Kowalko Gives Markell The Knockout Punch Over NY Times Op/Ed Piece

Former Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times this week called “Let’s Stop Government Giveaways To Corporations”.  In it, he urged states not to get sucked into giving away the farm for huge corporations.  Something, even Markell noted, he did himself during his tenure as Delaware Governor from 2009-2017.  I found the irony behind Markell’s piece astounding as I felt he sold Delaware public education students down the river with his insane Race To The Top and Common Core antics.  State Rep. John Kowalko takes it a step further n an open letter to Markell.  Some of Markell’s many corporate giveaways in Delaware still haunt us to this day.

AN OPEN LETTER TO FORMER GOVERNOR MARKELL

Dear Jack,

I’ve just finished reading your N.Y. Times op-ed and I feel it’s my obligation to Delaware’s taxpayers to respond. I’d like to think that your most recent missive has merely added to my disappointment in you but I think I’ve already passed the minimum expectations level in regard to your performance and legacy. I will try to be objective in my analysis and critique.

First, I find it unbecoming for you to use “revisionist history” as a crutch to support your crippling economic decisions. That pejorative explanation has become the trademark of Trumpism and the Republican Conservative ideologues and should be an embarrassing reference for any legitimate public servant who wears a “D” after his title. I’d suggest that you cease evading responsibilities, casting blame and rewriting reality or remove that “D”.

Your statement that “I was as guilty as any elected official at playing this game” fails to adequately express the reality that you were much more “guilty” then other Delaware elected officials. You blithely dismiss the seriousness of this ongoing “economic/corporate welfare” threat by writing “And I don’t blame public officials, either, for their efforts to attract businesses with enticements, since they otherwise would risk losing out on new jobs, the transfer of old ones elsewhere and the bad publicity that could come with abandoning efforts to entice or retain companies”. That attitude and admission would be better relegated to a confessional for your personal “mea culpa” and forgiveness ask.

In your article some of the revisions you make to your economic tenure as Governor are merely omissions, others are misrepresentative of reality and others seem to be deliberate distortions. So I will attempt to briefly summarize what you’ve conveniently forgotten. During your 8 years as Chief Executive your DEDO/Strategic Fund doled out over $250 million (in grants and subsidies) in taxpayer money. Approximately 37% of the recipients were huge fortune 400 companies. This number does not include the more than $80 million in lost corporate revenue from your hastily contrived “Delaware Competes Act” (House Bill 235 quickly ushered through the Delaware General Assembly during the first few weeks of 2016 session) along with the “Commitment to Innovation Act” (SB 200). You mention the failed Fisker debacle but choose to ignore/deny your other expensive yet failed economic enterprise the “Bloom” subsidy. Not only has the cash grant/subsidy failed to produce the promised jobs but you’ve ensured that 300,000 individual and commercial Delmarva ratepayers would be burdened with an additional 20 years of subsidies to a private speculator/entrepreneur at a cost of $12-$15 million per year. Your remarkably optimistic speculation that the two of three Dow/DuPont spinoffs was a victory belies the reality that a preponderance of the research jobs are gone and Delaware is left with a comparative handful of jobs at the two headquarters. This type of Pyrrhic victory should not be heralded as the sign of an economic boon to Delaware. You also failed to mention the layoffs of 1700 (six-figure) DuPont researchers especially in light of your Secretary of Finance Tom Cook’s testimony on the House floor in response to my query that those jobs are gone and not coming back despite the Competes/Innovates corporate tax cuts and the 13 million cash giveaways that Ed Breen publicly said would not affect DuPont’s plans for job cuts. To paraphrase Mr. Breen’s remarks in the News Journal article “that money won’t make a difference in our plans but I’m not going to turn it down”. And lest we forget Jack, $10 million to JP Morgan (declared $24 billion in profit the year before), $2.5 million to Sallie Mae ($71 million profit 2nd qtr. 2017), $70 million infrastructure improvements to the Astra Zeneca campus (dramatically improving the value of their property now being sold) housing an ever dwindling workforce.

I do agree with your sentiments expressed as such but it would be better for taxpayers if these kinds of cash incentives could be invested instead in such things as schools and infrastructure”. Maybe that will happen under your successor’s tutelage via the newly minted taxpayer giveaway mechanism named the “Delaware Prosperity Partnership”. Perhaps that corporate dominated cabal will accept applications for funding to restore the $27 million in cuts to education you made in 2009 that have continued to date (under the guise of flexible spending block grants) or the additional $31 million in cuts to public education in this year’s budget or maybe some of those poor and elderly former pharmaceutical assistance recipients could make their anguished cries heard.

