@state.de.us>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <dave.lawson@state.de.us>; Carson William (LegHall) <william.carson@state.de.us>; Heffernan Debra (LegHall) <debra.heffernan@state.de.us>; Johnson JJ <jj.johnson@state.de.us>; Miro Joseph <joseph.miro@state.de.us>; Kenton Harvey (LegHall) <harvey.kenton@state.de.us>; “jack.markell@state.de.us” <jack.markell@state.de.us>; “michael.morton@state.de.us” <michael.morton@state.de.us>; “elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us” <elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly (LegHall) <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Tony Allen <tony.allen@bankofamerica.com>; Daniel Rich <drich@udel.edu>; Kenny Rivera <kenneth.rivera@redclay.k12.de.us>; Elizabeth Lockman <tizlock@gmail.com>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Mieczkowski MaryAnn <maryann.mieczkowski@doe.k12.de.us>; Johnson Donna R. <donna.johnson@doe.k12.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:20 AM
Subject:
Basic Special Education Funding for Kindergarten to 3rd Grade students in Delaware

Good morning all,

Some of you may know me, but for those who don’t, I am a concerned parent of a special needs child in Delaware.  He was denied an Individualized Education Program in 3rd grade at a Delaware charter school even though he fully qualified for it. 

As a result of this event, I set out to look into Delaware education and all facets surrounding it, which led to the creation of my blog, Exceptional Delaware.  One of the first things I discovered was that students who qualify for basic special education do not receive funding for this in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Students in 4th to 12th grade do.  As a result of this, many students in these grades are denied IEPs all over our state.  Many times this results in special education lawsuits filed against school districts and charter schools.  I firmly believe this also sets up these children with disabilities for failure.  By not getting the funding they are entitled to at a state level, this results in the local education agency bearing the brunt of these costs.  The federal IDEA funding has never been at the level that it was originally intended for. 

There are current plans in the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for Wilmington students to grant Red Clay Consolidated School District the basic special education funds for students in K-3 in FY 2017.  This would also include the current Christina students enrolled in Wilmington schools should the redistricting plan pass the State Board of Education and the 148th General Assembly.  In FY2018, this funding would be provided to the entire Christina School District, and in FY2019 to Colonial, Brandywine, and the Wilmington charter schools.  While the plan doesn’t specifically give a timeframe for the rest of the state, the commission does urge our state to provide these funds as soon as possible for all of Delaware.

I have grave issues with this as all students in this category should be entitled to these funds.  While I am vehemently against the use of standardized test scores to determine school accountability levels, by the very nature of these plans it would set up some schools to do better than others in Delaware.  In the Delaware Department of Education’s goals submitted to the US Department of Education for their ESEA Flexibility waiver, the DOE had growth goals for Delaware.  For students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% proficiency from FY 2015 to 59% proficiency in FY 2021.  By giving certain schools and districts this funding, it sets up a disproportionate funding mechanism that benefits some over others.

There are other concerns with this as well.  If a 1st grade student should happen to transfer from Red Clay to Indian River, would that basic special education funding follow them? 

As a parent of a special needs child, I find this lack of funding for students who are at the foundation of their education experience to be highly disturbing.  The current budget plans call for a huge influx of funding for early education, in the hopes of preventing rising costs for special education.  What I find to be not included in this conversation is the fact that disabilities in children are neurological.  I’m not saying they can’t be accommodated for a better educational outcome, but why would we give all this money to early education centers and then leave these students out to dry when they are brought into elementary school?  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  While I certainly appreciate the needs of Wilmington students, I feel it is funding that should be available for all students in Delaware.  Special education is a federal mandate if a student qualifies.  By not providing the necessary state funding, we are failing these children.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of districts not providing services, even with an approved IEP.  While no school or district will ever come out and say it, it is because of a lack of funding in most cases. 

For any student who has gone through special education in Delaware at this age, the results are very cumbersome and painful for the student and their parents or guardians.  Parents are forced to fight a system where, in many cases, they are branded as a difficulty.  Students are disciplined based on behaviors that are neurologically based, and because they don’t have an IEP, it results in severe problems for the student as they grow.  Many students who are denied IEPs and don’t receive these services can and do fall into the complex and intensive special education categories later on because these services were not provided at an earlier age.  This happened with my own child.

I urge the Joint Finance Committee to provide the basic special education funding for ALL K-3 students in Delaware.  This isn’t really an option, but a basic civil rights issue that separates Delaware from many other states.  It is their federal right to receive a “Free Appropriate Public Education”.  By forcing districts and charters to sign an IEP indicating they will make sure the district has adequate funding to provide special education services is not proportionate to the state funding provided for students in all grades.  As well, by providing this funding for some but not all, it could certainly put the state into a precarious legal position should parents collectively band together to address this issue.

