Rep. Jaques Turns Simple Opt Out Parental Rights Bill Into A Three-Ring Circus

State Rep. Earl Jaques showed off his “Big Man on Campus” persona in an embarrassing display of supposed power today which he may be wrong about.

Advocates for any opt out bill in Delaware knew there would be opposition.  Those of us who have advocated for a bill which codifies and honors a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment knew this going in.  However, hanging your hat on a superficial and made-up procedure the way Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques did is shameful and embarrassing.  State Rep. John Kowalko, the primary sponsor of the bill, was composed and polished today.  There was no back and forth between himself and Jaques as there was two years ago.

House Bill 60 was not released from the House Education Committee.  With only eight out of seventeen members voting to release the bill, Jaques declared the bill dead.  However, there is a big caveat to his declaration.  Although there were 12 members on the floor, the committee is made up of 17 state representatives.  Five bills were heard in committee today.  For the other four, Jaques indicated he would walk the bill to the members.  For the opt out bill, he said he would not release the bill since there was a majority of members on the floor during the vote.  State Rep. Sean Lynn called for a parliamentary inquiry on the matter.  There is a chance Jaques could be overruled on his refusal to walk the bill for signatures and it could be released.  However, Jaques absolute disdain and contempt against this bill is clouding his better judgment.  He set the precedent for this by agreeing to walk the other four bills in my opinion.

After the committee adjourned the second time (since Jaques declared the meeting over a first time without asking for or getting a motion to adjourn), I spoke to him in the lobby of Legislative Hall. I said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.”  I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t upset.  He began yelling at me and said “The bill is not released.”  I asked him why he was yelling at me and advised I wasn’t yelling at him.  He continued to yell and said “The bill is not released.  It’s done.  The bill is dead,” as he stormed off.

About fifteen minutes later, I found myself in Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf’s reception area.  In the office were Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, Meghan Wallace, and Jaques.  The receptionist said there was a wait and I advised I would just send him an email.  The email is below.

In terms of the discussion on the bill in committee, it was very much a repeat of 2015.  The usual suspects opposed the bill: Delaware DOE, State Board of Education, Delaware Business Roundtable, State Rep. Tim Dukes, a couple of women from Wilmington who were sitting next to DelawareCAN’s Atnre Alleyne, etc.  Even the Delaware School Boards Association opposed the bill because they believed it is a local decision and detracts from the issues surrounding testing.  There was a lot of discussion around losing federal funds even though it has never happened.  The excuse this time was “We don’t know what will happen with Secretary Betsy DeVos.”  I love when a State Rep. has something important to say about a bill they oppose after they get a piece of paper from someone in the audience, but I digress.  There was talk about how bad Smarter Balanced is, the amount of time wasted on testing, and so forth, but there was far too little about the heart of the bill: the parental right to opt out.

No state has ever lost federal funding over dipping below the 95% participation rate.  And I don’t think little old Delaware would be the first.  If the feds really put their money where their mouth is, it would have happened in New York or New Jersey years ago.  So I don’t care what they say (and no one is actually saying it these days), it is not a good idea to cut federal Title I money from schools with poor kids.  Secretary Bunting did say Delaware got feedback on its state ESSA plan last evening and believes the US Dept. of Education will be tougher than she thought, but as a state with a 97% participation rate, I don’t think we are on the Title I money chopping block.  Let’s get real here.

To be fair, I don’t ever expect the Delaware DOE and the usual cast of opposers to ever support an opt out bill.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Expecting it is as likely as convincing the wind to change direction.  It isn’t something I’m even upset about anymore, it just is.

My public comment was as simple as the bill: it is a parental right bill.  And since there was a question about what districts or charters have given parents a rough time about opting their child out, I named them: Red Clay, Christina, Freire Charter School, and so forth.  I even advised Rep. Dukes a constituent in his own district tried to opt their child out two years ago, the only one in that school district.  When the school refused, they told the mother he could not opt out.  It got so bad the mother was ostracized by members of her community.  After, Dukes came up to me and told me he didn’t appreciate me calling him out.  He asked me which district, and I told him which one I believed it was.  He said “you don’t know?”  I said it was two years ago and I talk to a lot of parents.  He said next time I better know before I call him out like that.  I advised him the parent tried reaching him at the time and he claimed he never heard from the parent.