Wow! Kowalko nailed it!  Jack Markell, you had your time as leader of Delaware.  I know you like to pontificate over your imagined “success” as Delaware Governor but far too many of us see past your hypocrisy.  And for the most recent news on the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the following happened this week with that:

WILMINGTON, Del. – Governor John Carney on Friday announced that John Riley, a former state Director of Business Development, will serve as interim CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership – the newly-established public-private partnership that will lead the state’s economic development efforts.

In the position, Riley will help launch operations, develop a strategic plan for the new nonprofit, and conduct a search for a permanent chief executive.

“John is well-known and respected across our state, and has significant experience in economic development,” said Governor Carney, who will serve as co-chair of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership board. “I’m pleased he has agreed to help us launch the partnership. We are committed to changing the way we do business, fostering innovation, and growing our economy. I’m confident John will help position the partnership to succeed.”

“Establishment of this entity was a critical step to enhance the state’s ability to attract, grow and retain companies; to build a stronger entrepreneurial culture and to support private employers in identifying, recruiting and developing talent,” said Rod Ward, President of CSC and co-chair of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership board. “As Interim CEO, John will work with the board on the recruitment of a permanent CEO and development of a strategic plan for Delaware.”

“Thank you to Governor Carney and the entire board of the partnership for this opportunity,” said John Riley. “Delaware has great assets – a talented workforce, a strategic location along I-95, responsive leadership, and great communities up and down our state. I look forward to doing everything I can to attract investment and additional good-paying jobs to our state, and setting up this new partnership to succeed in helping grow our economy.”

Riley served as Director of Business Development under then-Governor Thomas R. Carper. He retired from Ashland where he was Director of Government Relations and previously served as Director of Public Affairs for Hercules Incorporated. Riley has continued to be active in economic development and assisted Governor Jack Markell’s Administration with Delaware’s strategy in responding to the DuPont-Dow merger.

Members of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership board approved the hiring of Riley at an organizational meeting this week.

Governor Carney, who took office in January, has made it a top priority to restructure Delaware’s economic development efforts, and strategically partnering with the private sector on economic growth was a key recommendation of the Governor’s Action Plan for Delaware. Last month, Governor Carney signed House Bill 226, creating the Delaware Prosperity Partnership and a new division within the Department of State to support small business growth.

The Delaware Prosperity Partnership will be run day-to-day by the chief executive officer and a full-time staff. The nonprofit will lead business marketing efforts for the state, with a focus on attracting early-stage and technology-focused businesses, recruitment of large employers, and expansion of international business opportunities for Delaware companies. Its leaders also will work with employers and Delaware educators to fill key talent gaps in the state. The state will jointly fund the partnership’s operations with private business.

 

Ron Russo Lost Me With Jeb Bush, I Think I’m Going To “Go Home”!

Ron Russo, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Caesar Rodney Institute, wrote a blog post yesterday with a BOLD PLAN for Delaware schools.  By even mentioning former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Foundation for Excellence in Education in the very first sentence, it was hard to lend any credibility to this piece.  But I read the whole thing out of morbid curiosity.

…Governor Jeb Bush, the keynote speaker, told the attendees that they had to, “Be big, be bold, or go home.”

I would have left at that point and proudly went home.  Jeb Bush has made a ton of money capitalizing off the backs of schools and students.  He is the very essence of corporate education reform.  I give anything he says zero weight.

Russo seems to view former Red Clay Consolidated Board President William Manning as the Messiah of Delaware education:

He recommended a confederation of independent schools each locally managed and free of regulations about who to hire and how to teach.  The schools would be evaluated only by performance data that would be shared with the public.

Manning’s vision created charter schools that do not serve the populations within their district boundaries.  Quite a few Delaware charters have selective enrollment preferences that seem to further segregation and push out kids with high needs.  Manning was the lead attorney in the lawsuit against the Christina School District when charters that serve Christina students sued the district to get more money per student.  Eventually the lawsuit wound up becoming a settlement that further stripped funds away from the district.  Russo’s BOLD PLAN is modeled after the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200:

The Caesar Rodney Institute is supporting a systemic change to our education bureaucracy called the “BOLD PLAN”.  It significantly alters the way the current education system operates by empowering the individual schools to make operational decisions to best serve their students.

In theory, this would be a great idea.  However, Russo lost me yet again when he brought up the VERY controversial priority schools as a potential model for this plan:

CRI’s BOLD PLAN incorporates the best features of the 1995 Charter School Law and the Memorandum of Understanding designed by Delaware’s DOE for Priority Schools.  If the changes proposed in the MOU were expected to raise the performance of the state’s lowest performing schools, why wouldn’t those changes be offered to all public schools?