Currently, House Bill 30, sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams is in the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly where it has been since March 26th of last year.  I would urge the JFC to allow the funding for this legislation to be provided in the Delaware FY 2017 budget so these children can get the services Delaware has a moral imperative to provide.

If anyone has any questions or concerns surround this issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I sent this out a couple of hours ago and have not received a response from anyone.  Which is fine, but I sincerely hope it will be brought up in their discussions today with the Department of Education.  If it is, I am fairly certain the DOE will bring up what is known as Response to Intervention (RTI) and how this is a very useful tool for schools to identify students who may qualify for special education services.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in American education and does not cover many areas that could qualify a child for special education.  It is a failed experiment that, at best, causes delays of several years before a child can get an IEP and the full special education services they need.  Special education calls for the least restrictive environment.  Why would the State of Delaware restrict the funding these children need to receive FAPE and the least restrictive environment?  This is our moral imperative in Delaware.

 
 

15 Who Made An Impact In 2015: State Rep. Kim Williams

KimWilliams

As I started blogging, I heard a ton of people telling me I should talk to Kim Williams.  I didn’t even know it was possible to talk to a State Representative who wasn’t in your district.  Of course now I know how silly that is, but at the time I didn’t.  Kim Williams and I think a lot alike.  Many of the things I am passionate about in education Kim is as well.  At the end of the day, it is about equality and equity.

To say Kim had a busy year at Legislative Hall would be the understatement of the year.  She started the 148th General Assembly by submitting education legislation that not only made sense but was a long time coming.  House Bill #28 would make sure charters send funds if a student transfers out of a charter school after September 30th.  One of my favorite bills of the year, House Bill #30, would ensure students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade who qualify as basic special education through their IEP would get the additional funding that has long been denied them.  In an effort to make sure “priority schools” do not lose control at the local level in picking their leaders, Kim introduced House Bill #107.  In another attempt at trying to mitigate the power of the Delaware Department of Education, HB #108 would have given the General Assembly the ability to vote on any ESEA waiver prior to their sending it to the US DOE (now a moot point as the Every Student Succeeds Act kicks ESEA waivers to the curb).  #130 dealt with fees for educator licensure.

Kim also serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee.  With all of the legislation coming through Legislative Hall pertaining to education, she does an admirable job helping to get through it all.  She was a huge supporter of the parent opt-out legislation, House Bill 50.

Perhaps her most controversial, but also a much needed bill, was House Bill #186.  This bill passed the House of Representatives on June 30th, and is now in the Senate Education Committee.  This bill was actually the third dealing with charter school audits.  HB #53 and #154 set the stage, but were both combined to become House Bill #186.  With fierce opposition from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, Kim had to fight tooth and nail to get this bill as far as it has.  This bill mandates charters have their post-audits done through the Delaware Auditor of Accounts.  Watching Kim fight for this bill was a wonder to behold.

I have talked to Kim on many occasions.  When there is a hotbed issue going on in Delaware education, she is there.  Whether it is at a troubled charter school, a school board meeting, the State Board of Education, a WEIC meeting, or the Delaware DOE.  Her dedication to improving the lives of Delaware students is unparalleled in the General Assembly.  She is not afraid to ask the tough questions.  Her dedication to her family is amazing as well and they support her 100%.  I look forward to watching Kim in the coming years, and I know she will continue to look out for Delaware education.

Delaware DOE Reveals The Common Core Loving Truth Of Standards Based IEPs

DOEBldg

In education tradition, the term “Standards-Based IEPs” meant something very different from the current bastardization of the words.  Nowadays, it means Common Core.  As in aligning a student with disabilities IEP to the Common Core State Standards.  I challenged the DOE on this a year and a half ago.  Their response: that it was a myth.  That this had more to do with the IEP than Common Core.  They lied.  They lied to me, and they lied to the IEP Task Force.  It is all about the Common Core.  This isn’t my first rodeo in writing about standards based IEPs.  Cause I was really ticked off here, even more than when I first figured out what they were.  I know this because the DOE put it on their own website, as seen on the last paragraph of this picture:

DOE StandardsBasedIEPs

 

So what is this WRITES initiative the DOE speaks of?  It is the “ACCESS Project”, and it comes from the University of Delaware’s Center for Disability Studies.  Yet another program where the DOE is spending tons of money to “fix” our education with their top vendor: University of Delaware.  The University explains what this project is here.  The key words from the DOE website are “aligning student IEP goals and assessments to the Common Core State Standards.”  When did special education ever become about the curriculum and standards and not the individual student?  They will try to make parents of these children think it is all about the individual, but this is the biggest lie.  Because Markell and the DOE want these students to fail…

What really ticks me off with special education in Delaware is the fact that students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd grad who qualify for basic special education services based on their IEP receive no extra funding. Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams took aim at this inequity last winter with House Bill 30, and has now been tied in with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission. I think it was one of the most important education bills in Delaware right now. But why did we even get to this place to begin with?

