Tony Allen: Lawsuit Coming If We Don’t Fix Wilmington Schools

Tony Allen issued a stern warning about Wilmington schools.  He said a lawsuit is coming soon if we don’t fix it.

Last Wednesday evening, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware held a panel on Delaware education funding.  The panelists were myself, Tony Allen (the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission), Brian Stephan (on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee), and State Rep. Paul Baumbach.

The main emphasis of the panel was to discuss the pros and cons of implementing a weighted funding system for Delaware schools.  In this type of system, students with higher needs would have more money allocated to them.  These would include low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.  For the last, this already takes place with the exception of basic special education for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

All the panelists were in agreement that the system we have is not working at all.  While I don’t necessarily have an issue with a weighted funding system, the devil is in the details.  But beneath the surface, as I stated towards the end of the panel, is the huge elephant in the room concerning accountability.  Not for standardized tests but where money is currently going.  There is no viable mechanism in Delaware to ensure the funds we are using in public education are truly going to the needs of students.  Our state auditor is supposed to audit every single traditional school district for all expenses, but when was the last time we saw one of those reports unless it was part of an official audit inspection?  There is no consistency with where funds are going.  There are so many sub-groups of payment allocations with many overlapping each other.  It is a beast to understand.  Coding expenses in definitive places is a must, but no one seems to want to address that at a state level.  It is my contention that throwing more money into the system is a recipe for disaster.

Say the advocates for better education in Wilmington schools do file a lawsuit.  What would the result be?  The feds have made important decisions in the past that put temporary band-aids on the issues but eventually the situation with “failing schools” comes up again and again.  The definition of a “failing school” is now tied to standardized tests.  It is the heart of all accountability in public education.  But it fails to address the issues facing students of poverty, spoken languages that are not English, and disabilities that are neurologically based.  The “one size fits all” mentality, which the Delaware Dept. of Education is still pushing in their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act state plan, doesn’t work.

Tony Allen told the group he was disappointed the WEIC Redistricting Plan didn’t pass in the General Assembly.  He said, without hesitation, that he fears a lawsuit will have to happen to truly address the issues facing Wilmington students.  He did concede that one of the biggest issues facing WEIC was not having representation from Kent and Sussex counties in the group.  This was something I advised WEIC about in public comment at their very first meeting in August of 2015.  It was also why I didn’t go to as many meetings as I could have.  But will a federal lawsuit fix Wilmington schools?

In my opinion, the biggest problem in Delaware education among high-needs students is a problem no judge, accountability system, General Assembly, or any advocate can fix: hopelessness.  In our biggest cities in the state, and reaching out into the suburbs and rural areas, is a drug problem of epic proportions.  And with African-American youth, that comes with a potential of joining a gang.  Until that problem is fixed, we will continue to spin our wheels trying to fix education.  We can have after-school programs and more guidance counselors in our schools.  That will help, but it will NOT solve the problem.  I don’t have the answer to that.  I don’t know who does.  But until we can fix that problem, making our schools the penicillin for the disease facing our state will not get to the heart of the issue.  With the drugs and gangs come extreme violence and people getting shot in the streets.  This “be tough or die” mentality is the deadliest issue facing Delaware.  And when those issues come into our schools, that is when education gets put in the bulls-eye of blame.

I have no doubt, at some point, Tony Allen, Jea Street and others will file some huge lawsuit against the State of Delaware.  And many will look towards a judge to solve all our problems.  It won’t.  Until we get really tough on hopelessness, we will fail.

WEIC Dies As Delaware Senators Try To Appease WEIC Advocates With Meaningless Legislation

The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan is dead.  Not officially, but close enough.  Two bills introduced by the Delaware Senate basically say “We aren’t going to approve the plan but we are going to kick the can down the road.”

The two new bills, Senate Joint Resolution #17 and Senate Bill #300 hold about as much clout as a snowflake in July.  If I were the advocates for WEIC, I would feel very insulted.  These legislators need to get some gumption and either vote yes or no.  Jea Street is going to sue you.  He has been adamant about that.  Tony Allen is going to be very angry about this.  And Governor Markell?  What’s his stance?  Does it matter at this point?  Not really.  Quack-quack.