Sorry Ron, but the priority school Memorandums of Understanding were absolutely horrible and did more to create parent backlash in Wilmington than anything seen before.  So what would this plan consist of?  Therein lies the rub:

BOLD legislation would specify areas of local decision-making.  Such areas would include: 1) Authority to hire and dismiss all staff; 2) All programing inputs (school calendar, schedule, curriculum aligned to Delaware standards, instructional practices and methodology, textbooks, technology, etc.); 3) Marketing and planning; 4) Support services including transportation, food, and maintenance; 5) Budget preparation and expenditure control with surplus operating funds retained by the school.  Schools will have autonomy from any district or Delaware DOE requirements not mandated by state or federal law.

This legislation has more holes than a donut shop.

  1. What happens if the board membership or the Superintendent of the district is not operating under normal parameters of their function?  What if personal grudges get in the way of a sound decision to hire or dismiss all staff?  Delaware is a small state and conflicts of interest are well-known in this state.
  2. You lost me at “Delaware standards”.  If you truly want to give local education authorities the coveted local control, they would be free to set their own curriculum without being tied to any type of standard pushed down from the state or federal government.  I have yet to see any indication Delaware will get rid of Common Core which was created under false pretenses.
  3. Don’t they already do this anyway?
  4. See #3
  5. That would not be a good thing.  Delaware charter schools already keep their surplus transportation funds in a sweetheart deal with the General Assembly and there is no apparatus to make sure those funds are being used with fidelity.  What is the point of even having a district or charter board if the school can do whatever it wants with extra money?  This proposal sounds like anarchy.

Russo’s logic becomes even more confusing when he casually drops the Rodel Visionfests and Race To The Top into his conversation:

The BOLD PLAN complements Delaware’s other education improvement efforts (Visions, Races, etc.).  In fact, it may even complete them.

I don’t think completion of those plans is something anyone in Delaware really wants.  Race To The Top was an unmitigated disaster with funds going to the state Department of Education more than local school districts.  The Vision Coalition goals further perpetuate many bad corporate education reform policies.  It is hard to take anything they do seriously when the CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, Dr. Herdman, makes over $345,000 a year.

Ironically, Russo channels Dan Rich who has been very involved with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s proposed Wilmington redistricting.  But Russo doesn’t bring him up in any way related to that endeavor but rather his involvement with the Vision Coalition:

At the very first Vision 2015 meeting hosted by Dan Rich, then Provost of the University of Delaware, he ended the meeting by telling the attendees that if they wanted to improve Delaware’s public schools they had to be bold and, if they didn’t want to be bold, they should get out.  Hmmmm, it seems that Dan was way ahead of Jeb.

Comparing Rich to Jeb Bush almost seems insulting.  Of course, any education push should be bold.  But by telling people if you don’t like it to “get out” or “go home” it is essentially saying if you don’t agree with us we won’t give you the time of day.  That is NOT the way education issues should be ironed out and only creates more of a divide.  The Delaware charter school experiment, now well into it’s third decade, has met with very mixed results.  It has not been the rousing success the forefathers of the original legislation thought it would be.  Why would Delaware even entertain this idea based on that?  And lest we forget, all this imaginary “success” is based on standardized test scores, of which Delaware has gone through three different state assessments since then.  Sorry Ron, but this is not a BOLD PLAN.  It is an old plan, that just plain doesn’t work.

I have to wonder about the timing of this article.  The Caesar Rodney Institute has long been a fierce supporter of school vouchers.  Delaware has been very resistant to that system under Democrat control but under the Trump administration and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education, it is not surprising to see Russo coming out with this type of article.  President Trump and DeVos want a federal school voucher system that has already met with disappointing results in several states.

State Rep. John Kowalko Weighs In On Delaware Taxpayer Money Getting Flushed Down The Toilet

In my article on our Non-Transparent Delaware, State Rep. John Kowalko left a comment that deserved its own post.

As regards the “Commitment (of taxpayer money) To Innovation Act” please read the following:

I certainly have not and will not support any of these corporate tax welfare bills. DuPont/Dow moved the majority of research and other jobs in the agricultural spinoff to Iowa and Delaware taxpayers are left with some extremely costly crumbs (headquarters only) in Wilmington. Let me point out to all that there was and will continue to be opposition to this ravaging of the taxpayers’ wallet and I certainly will do my best to expose my colleagues to the illegitimacy of such policies that offer no return on investment for Delaware taxpayers.

My point is that making a product (Oreos for instance), moving 600 jobs from Chicago to Mexico across the border for dirt cheap wages and rueful working conditions benefits only those multi-billion dollar corporations and their CEOs (see DuPont/Dow $80 million bonuses) while idling thousands of American workers who no longer have spendable income to support the consumer spending that is needed for local businesses to survive. Ross Perot was right about that sucking sound. For example: DuPont $200 million factory built in China (recently opened) employing thousands of Chinese workers manufacturing solar panels for sale back here, or Johnson Controls recently constructed and opened battery manufacturing facility ($150 million) in China for distribution from the Delaware distribution center in Middletown that taxpayers invested millions in infrastructural and road improvements. For example DuPont spinoff headquarters staying in Wilmington while a significant majority of the actual jobs of the agricultural research branch goes to Iowa leaving Delaware with 1700 layoffs of well-paid positions and only a potential for job growth with a price tag of $16 million for Delaware taxpayers. The list goes on and on.