To find the answer to this, we have to go back almost five years ago to January 6th, 2011.  This is the day House Bill #1 was introduced to the Delaware General Assembly.  The bill made into law the needs-based funding formula that is our current method of funding schools based on units and special education.  This legislation was rushed through the House and Senate in 20 days and passed both by 1/26/11.  Governor Markell signed the legislation on 2/17/11.  The bill was more a technicality than actual groundbreaking legislation.  The needs-based funding formula pilot actually started out in Brandywine and Seaford back in 2003.  12 more districts were added in 2004, and then all districts and charters were included in 2009.  This was accomplished by use of epilogue language in the budget bill.  House Bill #1 solidified this by making it part of Title 14, the section that covers education in Delaware code.

Since 2009, all public school students in Delaware have been a part of the needs-based funding formula, but basic special education students in K-3 received no extra funding.  I have to wonder why.  Look at these students now.  Children who were in Kindergarten when Governor Markell signed this bill in February 2011 would now be in 5th grade.  If they were in 3rd grade then, they would now be in 8th.  What assessment do students take from 3rd to 8th grade?  The Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While this bill was rushed through the General Assembly, no one could have predicted the monstrosity that is the Smarter Balanced Assessment four years later.  But Governor Markell was well aware of this.

Almost a year before this, Delaware was one of two states to win the first round of Race To The Top.  As part of the funding received from RTTT, states were required to create state assessments aligned with Common Core.  Markell knew this, the DOE knew this, and the General Assembly knew this.  The students who were denied special education funding through House Bill #1 eventually became the students with disabilities guinea pigs on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  We all know how they did on this test statewide.  19% proficiency.  They were destined to fail.  I believe Markell wanted this.  After all, to justify more contracts and companies coming into Delaware to fix our education, doesn’t there have to be a problem?

We are now seeing this with the contract the DOE is currently picking a vendor for.  According to the DOE and Markell, we have a literacy problem that needs to be fixed, but there is so much more wrapped into that contract proposal.  It is all tied into US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his bon voyage gift as he leaves his position.  Which brings us back to standards-based IEPs.  How many contracts and vendors will it take to get Delaware students with disabilities from 19% to 59% proficiency in six years?  Quite a few I imagine!  It is and always has been about the money.  But as always, it is the students who pay the price.  As well, I have no doubt House Bill 30 will become law, whether WEIC passes or not.  Because the extra money and funding that these students should have never been denied, will help to get that proficiency rate up!  But for the students with disabilities from 2009-2016 who went through Kindergarten to 3rd grade in Delaware without this essential funding, what happens with them?  Their very foundation in education stolen from them because of a jacked up funding formula designed to make them look bad.

This issue is at the heart of this blog.  Because my son was one of those students.  Because the funding isn’t there for those students, getting an IEP for them can be very difficult at some schools.  Why would a school implement an IEP and provide services for these students if they aren’t getting any extra funding for them?  And these children have suffered immensely for Jack Markell’s hubris.

Delaware Special Education & Enrollment Numbers Released, Students With IEPs Up 9.5% This Year

The Delaware DOE released the September 30th student counts.  This helps to determine funding units for each school.  Special Education is determined as one of three categories: Basic for 4-12, Intensive or Complex.  There is no funding for Basic Special Education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade, even though State Rep. Kim Williams attempted to get a bill passed during the first half of the 148th General Assembly.  I sincerely hope her House Bill 30 gets passed in 2016, because these kids need this!

For the state, the average percentage of the 19,870 special education students out of the total enrollment of 136,027 is 14.6%.  Traditional School Districts have 18,580 while Charters have 1,290.  To put this in perspective, 18% of students in Traditional School Districts are Special Education compared to Charters at 10.1%.  Had Kim Williams House Bill 30 passed, 2,467 students in basic special education in grades K-3 would have received the extra state funding they rightfully deserve.  Instead, schools get nothing for these students.  This is 12.4% of the special education population in Delaware that is being underserved by a funding issue.

