What Happened AFTER The WEIC Vote

Immediately after the Wilmington redistricting bills passed the House, local and state media interviewed State Rep. Charles Potter and Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen.  Both stated this is a positive step forward.  Allen reiterated that if the funding isn’t there, the plan will be suspended by the commission.  He stressed the funding is critical at this point.

TonyAllenAfterHouseWEICVote

Afterwards, Delaware Governor Jack Markell came down from his Legislative Hall office and offered congratulations to Jea Street, Tony Allen, and Senator Margaret Rose-Henry.  After that, Markell, Allen, Dan Rich, Senator Henry and the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor, Meghan Wallace all went up to Markell’s office for a closed-door discussion.

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Rumors are swirling that New Castle County will be giving money towards the redistricting plan.  There has been no verification of this, how much money, or what the source of the money would be.

The redistricting resolution heads to the Senate now.  I’m hearing the full Senate vote will be much harder than the House.  Which means it may not have 100% Democrat Senate support either.  No one is offering names in the leaky corridors of Legislative Hall.

WEIC Redistricting Bills Pass The Delaware House

With a vote of  23 yes and  16 no, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting plan to send the Christina School District’s Wilmington students to the Red Clay Consolidated School District now heads to the Delaware Senate.  The House Republicans and Democrat State Rep. Kim Williams voted no for House Joint Resolution #12, which was similar to how the votes went down for House Bill 424.

Delaware Senator David Sokola, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, will now have to schedule a Senate Education Committee meeting to discuss the bill.  If released, it will face a full Senate vote.  If it passes there, it will head to Governor Markell for signature into law.  The commission could still suspend the redistricting plan if the funding is not available.  They will have two opportunities to do this at the start of the fiscal years for 2017 and 2018 should the funding not be available as recommended in their plan.

All the big WEIC folks were in attendance: Tony Allen, Dan Rich, Jea Street, the WEIC attorney who I gave up a seat on the floor for and I went up to the balcony.

Right before the vote, the Joint Finance Committee met and indicated that even though the state found another $7.5 million for the budget due to refinancing bonds yesterday (yes, yesterday), none of those funds would be allocated to the WEIC redistricting plan.

First up was House Bill 424.  It was read in its entirety.  The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Sean Lynn, stated his big concern with the plan was the ability for school boards to raise taxes without a referendum.  State Rep. Deb Hudson went to line 37 of the bill, which covers funding for the plan and that there must be funding mechanisms from state and local sources.  Lynn had House Attorney Bill Bush come to the floor to go over this aspect of the bill.  Bush stated this not binding language.  Hudson stated it is suggested, but Bush stated once again it is not legally binding.  Lynn said Hudson was reading that part of the bill out of context and went over an earlier part of the bill that covered that sub-section.  Lynn stated it does not bind the state, town, district, or local political subdivision to the plan.  Hudson said the plan requires funding but there is not funding for this bill.  Ramone asked why it was changed with the simple adjustment from shall to recommended.  Bush said it was a “soft” language change.  Ramone said even if it just said “resources”, this would be a money bill.  Bush disagreed and said it is not binding to the General Assembly.  Lynn said the impetus for the bill was that the General Assembly adheres to the plan.  The bill does not bind the government or any subdivision to the bill.  Ramone said recommendation of resources was changed from resources to show this was not a money bill.  Bush agreed.  Ramone asked if this is a majority bill, or the Joint Resolution, because of the changes.  His concern is Red Clay going to referendum because the funds aren’t provided by the state for the plan.  Ramone said the need to fix the schools is a true need.  He gets all that.  Ramone asked who is going to pay for it.  He said no one wants to pay for it because no one can answer the funding questions.

State Rep. Joe Miro said he and Bush go back many years and thinks he is a good attorney, but he asked how another attorney would view this bill.  He heard that the bill isn’t binding, but he has heard some things like this before.  He said it is like going to a doctor, you get a diagnosis and a 2nd opinion, and that opinion could be the basis of a lawsuit.  Bush said this bill provides a clarification that the state is not bound by anything within the bill.  Miro said the state set aside $6 million for this “project” but it isn’t enough money.  He said the minimum amount is $7.5 million and even that is not going to meet the $6 million in the budget.  He is confused in terms of allocated funding which isn’t enough.  He doesn’t want the constituents of his district to go to referendum to cover the costs.  He asked why the funding is in the budget at $6 million if the state isn’t bound to it.