The “Corporate Welfare” policies of this Administration have cost the Delaware taxpayers $250 million during Governor Markell’s term. This irresponsible wasting of the taxpayer dollars has resulted in no discernible return on investment and has stopped absolutely no job losses from these wealthy corporations. Further compounding this administration’s erroneous economic missteps is the recent policy that was passed, despite my and Representative Williams objections, labelled the Delaware Competes Act. This corporate giveaway will cost over $48 million in lost revenue to Delaware with absolutely no appreciable effect to retain or grow jobs. Now the Administration has filed more legislation branded as “The Commitment to Innovation Act” that will further erode necessary revenue that provides basic, necessary services to Delawareans. Neither of these misguided economic policies will reinforce local business growth or stability and will leave a gaping hole in Delaware’s budget that this Administration will attempt to fill on the backs of state employees, seniors and the poorer families in Delaware.

Adding to the insult of these types of corporate giveaways is the actual statistical proof that these types of bribes and irresponsible economic policies have been marked by failure after failure at an unaffordable expense. Read the linked article and please note that $22 million went to JPMorgan which profited to the tune of $24.5 billion last year with “promises” of job growth that would inevitably have occurred without this taxpayer outlay. Note also the proposed $14.16 million to DuPont which totally dismisses the fact that there has been 1700 well-paid jobs recently and irretrievably cut by DuPont in Delaware. And the bulk of its future jobs with the newly created agricultural spinoff (Pioneer) will be lost to Iowa. Consider the $11 million gift to Incyte Corp. with the promise of creating 130 jobs in the future on the heels of the announcement by Incyte that they were laying off 137 Delawareans. The Fisker and Bloom debacles speak for themselves as monuments to irrational and irresponsible wastes of taxpayer dollars. One tenth of that $250 million diverted to supporting locally based businesses for job growth, infrastructural investments and production improvements via tax credits and subsidies would ensure a healthy and robust growth in our local communities and not end up in the pockets of corporate profiteers. Call your legislators and demand that they resist this callous and flawed attempt to redistribute and divert revenues from Delaware families into the coffers of wealthy corporations.

Non-Transparent Delaware

The Associated Press did an article entitled “How open record laws are applied in state legislatures” on March 13th.  Delaware did not fare well in this report.  The AP sent Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to all fifty states asking for the public schedules for the state Governor and members of their legislatures for the week of February 1st to 7th of this year.  In Delaware, our General Assembly is exempt from FOIA requests.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who promoted “sunshine is the best disinfectant” regarding public transparency of Governmental records, seems to be having a very hard time with FOIA requests lately, between the FOIA request from his former State Treasurer Chip Flowers and the one he received from the AP for their article.  The article gave Markell’s response to the FOIA:

Delaware legislative leaders refused to provide their emails. The Legislature has specifically exempted emails of lawmakers and their staffs from the state’s Freedom of Information law, as well as any communications between lawmakers, or between lawmakers and their constituents. A bill to remove those exemptions was introduced earlier this month but has yet to be heard in committee. An attorney for the lawmakers also said many activities on their daily schedules are exempt from disclosure, asserting that exemptions allowed by statute or common law extend to the concept of “legislative privilege” based on the Delaware Constitution and common law. The attorney nevertheless released portions of the lawmakers’ schedules while asserting that doing so was not a concession that the information is subject to the FOI law. The activities mostly involved appearances at community meetings and charitable events. The deputy legal counsel for Democratic Gov. Jack Markell said the governor’s office is working diligently to respond to the AP’s request, but that more time is needed because review of the records requires legal advice. Markell’s office has previously denied formal records requests for his emails.

I guess I should count myself lucky for the FOIA I received from Markell’s office back in early 2014.  But the Chip Flowers FOIA denial is certainly interesting because Markell’s office used Exemption 16 to deny the FOIA request.  Exemption 16 is when a General Assembly member or the comptroller is part of an email chain.  I find it very ironic the Governor’s counsel would use that as a reason to decline a FOIA.  Especially since they seem to cherry-pick when they want to use this exemption.  In fact, the Governor’s office has actually shown legislators emails in earlier FOIA requests.  Something I recollected right away as I was reading the Chip Flowers petition from the Delaware Attorney General’s office.  I felt it was my civic obligation to let them know about this memory of mine.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>

To: Gibbs Danielle (DOJ) <danielle.gibbs@state.de.us>

Cc: Denn Matthew (DOJ) <matthew.denn@state.de.us>

Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 10:04 AM

Subject: The Chip Flowers FOIA Legal Opinion

Good morning Danielle,

I read, with great interest yesterday, the FOIA petition from Chip Flowers.  I found it very interesting the Governor’s office would cite Exemption 16 for not releasing the information Chip Flowers requested. 