One public commenter said he wasn’t even there for that bill but felt he had to comment.  He said, as someone who makes six figures and works for Fortune 500 companies, he has never looked at a single standardized test score.  He said if a college student in an interview told him they opted out of the state assessment, he would give them an internship based solely on that.

Here is the email I sent to Schwartzkopf:

Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf,

Good evening.  I attempted to see you in person, but you had a long line in your office about half an hour ago.  I advised your receptionist I would email you, which I prefer to do at this point since it is in writing.

As  you are no doubt aware, I am very passionate about education.  But I have calmed down with my public comments regarding certain legislation.  I wish the same could be said of the Chair of the House Education Committee.  The behavior I saw from him today regarding House Bill 60 was offensive, both as a citizen of Delaware and as a parent.

I am sure you know about the situation with “walking the bill” after Rep. Jaques set the standard for that with four other bills in the committee today.  It was very obvious to all he wanted this bill to die a messy death and he wanted to be the one to do it.  That is conjecture on my part, but based on his attitudes and attempts to kill the bill in 2015, I would say that is a fair assessment.  But his behavior in the lobby of Legislative Hall was unacceptable.  I simply said “Earl, you have to walk the bill.”  He began yelling at me, loud enough for many folks nearby to overhear.  When I asked him why he was yelling at me and that I wasn’t yelling at him, he continued to yell at me claiming “the bill is dead” and stormed off like a petulant child.  While I certainly can’t say I have never shown anger about legislation, I believe a certain decorum is expected out of our elected officials.  I don’t agree with Earl’s decision about deciding not to walk the bill, but I have to believe two grown adults can treat each other with respect and discuss the matter like two gentlemen.  I wanted to advise you of this issue because of his position as Chair of the House Education Committee.  Please consider this a formal complaint against Rep. Jaques.  I do believe this is something the House leadership should investigate.  I would have accepted a decision on the bill if it was given a fair shake, but I found Rep. Jaques behavior and conduct unbefitting for a Chair of a committee.

As I’m sure you know, I am a firm believer in transparency, so this email will be a part of my article about the opt out bill heard in committee today. 

Respectfully,

Kevin Ohlandt

Schwartzkofp and Longhurst Ignore House Rules During Kowalko’s HB50 Veto Override Attempt

Audio Of Parliamentary Inquiry, Delaware House, 6/29/16

Tonight, I witnessed the death of a dream.  That our Delaware House of Representatives would finally do the right thing for our children.  Delaware State Representative John Kowalko brought back House Bill 50 tonight, the Delaware opt out bill that overwhelmingly passed the Delaware House and Senate a year ago.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill less than a month later.  The last time the House considered this bill was for an override of the Governor’s veto on January 14th.  Kowalko received bad information from the House Attorney on how to present a veto override.  He was told he had to have a suspension of rules prior to a vote on the reconsideration.  I can’t speak to the lack of knowledge or the reason this attorney gave bad advice to Kowalko.  I do know House Attorney’s are not employed by the State, but retained from law firms.  But Kowalko found out it was not necessary with carefully vetted research into veto override attempts in Delaware.  He brought up what is known as a Parliamentary Inquiry to the House tonight.  Had he been able to explain how the legal advice given to him by someone who is supposed to know House Rules and Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure in the event a situation is not covered by House Rules, the House would have understood what he was doing.  The Delaware House could have voted on the reconsideration of the Governor’s veto back in January without a suspension of rules.