Speaker of the House Schwartzkopf excused Bush.  Roll call: 24 yes, 15 no, 2 absent.  All the House Republicans voted no.

House Joint Resolution #12 came up next.  The bill was read in.  An amendment was read in as well.  The amendment clarifies once again the state is not bound to the plan.  Hudson addressed the sponsor, State Rep. Charles Potter, and asked if there is capital funding needed for the plan.  Potter said this bill realigns the school district.  Hudson asked where that funding would come from.  Potter said he is here to talk about HJR #12.  After some back and forth, with Hudson asking the same type of question with Potter giving the same response.  She said her concern is her constituents and if new schools will have to be built or if students will be put in trailers.  State Rep. William Carson said the General Assembly is non-binding on this resolution.  Any future funding would have to be voted on by the General Assembly, Carson clarified, to which Potter agreed.

State Rep. John Kowalko thanked WEIC for taking on the task of serving at-risk children.  Kowalko said this is a plan.  He said “It is time for us to step up” and deal with children in poverty.  To step up for students who are a victim of their environment.  Kowalko said the boundaries that were set up by the courts were ludicrous.  He said there are some harsh realities with the funding, but it has been set up judiciously.  Ramone commended Potter and WEIC and said there is not an illusion about what the problems are with low-income students and special needs children.  As well as English-Language Learners.  He said they did a remarkable job with spelling that out.  He said this is a step, but the step could be a stall.  He said we need to change how we fund our schools better.  He asked Potter what the purpose of the House Joint Resolution really is?  Potter said “The resolution is the resolution,” which gives the General Assembly the power to realign the school district.  Ramone asked what the purpose of the amendment was.  Ramone asked for someone from the Budget office to explain some math.  Schwartzkopf said he doesn’t see anyone around.  They called downstairs to bring someone up.  While they were waiting, State Rep. Kim Williams read the resolution passed by WEIC which states if the funding isn’t provided, the commission, Red Clay, or Christina could suspend the plan if there is not enough funding.  Potter asked if that helps Ramone’s question.  He thanked Williams and Potter, but said he still wants someone from the budget office.

State Rep. Miro said whenever there is change or a need to implement something, there is a cost associated.  He said he knows what HJR #12 says, but the fact of the matter is there is going to be a cost associated with any changes any time you absorb something from someone else, in this case Christina to Red Clay.  Miro said this absorption will come from state or local funds and it is very difficult to make a promise that we can’t keep.  He feels what will take place is the General Assembly will not be able to keep their promises.  He said with the budget and the deficit we face, it is going to be difficult to answer the calls from his district.  “In order to maintain money,” Miro said, “it is going to be difficult.”  He doesn’t believe anyone in the room today doesn’t want a better future for these students.  He said this is a bill of hope, not money.

Deputy Controller General Mike Jackson came to the podium.  Ramone asked about the State of Delaware and if changing schools from one district to another would be a revenue neutral transtition.  Jackson said the state funding would be reallocated from one district to another.  Ramone asked how the tax rates would change.  Basically, he said by changing from the poorest sections of one district, the tax rate would change.  Ramone said the resolution doesn’t bind the state to financial allocations.  “If I am moving children from Christina”, Ramone said, but they will have more room for administration costs while the students will move to another district with a lower tax rate.  Schwartzkopf asked what the question is.  State Rep. Valerie Longhurst said this resolution is not about financial issues but solely redistricting.

The vote came up for a roll call: 23 yes, 16 no, 2 absent.   The redistricting plan passed the Delaware House of Representatives.

Do Or Die Time For WEIC As House Votes On Redistricting Resolution Tomorrow

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission faces a full House vote tomorrow to determine if their redistricting plan survives or dies on the vine.  Both House Joint Resolution #12 and House Bill #424 are on the House agenda tomorrow.  Expect the full WEIC contingent to attend the vote.  My advice: arrive early and count on sitting in the balcony.  Bring a seat cushion.

I have a feeling how the vote will go down tomorrow, but I’m going to hold off on my prediction until after.  Let’s just say this will be a very lively discussion on the floor.  Funding is going to be the number one argument.  Speaking of funding, I found out tonight that the Education Funding Improvement Committee (EFIC) had their final meeting yesterday and their report is due to the General Assembly by June 30th.  There will be zero recommendations from the committee on unit-based or weighted funding formulas for Delaware education.  None of the members of the committee could get a consensus on any one recommendation.