In December 2014, State Rep. John Kowalko received a FOIA from the Governor’s office regarding the priority schools in Wilmington.  He gave them to me to publish on my blog.  In several of the emails, General Assembly emails were used and not redacted, and in some of them they gave the actual email from State Reps. 

Here is the link to the FOIAs: 

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-priority-schools-foias-part-1-kilroysdelaware-ed_in_de-rceaprez-apl_jax-ecpaige-nannyfat-roof_o-delawarebats-netde-edude-delaware-edchat/

I find it very interesting the Governor’s office would cherry-pick who this information is released to.  There is absolutely no consistency and I would strongly question the use of this Exemption 16 when it is convenient.  Please feel free to use this information for any ongoing matters regarding Chip Flowers FOIA.  If you need any other clarification on this matter, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

With something that took up so much media interest, I would think the Delaware Attorney General’s office would respond, but so far I have yet to receive a response.  I can only surmise based on the behavior surrounding the Chip Flowers FOIA request and the fact the Governor would need legal advice for the AP FOIA request, the Governor is hiding things.  Could there be something in his daily schedule he doesn’t want people to know about?  Or in his emails?  Did they include his “Alan Jackson” email address?  I’ll be flat-out honest: I don’t trust Jack Markell.  At all.  He is dishonest and sneaky.  He seems to have the General Assembly under his thrall this legislative session.  They are suspending rules and passing bills in record time.  Just today, Governor Markell signed the Commitment to Innovation Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 200, mere hours after it passed in the House of Representatives and 31 state representatives agreed to suspend the rules.  Including some who have gone on record as saying they never suspend the rules.  This tax-break bill, in conjunction with House Bill 235, are seen as great boons to companies in Delaware as the state faces potential deficits in their state budget.

I  have no doubt Markell will have instituted all of his education policies and agendas in Delaware by the time he leaves office next January.  Judging by the mad rush of legislation which will allow tech companies to swarm into Delaware with our generous tax breaks, Social Impact Bonds, Personalized Learning and Competency-Based Education.  Kids will be earning their number of the beast data badges in the not-too-distant future.  Parents won’t be able to notice, because all of our little screen-time kids will be staying after school in the SAIL program.  And Jack’s buddy over at the Rodel Foundation, Paul Herdman… he actually uses LEGOs to lure unsuspecting parents and children into his personalized learning paradise.  If you think Kindergarten grit is bad, wait until you get a load of the money pouring into toddler grit.  Of course, we must determine what children are going to do when they are older before they even know how to tie their shoes.  But we call this Pathways To Prosperity.  We have Jamie Merisotis and the good folks at the Lumina Foundation to thank for all of this nonsense!  And if you think Delaware has issues with FOIA, wait until you hear more about WOIA!  Under the recently confirmed US DOE leadership of John King, these things are going on in just about every single state in the country.

The one thing our non-transparent Governor is good at is the art of distraction.  He gets us all riled up over charter schools, opt out, and teacher evaluations while he paves the road to hell for John Carney who doesn’t seem to have the good sense to come up with his own thoughts.  And in case we get too close to his overall plan, Jack throws things like the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission vs. State Board of Education battle in our faces but there are questions about the legality of that secret meeting.  Hard to tell since no one aside from Tony Allen has responded about that one.  Tony made it very clear to me the whole thing was the Governor’s idea.

This is Delaware.  A state filled with sinister plotting and backroom deals.  Legislators who get the “Jack call” and make miracles happen before our very eyes while telling us it’s all about the DuPont/Dow merger.  Markell is the master of spin.  He can turn crap into gold!  And the state legislators, DOE employees, State Board of Education members, and business leaders watch in amazement as they hold onto their illusions of power and wealth.  We call these people “stakeholders”.  But guess what doesn’t change?  Bullying, teacher dissatisfaction, high-stakes testing, a severe lack of funding and resources for our schools, and more segregation and discrimination for every single at-risk student than you can even fathom.  All under the guise of student success.  The stuff going on behind the scenes?  We will never get that cold, hard, tangible proof to bust these children destroyers.  They write the laws to protect themselves and the citizens of Delaware pay for it.  And we keep electing so many of them!  We are a state that is immune to true and radical change.  We act as if holding onto a political party’s belief is what we must do.  I hate to tell you Delaware, but greed is bi-partisan.  The love we need to have for our children, our unconditional love, that should be enough to make the necessary changes.  But we aren’t doing it.  We are holding onto the dreams of yesterday and think it really matters who becomes the next President or Governor.  We get sucked into the 24 hour news cycle about Trump, Clinton and Sanders while the distracters spin their webs and suck us in.  It doesn’t matter who wins the Presidency because corporate America bought our government while we blinked.  Our kids don’t have a chance.

