Diploma Bill Released From House Education Committee

The first battle for HS1 for House Bill #287 was won today as the Delaware House Education Committee released it from committee.  This puts the special education legislation on the Ready list for a full House vote.

All were in favor of the release except for State Rep. Deb Heffernan who voted no and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden who abstained.  There was a great deal of discussion about the bill and who exactly it represents among Delaware special education students.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education, attempted to answer these questions to committee members.  The diploma with modified standards would apply to a very small population of Delaware students, approximately 1% of them.  These are students with severe disabilities that affect their ability to perform relative to their peers.

Currently, these students receive a “certificate of performance”.  Which means they are not allowed to check up the Diploma box on job applications.  They are unable to have the opportunity to apply for many jobs.  For parents of these children, as so aptly put by parent John Young, it is a resignation for their children that is very difficult to accept.

Much of the conversation was about the gap group of special education students between those this would apply to and those who receive a high school diploma.  To qualify for this bill, you have to be approved by your IEP team to take the alternative state assessment.  But that is only a little over 1% of Delaware students.  Our special education numbers hover around 15-16%.  Some of those students who do qualify for the Smarter Balanced Assessment have a difficult time passing rigorous high school courses and are unable to graduate.  Many legislators wanted to see numbers from the Delaware DOE on this.

One public comment, given by Robert Overmiller, said this bill would be lying to these students.  The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, of which Overmiller is a member, had public comment from member Kathie Cherry.  She felt it was important to note that Overmiller’s views on the bill did not reflect the overwhelming majority of the council who are in support of the bill.  While I do agree with Overmiller on many education issues, I felt his opposition to this bill was unfair but he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave the DOE’s approval of the bill, as did Delaware Autism, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the Delaware School Boards Association, and parents.

This is an important victory for this bill.  It still has a long way to go but I like the track it is going in.

Secretary Godowsky, Don’t Forget About Your May 1st Deadline! Will You Own Up To It Or Play Chicken?

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Delaware House Resolution #22 and House Bill #243 are Delaware legislation introduced by several Delaware House Republicans on January 14th this year.  That was also the same day the majority of the State Representatives in Delaware voted not to suspend the rules to override the veto on House Bill #50, the opt out legislation that DID pass the House and Senate last year.  For newer readers, Delaware passed a perfectly good opt out bill last year, but Governor Markell vetoed the bill in July.  Delaware State Rep. John Kowalko brought the bill back on 1/14 in an attempt to have legislators override the veto, but many who supported the bill last year refused to suspend the rules to allow it come up for a vote that day.  It is sitting on the House Ready list, but only the Delaware Speaker of the House, State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, can put it on the agenda for a full House vote.  I would give the odds of Schwartzkopf putting it on the Ready List at slim to none.

Several House Republicans felt House Bill 50 wouldn’t go anywhere that day, but they still wanted to keep the possibility of opt out alive.  House Resolution 22 gives Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky until May 1st to come up with procedures and a process for all schools to follow in regards to opt out.  He has not given any indication he would even address this resolution.  House Bill 243 would make it so no schools or districts would be held accountable for a parent opting their child out of the state assessment.  Which would also override any current federal laws on the issue as the federal law, like the Delaware law, states schools can’t opt kids out.  This is parent opt out, not school opt out.  It is a good bill, but the likelihood of it even being heard in the House Education Committee is slim to none.  At the end of January, State Rep. Earl Jaques rather smugly told me “that legislation isn’t going anywhere“.

We still have parents opting out, and we still have schools trying to bully and intimidate parents into not opting out.  Some schools feel it is perfectly okay for a child who is opted out to be in the classroom while others are taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Some schools are telling parents they aren’t allowed to opt out, and some are saying they will lose ALL funding if any student opts out.  Why would the House Republicans who sponsored this bill give until May 1st for Godowsky to act on it?  Most of the Smarter Balanced testing would have been done by then, or many students would have already “broken the seal” and started the test.  Be that as it may, Secretary Godowsky has un upcoming deadline.  I’ve already heard from a couple of legislators that Godowsky hasn’t even broached the subject.

Today in April 9th.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky has 22 days to honor House Resolution #22.  Will he do the right thing or is he truly just Governor Markell’s puppet?  We will find out on May 1st!

One very interesting tidbit to report: another Delaware Republican State Rep. signed onto the bill and the resolution as a sponsor since it was introduced.  State Rep. Tim Dukes signed on as a co-sponsor for both.  Last year, Dukes consistently voted no on every iteration of House Bill 50.  Prior to the veto override attempt, he was emphatic about voting no again if it came up.  However, at the last Assessment Inventory Committee meeting in February, Dukes looked like he was starting to see the light with the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It was refreshing to see.  And then when I saw him added on these two bills, I have to admit I smiled!