There was a considerable amount of House members going in and out of the House floor during their regular session.  More than usual.  I expect there to be a flurry of activity tomorrow before the vote.  Any legislator that is on the fence is going to get pounded all day tomorrow prior to the vote.  I imagine the House Republicans are going to all vote no, but I’ve been wrong on these things before.

The very frightening scenario coming out of this legislative session is based on three things not happening: the WEIC redistricting plan, no legislation determining an equitable education funding formula, and House Bill 30 not passing (or even getting a vote).  That will mean for all the work and time people on these committees are have advocated for a change in education funding will have been in vain.  It will be for nothing.  I actually warned WEIC at their very first meeting that having too many groups discussing education funding was going to be an issue.  I also warned them not having representation from Kent and Sussex County would be a problem as well.  No one ever listens to the blogger!

I think this is what Jack wanted all along.  A way for him to skate out of Delaware and be seen as an education hero, but none of the parties could come to a consensus.  Never mind that a lot of the issues are based on policies he brought forth as Governor in failed education reform.  He will say he tried his best, but it was a rigged game from the start and he knows it.  After the General Assembly leaves in the wee hours of July 1st, Jack will already have vetoed House Bill 399 in his mind.  He will become the lamest of ducks and he will begin counting the days until he moves on to bigger and things.  And he won’t go alone.  I’m already hearing very strange rumors to that effect, but for now they are just rumor.  All I can say is watch for Jack and friends to keep playing the art of misdirection and don’t believe everything you hear coming out of Jack’s mouth.  What may appear to be devastating for some will just be a part of the game.   John Carney doesn’t have a playbook so he is just going to copy Jack’s.  He is already beginning to round up different groups based on Jack’s agendas to begin his campaign, or lack thereof.

I will be blogging live from the House tomorrow and the second the vote goes down, you will know.  You can also listen by clicking on the audio for the House on the General Assembly website, just below the bill search section.  They will be convening on the House floor for their voting session at 3pm.  Before that, the House Education Committee will meet at 1:30 to discuss legislation pertaining to charter school audits, school bullying reporting, and school board terms.

If you don’t care about the WEIC redistricting vote, you should.  This is not just a Wilmington bill, but a Delaware one.  What happens in Wilmington impacts the entire state, good or bad.  I’ve gone back and forth on the redistricting more times than I can count.  I changed my mind again as recently as today.  The plan is epic in scope but the key will be implementation.  Everything rides on that.  But even if it passes and the Governor signs it, there are still ways for not only WEIC to stop the plan, but also the boards of Red Clay and Christina.  One thing to remember is that if the House and Senate passes the redistricting plan, it will be an unfunded mandate.  It will then be up to the Joint Finance Committee to allocate the “necessary and sufficient funding” of $7.5 million over the next two fiscal years for a total of $15 million.  As well as the transition costs.  The kill switch is there if that funding is not put into the budget.  Plain and simple.  As Tony Allen said today at the House Education Committee meeting, if the funding isn’t there, the commission voted unanimously to stop everything.

Every single Delaware State Representative needs to keep their own constituencies in mind when casting their vote tomorrow.  Will this be good for all of Delaware and their own district?  We will know the answer to this one in less than 24 hours…

To see the Executive Summary of WEIC, read below:

State Reps Sean Matthews & Deb Heffernan Will Allow WEIC To Get Full House Vote

Yesterday, the News Journal posted an article about one of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission redistricting bill that was tabled in the House Education Committee.  In the original article, it talked about how the House Republicans and two Democrat State Representatives prevented the bill from moving forward.  In the update to the article, it appears State Reps. Sean Matthews and Deb Heffernan are ready to give the bill a full House vote.

“All along, my concerns have been related to funding – and there are still many hurdles to overcome. However, after conversations with my peers and leadership, I am now confident that they are committed to addressing those concerns. For this reason, I will sign the bill out of committee so that it may receive full consideration on the House floor,” Matthews said.

“I agree that this legislation deserves a full hearing in the House,” Heffernan said, while noting she wants more than “structural changes” in the education system.

In the House Education Committee, a majority vote is required for legislation to be released.  The committee has 14 members, so 8 votes are needed.  Only one of the votes from Heffernan or Matthews would allow the bill to move forward.

The committee will be having a special meeting next Tuesday, June 21st, solely designated towards House Bill 424 at 2:30pm in the House Majority Caucus room, located next to the House chamber.  Before the committee can release the bill, a majority vote is required to lift the bill from its tabled status.  My hunch is it will be on the House agenda for a full vote on Thursday, June 23rd.