Delaware Charter War Part 1: The Birth of Charter School of Wilmington, Counseling Out & Cherry-Picking of Delaware Students

CSWApplication1996

Charter schools.  Two words that bring up a great deal of conversation in Delaware.  For some they have become the savior of public education.  For others they find that they continue segregation in Delaware, are not accountable in the way traditional schools are, and they are the root cause of the corporate education reform movement that has swept across America over the past decade.  In the 1990s, charter schools were created in Minnesota and California.  By 1995, Delaware wanted to take a stab at it.

In 1995, six companies wanted to sponsor a new type of school in Delaware, a charter school: AstraZenaca (then called Zenaca Inc.), Christiana Care Health (then called Medical Center of Delaware), Delmarva Power, DuPont, Hercules Incorporated and Verizon (then called Bell Atlantic). They infused a $600,000 commitment into the school launch. Red Clay Consolidated School District President of the Board William Manning, and St. Marks Principal Ron Russo, were sold on the idea. Originally, they wanted to house the Charter School of Wilmington at The Pines in Pike Creek, a northern suburb of Wilmington, but local residents rejected this idea.  Why not turn Wilmington High School into a charter school? They wanted to offer parents different choices for education that did not involve parents shelling out tons of hard-earned money for private schools.  The school already housed two magnet schools at the time: Cab Calloway School of the Arts and the Academy of Math & Science. The plan was to have Charter School of Wilmington replace the Academy. But first the concept of charter schools in Delaware had to become part of state code.

Enter Senator David Sokola, who sponsored Senate Bill 200. At the time there was no Rodel Foundation, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Innovative Schools, or any charter organization in the state. There were no high-stakes standardized tests at this point. Governor Carper was getting a lot of pressure to change education in Delaware. Reform efforts already began which put Delaware in the spotlight for the first time in a long time.

To get to the story of how CSW began, we have to look even further back at the landmark decision made in 1978.  If folks think four school districts is too much for Wilmington, back then there were eleven! After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which demanded the dismantling of “black” school districts, Wilmington schools were desegregated based on a court ruling called Evans v. Buchanan in 1956. The schools integrated and by 1967 there were no more black school districts in Delaware.

The demographics of Wilmington changed drastically since Brown v. Board of Education. In seventeen years, Wilmington went from 73% white in 1954 to 79% black by 1971.  Dubbed the “white flight”, Wilmington changed dramatically in less than two decades.

The concept of desegregating schools in Delaware was not native to Wilmington.  According to Gene Capers, a retired principal from Towne Point Elementary School in Dover, William Henry Middle School housed the “black” students of Dover, while Central Middle School had all the “white” students.  In the late 1960s, the district changed the dynamics of the two schools and integrated all students in 5th-6th in William Henry and 7th-8th in Central Middle School, which continues to this very day.

In 1969, the General Assembly approved the Educational Advancement Act of 1968, trimming down the number of school districts in the state from 49 to 26. Wilmington wasn’t a part of this legislation, and in effect, Wilmington became re-segregated. In the 1970s, many schools began re-segregating students. The State Board of Education came up with the very controversial “busing plan”. Schools were forced to accept every type of student and the result was a dramatic shift in the makeup of many schools in the area. Schools were closed, students were resassigned, and parents became very angry. The entire public school district system changed, and parents wanted to do away with the busing requirements. The anger from this gave birth to the creation of charter schools in Delaware.

Senate Bill 200 passed in the General Assembly in 1995 creating charter schools in Delaware.  The bill was introduced on June 1st, 1995, and signed by Governor Carper on July 10th of the same year.  To read the whole Senate discussion on Senate Bill 200, please read the below in its entirety.  Senator Sharp predicted much of what came to pass.

By 1996, Charter School of Wilmington was approved by the Red Clay Consolidated School District. In their application, it stated Delaware required 19 credits for students to graduate, Red Clay required 20 credits, but CSW required 24, and said “We regard these requirements as only a minimum education program.” What was even more frightening though was the part about special education, to which the Red Clay Accountability Committee wrote:

“As the Charter School of Wilmington accepts students, it should be cognizant of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a federal law which mandates a free and appropriate education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. The charter school plans to seek a waiver from the State of Delaware related to the special education provision…The value of diversity which appears in the school’s mission statement must be made concrete through the provisions of this aspect of the Charter School’s operations. Specification of admission requirements was requested of the Charter Committee and a copy of the application was provided and is attached as Appendix B. It is clear from this application that the proposed charter has met the requirements of the law which stipulate that the charter may not restrict student admissions.”