Charter School enrollment grew by 12.7% with an increase of 1,591 students.  Last year, 13,521 Delaware students attended charters, this year it is 14,112.  Five new Delaware charters began this year, but two were shut down last year.  Some of the schools, with Delaware Met loud and center, are having special education issues.

Without further ado, let’s get to the numbers!  For each school district or charter, the first number is the special education percentage, followed by last year, then this year’s student count, followed by last year.

 

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: 11.9%, last year 11.1%, Student Count: 10, 378, last year 9,870

Brandywine: 14.4%, last year 13.3%, Student Count: 10,580, last year 10,740

Caesar Rodney: 15.6%, last year 14.7%, Student Count: 7,221, last year 7,249

Cape Henlopen: 17.3%, last year 16.3%, Student Count: 5,170, last year 5,075

Capital: 18.9%, last year 17.4%, Student Count: 6,486, last year 6,665

Christina: 18.8%, last year 17.9%, Student Count: 15,553, last year 16,255

Colonial: 16.4%, last year 14.8%, Student Count: 9,763, last year 9,825

Delmar: 9.8%, last year 9.1%, Student Count: 1,347, last year 1,367

Indian River: 16.5%, last year 16.0%, Student Count: 10,171, last year 9,842

Lake Forest: 15.9%, last year 14.9%, Student Count: 3,794, last year 3,812

Laurel: 15.5%, last year 15.0%, Student Count: 2,221, last year 2,177

Milford: 14.1%, last year 13.6%, Student Count: 4,119, last year 4,197

New Castle County Vo-Tech: 12.0%, last year 12.4%, Student Count: 4,698, last year 4,629

Poly-Tech: 8.4%, last year 9.1%, Student Count: 1,194, last year 1,192

Red Clay Consolidated: 13.5%, last year 11.9%, Student Count: 16,094, last year 16,302

Seaford: 17.2%, last year 17.1%, Student Count: 3,473, last year 3,509

Smyrna: 15.3%, last year 14.4%, Student Count: 5,233, last year 5,279

Sussex Tech: 6.9%, last year 6.9%, Student Count: 1,444, last year 1,545

Woodbridge: 12.5%, last year 12.5%, Student Count: 2,466, last year 2,384

 

While a few districts stayed the same, it is obvious the bigger districts are actually rising with special education students at great rates.  Last year, the special education population was 17.2% for traditional school districts, but it is up to 18% this year, a 4.4% increase.  I’m not digging the vo-tech numbers and their downward trend.  The vo-tech percentages as a whole are actually lower than the charter average. 7,336 Delaware students are attending vo-techs, but their special education average is 10.4%, much lower than the traditional school districts.

Last year, traditional school districts had 104,388 students and this year they went slightly down to 103,335 for a loss of 1,053 students.  For the four Wilmington school districts, they all lost 1,132 students this year, with the majority of those belonging to Christina which lost 702 students.  The charters gained 1,591 students.  But did their special education numbers rise as well?

 

Charter Schools

* means they just opened this year

Academia Antonia Alonso: 2.2%, last Year .9%, Student Count: 320, last year 221

Academy of Dover: 9.5%, last year 11.7%, Student Count: 284, last year 290

Campus Community: 6.7%, last Year  8.3%, Student Count: 417, last year 410

Charter School of Wilmington: .5%, last year .2%, Student Count: 972, last year 972

Del. Academy of Public Safety & Security: 19.5%, last year 16.5%, Student Count: 303, last year 363

Delaware College Prep: 1.6%, last year 2.5%, Student Count: 186, last year 203

*Delaware Design Lab High School: 20.6%, Student Count: 233

*Delaware Met: 27.9%, Student Count: 215

Delaware Military Academy: 3.9%, last year 3.0%, Student Count: 564, last year 569

Early College High School: 10.5%, last year 2.3%, Student Count: 209, last year 129

EastSide Charter: 12.9%, last year 14.8%, Student Count: 443, last year 418

Family Foundations Academy: 8.6%, last year 5.3%, Student Count: 792, last year 811

*First State Military Academy: 19.3%, Student Count: 202

First State Montessori Academy: 7.4%, last year 5.4%, Student Count: 325, last year 280