While this is not the legislation that approves the redistricting, it is meant to assure legislators and Delaware citizens that if House Joint Resolution #12, which would approve the redistricting plan, that school boards across the state will not be able to raise school taxes without a referendum.

Teacher Evaluation Bill Unanimously Released While WEIC Bill Tabled In House Education Committee

It was a mixed bag of results at the Delaware House Education Committee.  A teacher evaluation bill, House Bill 399, was released unanimously from the committee.  But a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission bill, concerning the redistricting of Wilmington students in the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District, designed to make clear a school board can not raise taxes without a referendum, was not released.  It was immediately tabled after in the chance the bill can get enough votes to be lifted from that designation.  None of the House Republicans on the House Education Committee voted to release the bill, nor did Democrat Reps. Sean Matthews or Deb Heffernan.  While this doesn’t kill the WEIC redistricting plan (the main legislation for this is House Joint Resolution #12), it certainly doesn’t help.  Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf attended the meeting in support of the bill.

With the teacher evaluation bill, House Bill 399, this came after years of back and forth conversation between Delaware teachers and the Department of Education.  The bill deals with how Component V, the major sticking point for teachers, is measured in teacher evaluations.  The major part of that section deals with the state assessment scores, currently the Smarter Balanced Assesssment.  This bill would make it so both the administrator and the teacher would have to agree on what to use for this section, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be the state assessment.  There are some restrictions with this based on a teacher’s prior rating through the DPAS-II evaluation system.  This wouldn’t kick in if they were rated below effective.  House Bill 399 will go on the House Ready list and awaits a vote by the full House.  If it passes there, it would have to go to the Senate Education Committee, and if released, to a full Senate vote, and ultimately the Governor for signature.  Teachers have been fighting this component for years ever since Senate Bill 51 was signed into law during the 2013-2014 legislative session.

Executive Director of the State Board of Education, Donna Johnson, expressed concern during public comment concerning an administrator still having the final word in an evaluation.  Kristin Dwyer, speaking on behalf of the Delaware State Education Association, was in support of House Bill 399.  One public speaker (I did not catch her name so I apologize) spoke about a lack of diversity on the sub-committee of the DPAS-II Advisory Group that came up with the recommendations.  Dr. Mark Holodick, the Superintendent of the Brandywine School District, spoke on behalf of the Chief State School Officers, spoke in support of the bill.

The slow climb to a House vote for the WEIC bill met with resistance by half the House Education Committee today.  Seven voted yes to release while seven voted no.  For a bill to be released from the committee in the House, it must have a majority.  A lot of the discussion concerned what House Bill 424 means in terms of a school board being able to raise taxes without a referendum.  State Rep. Sean Lynn deferred to the House Attorney who said it would not give school boards this right.  That was not enough to sway the half of the committee who voted no on release of the bill.

Over in the Senate Education Committee, House Bill 277 was heard.  This bill would give the Pathways to Prosperity program a permanent steering committee.  Questions were asked to DOE representatives by State Senator Nicole Poore concerning funding for the program.  The Delaware Joint Finance Committee cut $250,000 Governor Markell earmarked to go towards this program.  Michael Watson and Luke Rhine from the Delaware DOE shared the funds for this mostly come from federal Perkins funds.  I gave public comment concerning a lack of parent representation on the proposed committee.  State Senator David Sokola thought that was in there and made it a point to make sure this was corrected.  A comment was made to Sokola’s question about this to the effect of “We can talk about this.”

As well, Senate Bill 278, dealing with the Freedom of Information Act at Delaware universities and proposed to make committees and sub-committees subject to FOIA, was heard in the Senate Education Committee.  Drs. Morgan and Galileo from the University of Delaware were in support of the bill as they met with stiff resistance in trying to find out what was even discussed at committee meetings.  They also shared that public comment is not allowed at committee meetings at University of Delaware.  Representatives from University of Delaware and Delaware State University were in opposition of the bill.

With the Senate, the results are not known right away if a bill is released or not.

While not officially on the agenda list yet, House Joint Resolution #12 will most likely be voted on tomorrow in the full House of Representatives.  This could either advance the WEIC redistricting forward or end it.  Senate Bill 277 is already on the agenda for a full Senate vote tomorrow as well.

Updated, 8:09pm: House Joint Resolution #12 is NOT on the House Agenda for tomorrow…