In fact, CSW may have given birth to the phrase “counseling out” with charter schools, as written in their response to the Red Clay Accountability Committee:

“Students who cannot or will not meet success criteria will be counseled to transfer to other schools. It would be appropriate for students to enroll in the CHARTER SCHOOL at times other than the beginning of the school year. This presumes a minimum of disruption to the student’s schooling. Ideally, any transfers out would be balanced by the arrival of new students. Consideration should be given to having the balance of the student’s funding follow the student to the receiving school.”

The issue of charter school funding is an issue that still haunts traditional school districts to this very day.  State Rep. Kim Williams introduced House Bill 28 this legislative session to address this issue, but the bill wasn’t even heard in the House Education Committee.

While the “specific interest” of CSW wasn’t talked about in the response, it became very clear that the assessment given to students prior to admission was a requirement for the school, but this wasn’t listed in the response to Red Clay.

“In the case of oversubscription, the CHARTER SCHOOL will use the preferences permitted by the CHARTER LEGISLATION; i.e., siblings, Red Clay Consolidated School District students residing in a five-mile radius of the school. Diversity will be achieved by attracting a diverse pool of student applicants.”

The reality is, once the school got to a position of needing a lottery for students to enter, the opposite occurred.  Instead of achieving diversity, the school in the City of Wilmington became the mirror opposite of the population of Wilmington.  When the seventh type posted the original Senate document, some very interesting conversations took place on Delaware Liberal with both sides of the issue planting their flags in the ground over the topics of race and the predictions of Delaware Senators and eventual segregation in Wilmington schools.

For the first few years, CSW accepted applications from anyone who applied. But the first charter of the state was already on the way to becoming the school it is now in terms of demographics. Imagine the old Wilmington High School all of a sudden housing three different schools. On the first floor was Cab Calloway, Wilmington High School on the second, and CSW on the third. Ron Russo, the head of school at CSW, was adamant about keeping the CSW students separate from the Wilmington High students. In 1997, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by reporter Connie Langland talked about this new choice option open to Delaware students. Manning was quoted as saying “The nice thing about choice is that it tells you right away what people think of your schools…and what schools require change.”

Langland wrote in the article:

“Another concern is whether the plan will have an adverse impact on long-standing efforts to desegregate Wilmington-area schools. School districts in the Wilmington area have relied on busing to achieve racial balance, but with choice families can avoid an unwanted assignment.”

By 1999, Wilmington High School was no more, and the former home of the Red Devils was now the birthplace of the Delaware charter school and a magnet school.

In the book: Congressional Record Vol. 146-Part 2: Proceedings and Debates of the 106th Congress Second Session from March of 2000, Bill Manning was described in a section on school construction funding that he testified at:

“An attorney by trade, Mr. Manning has been among Delaware’s leaders in proposing and implementing a variety of educational reforms: public school choice, charter school legislation, and rigorous academic standards statewide. Red Clay is currently the only district in Delaware to have reached an agreement with its teachers association pursuant to which Red Clay teachers will be evaluated based on student performance.”

During the testimony, Manning said:

“I believe, as do many of you, that charter schools are already improving the educational landscape by offering variety, quality and single-school focus to those who previously had to pay to get those things. That’s the good news. The bad news is that charter schools are still regarded by the educational establishment in some quarters as the enemy. Thus, the organization that owns our school buildings is sometimes stingy with them when it comes to housing charter schools. Nor do the funding formulae in many state charter school bills provide adequate capital- as opposed to operating- assistance to charter schools. Please don’t overlook them.”

To date, Charter School of Wilmington is the only charter school in Delaware that started (and continues to do so) in a building that also housed a regular traditional school district school. While charters share space in the Community Education Building in Wilmington, no other charter has been able to replicate the success of what CSW did in terms of literally taking the best and brightest out of their own building and sending the others to feeder schools.

As the sun set on the previous century, more charter schools were approved by the Delaware Department of Education and opened up across Delaware: Campus Community School and Positive Outcomes in Kent County, EastSide Charter School and Thomas Edison in Wilmington, and Sussex Academy. One charter, called the Richard Milburn Academy, closed down in 2000 due to poor academic performance and the inability of board members to function as a cohesive unit.  Other charters applied for authorization, and were approved, but never opened.

The idea of charter schools was blossoming from an idea to a new landscape for education in Delaware. The forced busing issue combined with school choice was setting up the battle for the ages, but something happened in 2000 that changed everything for all Wilmington schools.