*Freire Charter School: 6.4%, Student Count: 234

Gateway Lab School: 60.8%, last year 59.9%, Student Count: 212, last year 212

*Great Oaks: 16.0%, Student Count: 212

Kuumba Academy: 10.5%, last year 6.3%, Student Count: 644, last year 464

Las Americas Aspiras: 8.5%, last year 5.7%, Student Count: 639, last year 541

MOT Charter School: 6.8%, last year 6.1%, Student Count: 1,013, last year 869

Newark Charter School: 6.4%, last year 5.6%, Student Count: 2,140, last year 1,948

Odyssey Charter School: 4.9%, last year 4.4%, Student Count: 1,160, last year 933

Positive Outcomes: 62.7%, last year 65.9%, Student Count: 126, last year 126

Prestige Academy: 27.2%, last year 22.0%, Student Count: 224, last year 246

Providence Creek Academy: 5.1%, last year 5.1%, Student Count: 690, last year 688

Sussex Academy: 4.9%, last year 3.6%, Student Count: 594, last year 498

Thomas Edison: 7.0%, last year 7.1%, Student Count: 758, last year 745

 

Last year, the charters had special education populations in total of 8.6%.  This year they rose to 10.1%.  This is a rise of 14.85% in students with disabilities receiving IEPs at Delaware charter schools, but don’t forget, they also had an increased student count of 1,591 students this year.   They are up a bit from last year’s percentage of 12.7%, which is good.  But it seems like the bulk of new IEPs are going to some of the newer charter schools, like Delaware Met, Delaware Design Lab, Great Oaks and First State Military.  They are all well above the state average.  But the much vaunted “zero tolerance” charter stumbles at the gate with a very low 6.4%.  Charter School of Wilmington more than doubled their special education numbers.  But really, going from .2% to .5% is a joke.   Of concern are the two Dover charters who look like they are experiencing a downward trend in special education numbers.  That isn’t good, which accounts for Capital’s very large rise in percentage.  Down in Sussex Academy, it looks like the bulk of parents of special needs children chooses to send them to traditional school districts over Sussex Academy and Sussex Tech.  My big question though, if Providence Creek stayed the same, and Smyrna went up, where are the First State Military special education kids coming from?  This is a high school, so perhaps they are getting a lot of the Campus Community students that graduated from 8th grade there?  Or maybe more from the Middletown-Odessa area?  Who knows!

For student populations, the charters are definitely seeing upward movement, but one thing to remember is many of them are adding newer grades.  When a charter is approved, they can’t just open up every grade at once.  So it is a slow build.  For already established charters, you see them leveling out around the same numbers from year to year.  If I were Delaware College Prep and Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, I would be very worried about those falling numbers.  Since the districts aren’t adding many numbers in your area, I would assume the bulk of your losses are going to other charters.  So they don’t just take from the traditionals, they also feed off each other.  It looks like the Middletown-Odessa area is having a huge population boom.  Between Appoquinimink and MOT Charter School’s rise, that is a total of nearly 750 new students between the two.  I would have expected Appoquinimink to decrease with the new MOT high school, but that isn’t the case at all.

It is obvious special education is on the rise in Delaware.  But are all schools implementing IEPs with fidelity?  I would find it very difficult to believe they are.  In this era of accountability and standardized test scores, it has to be very hard for the administration and teachers of any school to keep up with it all.  The DOE has so many demands going out to our schools, traditional and charter alike.  And in the next year or so, all of these IEPs will transition to “standards-based” IEPs if they haven’t already.  These are controversial, but many teachers swear they work better.  The jury is still out on that one.

In the meantime, email your state legislators today and let them know they need to support House Bill 30 no matter what the budget says.  The bill has been stuck in the Appropriations Committee for 9 months now.  2,467 Delaware students are not getting the supports they need.  The funds this would generate would give these students more teachers and paraprofessionals.  This is a crime this wasn’t included in this “needs-based” funding.  There is a crucial need, and Delaware isn’t meeting it.

To find out how each school did in the traditional school districts with special education percentages and student counts by grade, they are all in the below report.  Just hit the arrow on the bottom to get to the next page, or hit the full-screen button on the bottom right.

House Bill 30, Basic Special Education Funding For Kindergarten to 3rd, Needs To Be Heard By The Appropriations Committee!!!

Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 30 in January.  It would give students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade the basic special education funding through the unit count formula.  Currently they do not have this funding which is absolutely ridiculous.  Governor Markell is always talking about students having the best education possible, but when he issued the unit count funding executive order some years back, he didn’t include a group of students who need this the most.

House Bill 30 cleared the House Education Committee months ago as well and was sent to appropriations due to a $7.5 million fiscal note attached to it.  While that may seem like a great deal of money, it would hire the extra teachers and paraprofessionals these children need.  Things they should have had in the first place!!!