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And so WEIC ends, not with a bang, but with legislative whimpers.Del

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.

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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.

Jea Street Threatens To Sue Delaware If WEIC Bills Don’t Pass

“When it comes to justice for children of color in the city, it has never been the General Assembly, it has always been the courts or the federal government that acts,” Street said.  “I don’t think this is going to be any different.”

Civil rights advocate Jea Street told the News Journal he will sue the state of Delaware if the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan doesn’t pass.  The Delaware General Assembly has a limited amount of time to act on the plan.  There are six more voting days in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate.  One of the bills was released from the House Education Committee but two others haven’t been heard yet.  If the bills pass the House, they must go to the Senate Education Committee.  Time is running out but so is the patience of advocates like Street.

Most other states have created systems that give extra funds to high-poverty schools, but Delaware’s system, he says, assumes a school in a violence- and poverty-wracked neighborhood can operate with the same resources as a school in a quiet, wealthy suburb.  “You talk to any expert, they’ll tell you that’s not how it works,” Street said.

Street was front and center during the press conference announcing the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the state and Red Clay Consolidated.  I haven’t heard Street talk about that lawsuit since it was announced.  That lawsuit alleged Delaware and Red Clay allowed charter schools to use discriminatory practices for enrollment purposes citing schools such as Charter School of Wilmington, Newark Charter School and Sussex Academy.  I don’t see him beating on that drum anymore.  That lawsuit has been lingering for over a year and a half while the Office of Civil Rights stalls on the investigation.  I have to wonder why the News Journal doesn’t talk about that when they are writing an article about discrimination in Wilmington.

On the other hand, I agree with Street.  Delaware passes the baton to the courts or the feds when things don’t change in the General Assembly.  But when the article talks about the schools in Wilmington being operated by districts in the suburbs, the Wilmington schools will still be handled by a district from the suburbs.  The inequities he is talking about will still be there, but they will be more concentrated in one district.  From what I’m hearing, the Education Funding Improvement Commission report is delayed and may not be out by June 30th.  Having gone to one of the meetings, no one could seem to agree on any one viable strategy.  I’ve found Delaware likes to talk about education… a lot!  But when it comes time to make the crucial decisions, everyone sits like a deer in the headlights.  In the meantime, children suffer.  We spend tons of money on research and reports but we don’t do anything with it.  We had that huge Statewide Review of Educational Opportunities.  The DOE paid Public Consulting Group somewhere around $50,000 to do that report.  And what do we  have to show for it?  Absolutely nothing.  It is money that could have been used on something viable, like an extra teacher in one of these schools.  Instead we piss away money on absolute nonsense!

Is Regulation 616 A Gift For Delaware Charter Schools To Kick Out The Unwanted?

PrincipalsOffice

Tomorrow the Delaware State Board of Education will vote on Regulation 616.  This regulation concerning school suspensions, expulsions, and out of school placements (alternative schools) is very controversial.  I wrote in December about the Assistant Superintendent from Smyrna’s very funny letter about this regulation, but many more have come in and they are all very alarming.  The biggest of which is one from the American Civil Liberties Union, as seen below:

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Delaware DOE & Red Clay Respond To ACLU Complaint, What Happens Next, & My Demand From Delaware

In an article by the Hockessin Community News, both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District responded to the announcement yesterday of a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid, Inc. submitted to the Office of Civil Rights regarding charter school discrimination against minorities, low-income students and special needs children.

The Delaware DOE’s response:

“We are committed to providing access to great educational opportunities for every Delaware student, from birth through higher education, and we are proud of the academic progress our low-income students and children of color have made in recent years, including by closing the gap between minority and non-minority students,” said Alison May, press spokesperson for the Delaware DOE.