Instead, what we got was Val Longhurst and Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf turning it into a power play and putting forth a point of order motion.  It was a trap, probably planned ahead of time since Kowalko told the House Attorney he would be requesting the Parliamentary Inquiry.  He had a representative lined up to second the motion for the Parliamentary Inquiry.  As Kowalko brought it up, Longhurst interrupted Kowalko while he was speaking and stated House Bill 50 was not on the agenda.  Kowalko knew this and stated he was talking about a Parliamentary Inquiry.  Schwartzkopf said Kowalko was out of order even requesting a Parliamentary Inquiry, which Kowalko challenged.  Kowalko appealed Schwartzkopf’s point of order.  Val Longhurst seconded it, said “Oh shit” (nice conduct of an elected official during a legislative session) and then retracted her second as the floor of the General Assembly burst into laughter as Schwartzkopf said “Jiminy Christmas” and said the motion was dead.  Gavel went down, case closed.  But is it?  By denying an elected official the ability to request a parliamentary inquiry under the guise of a point of order given while the elected official was speaking which had nothing to do with the matter at hand could be ruled as illegal.

Once again, we have Democrat leadership in the House who don’t know the policies of the floor they are supposed to govern.  They have committed themselves to a lame-duck governor at the expense of our high-stakes tested children.  There are good legislators in Legislative Hall, but the vast majority are in it for themselves and don’t know what they are doing except how to put forth legislation from corporate lobbyists or to further their own careers.

Prior to Kowalko’s motion, the House had just voted on a very emotional budget bill.  It passed, but eight voted no.  Some voted no who have voted before, but State Reps. Stephanie Bolden and Charles Potter voted no due to the lack of funding for the WEIC redistricting plan and the Senate’s refusal to move forward with the legislation.  Even State Rep. Miro, who voted yes on the budget, gave a well-intentioned speech about how the state is not doing well economically and it will be worse next year.  Kowalko objected to the budget after he filed an amendment to take the charter school transportation slush fund out of the budget.  The amendment failed but eight voted yes.  Which fell in line with the budget vote, 31 yes, 8 no, and 2 absent.

I firmly believe our state needs a serious fiscal and ethical investigation by the Federal government into where every single penny of our state funds are going and who is profiting off of shady backroom deals.  They need to start with Governor Jack Markell and work their way down through the House, the Senate, the DOE, vendors, school districts, charter schools, the auditor’s office, the treasurer’s office, the Department of Health and Social Services, and pretty much everywhere anyone gets funds from the State of Delaware.

Our children are used as guinea pigs.  We see it from Sokola, the DOE, Markell, Schwartzkopf, Longhurst, Melanie Smith, McDowell and others.  Godowsky puts on another face constantly.  He tries to save face with the Governor when he knows the stuff they are pedaling out of his building is absolute crap.  None of these people care about kids.  Not a single damn one of them.  I’ve tried to deal with the legislators in Legislative Hall.  I’ve tried to reach out to some of them in good faith.  They don’t respond.  Those that do know who they are and I know you are trying your best, but when the majority is corrupt, the whole building is.  I see many of you get upset when good bills that will truly help the children of Delaware go nowhere.  Our DOE is not a State Agency.  It is a collection of education reformers and lobbyists, selling our children out to the highest bidders.  A great deal of the legislation passed in Delaware for education allows them to do this.

When a State Representative votes against a budget because of the rampant corruption in our state, they are a hero.  They are not unpatriotic.  If patriotism is following orders and never questioning anything and allowing children to suffer while you remain in power Rep. Melanie Smith, then you may want to look at what the patriots who founded this country actually did so you could hold elected office.  You allow a great deal of bills that go through that will only please corporations at the expense of the citizens of Delaware.  Tonight, I was ashamed to say I live in Delaware.  Everything the other legislators said about the budget was from the heart, not quotes from books or a Tedx talks speech.  It is a legislator’s responsibility to pass a good budget, not a bad one.  This was a bad budget.  You can do all the glad-handling and take the applause for getting it passed, but it is still filled with pork.  You know it, and I know it.  We all know it.  We know who this budget truly serves, and it is not in the best interest of children or the citizens of the state who by your own admission deserve more.

For someone who wants what is best for Delaware, why have you, Pete Schwartzkopf, consistently gone with the Governor’s wishes and not the will of the people.  You are the Speaker of the House.  It isn’t your House.  It is ours.  The people of the state.  Until you learn that valuable lesson, you will continue to be called Sneaky Pete all over the state until your time is done.  Because you refuse to find out the answer concerning how the State Representatives would vote on the override of Markell’s veto, you are not a friend to parents in the state of Delaware.