May said that the state’s efforts to expand access has doubled the number of low-income children in “high-quality” early childhood programs, and has helped 100 percent of the state’s college-ready students apply to college regardless of their income.

“We will continue to expand and accelerate our efforts to make great education a reality for all of our students,” she said.

Red Clay’s response:

Red Clay Public Information Officer Pati Nash said that the district is now and always has been committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in their schools.

“We will continue to be guided by those principles,” Nash said. “And continue providing an excellent education to our students and the community we serve.”

Newcastle Councilman of the 10th District Jea Street said:

“This is not only a New Castle County problem – this is statewide,” Street said, now in his 41st year as a student advocate. He later added, “I support this and I appreciate this (complaint).”

The article went on to explain what will happen next. The complaint has been issued to the United States Office of Civil Rights and the US Department of Education. This is not something that will be handled out of the regional Office of Civil Rights out of Philadelphia. An investigation will be done to see if the complaint has merit, which the legal director of the Delaware ACLU, Richard Morse, believes will happen.

A declaration on the complaint was submitted by Eve Buckley. Buckley resides in Newark, DE and is a history professor at University of Delaware. In the declaration Buckley compared Newark Charter School’s enrollment preference to those of private schools, which are not beholden to many laws due to private funding and the fact they receive no state or federal funds for their operations. Charter schools do receive federal and state funds, so any laws applicable to the regular public school districts apply to charter schools as well.

On Facebook and other forums, many citizens of Delaware have gone back and forth on the issue. Some feel it is something that should have happened years ago while others want the status quo. Many others blame the whole situation with bussing around Wilmington as the chief contributor of the problem. Unfortunately, some comments have been racist and discriminatory.

I find the Delaware DOE’s response to be typical, but very weak. To cite examples of pre-school children and juniors and seniors in high school on how they promote equity is ignoring the main victims of this complaint, all the students in-between. Once again, the Delaware DOE takes an opportunity to proudly announce how the gap is being reduced between these sub-groups and “regular” students based on standardized testing scores. The Delaware DOE, in my opinion, has been blissfully ignorant of everything else happening in schools unless it is related to education reform policies. They have allowed this to happen by essentially doing nothing about it. There are many other factors contributing to this, but the DOE could have done something about it as the state agency for education.

What I find very surprising is how this is just a charter school issue. There are other schools that have some of these same practices. Polytech, in Kent County, is just one example. Some online have said the magnet schools and vocational schools in Delaware have used enrollment preference in their applications as well. Yes, the charters are the primary target in this complaint, but in my opinion, ANY school that uses any type of discriminatory practices to weed out any sub-group in the surrounding community is just as guilty.

I take grave offense to the treatment of the special needs children in this state. If they aren’t denied entrance to a charter school, many are denied the special education services that should be given to them under Federal law. I have brought up this topic at just about every IEP Task Force meeting to be a topic in the report to Governor Markell. I met with Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the Delaware DOE last summer, and her response to why the Delaware DOE does not audit schools for denied IEPs is because the “due process system is more than fair.”

It wasn’t until last night at the IEP Task Force that a member actually brought it up. Bill Doolittle, representing the Governor’s Advisory Council of Exceptional Citizens, stated that if the task force is reviewing the entire IEP process, and evaluations are an integral part of the discovery phase of an IEP request, then an IEP denial should absolutely be included in the conversation. It is too late for this to go into Governor Markell’s report due January 1st, but if the IEP Task Force continues past January (which Lieutenant Governor/soon to be Attorney General Matt Denn said is “highly” likely), it may come up as a topic. If nothing is done about IEP denials being audited in the state of Delaware very soon, I will be submitting my own complaint to both the US Office of Civil Rights as well as the US Department of Education. Enough is enough. Far too many students and their families have suffered as a result of an IEP denial. Far too many students who did not receive services at a young age when they should have end up spending time in residential treatment centers because of this practice. How many tears have to be shed? How many families have to be torn apart before this DOE acts? If they don’t act, I will.

Read more: http://www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20141203/News/141209902#ixzz3Kz1CeiWP