To be continued…

*Special thanks to the amazing narrative of Antonio Prado and Andrea Miller in http://www.clintdantinne.com/mphs/losthighschools.pdf which provided a great deal of the historical backdrop in this article.  As well, to Mike O from the seventh type who provided a wealth of knowledge in his publishing of the Senate discussion of Senate Bill 200.  I would also be remiss in forgetting the Delaware Department of Education who provided the link to the Charter School of Wilmington’s original application to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.

What’s Coming Up In Exceptional Delaware? Here’s A Clue…

Opt-Out Haters Of Delaware: Who is Senator David Sokola And How Has He Damaged Public Education For A Quarter Of A Century?

Delaware Senator David Sokola certainly had his moments with parents this legislative session, myself included.  After a tumultuous four and a half months in the General Assembly, House Bill 50 eventually passed.  Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell vetoed the bill to the amazement and anger of, well, Delaware.  But the fallout from that one bill may echo into the second part of the 148th General Assembly as a potential veto override could take place as early as January, or barring some miracle where the General Assembly agrees to come back in special session between now and then.  While State Rep. Earl Jaques was certainly the biggest obstacle in the House of Representatives, Senator Sokola was clearly the largest obstacle of the bill as a whole.

I wondered why a State Senator who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee would oppose legislation that would codify the rights of parents to opt their child out of harmful testing.  I did some research on Sokola, and found his legislator history is filled with controversial education bills.  Over the last twenty-five years, he has served as a State Senator in the First State.

In 1995, Sokola was instrumental in getting the original charter school bill, Senate Bill 200, passed.  When Newark Charter School opened, Sokola was a board member and helped create the school.  According to Kilroy’s Delaware, Senator Sokola sponsored legislation in 2002 that repealed the law surrounding the impact of new charters on other schools in the area.  This led to Kilroy blasting the Senator in 2013 when he wrote a letter of recommendation for the never-opened Pike Creek Charter School, which was within his own district.  Last year though, legislation sponsored by Sokola brought this law back into place with Senate Bill 209.

In another article, Kilroy slammed Sokola for creating the DSTP in Delaware.  The DSTP was the state standardized assessment prior to DCAS, and was widely considered to be just as damaging as the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“Many forget or might not know Senator Sokola is the godfather of DSTP the former standardized student test that was flawed from day(one)! Remember those 3-tiered diplomas grading student(s) based on one test like sides of beef in the supermarket.”

In fact, Sokola was opposed to DCAS and wanted another kind of standardized assessment in Delaware, but he was not granted his wish, and Delaware received the kinder and friendlier DCAS.  But last year, Sokola was the Senate sponsor for the very controversial House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment into Delaware State Code.  It would stand to reason he would oppose a measure whereby the state recognized and honored a parent’s right to opt out of a state assessment he sponsored legislation for.

In 2013, Sokola co-sponsored a bill to update the original Senate Bill 200 charter school law.  This one brought out a lot of fighting in Delaware and helped set up some of the current animosity against the Delaware Charter School Network.  House Bill 165 went through more amendments that were defeated or stricken than any bill in recent memory.  It set up the whole transportation slush fund and the annual charter school performance award.  The bill went through in a little less than a month with local school districts even more afraid of the impact a slew of charter schools would have on their enrollment and funding.  Side deals occurred like crazy, and the blogger Kavips gave a list of the reasons why House Bill 165 was a very bad bill.

Another Sokola sponsored legislation caused the current wave of teacher resentment against the DOE with Senate Bill 51.  This very controversial bill created the harsher evaluations currently used against Delaware educators.  While the educators have received a two-year pass from the Smarter Balanced Assessment impacting their evaluations, there is plenty in this bill that ticked teachers off.  And John Young with Transparent Christina warned citizens of Delaware:

“So, we have a group of legislators who have signed on, including my own Senator. But why? Well, I can only guess because it sounds so good and intuitive and simple and pure. All of which, when you are talking education should make your spine crawl.”

His latest offering to Delaware, signed by Markell yesterday, is Senate Joint Resolution #2.  Like most Sokola offerings, this bill looks really great on the surface, but it is injected with a poison.  SJR #2 is a convening of a group to look at district and state assessments and pick out which ones are good and which ones are bad.  Kids are over-tested, sure.  But this bill all but guarantees the further implementation of Common Core as assessments will be picked that are aligned with the state standards.  This will give districts less autonomy in figuring out what struggles students are having and how they can help them.  SJR #2 is filled with controversy.  Shana Young with the DOE sent out an email in early May fully stating this bill was designed to be a counter to the parent opt-out bill, House Bill 50.  When I submitted a FOIA for this email, the DOE claimed it never existed even though I have seen it with my own two eyes.

During the Senate Education Committee meeting on House Bill 50, Sokola graciously allowed the opponents of House Bill 50 all the time they wanted for public comment, but stopped the supporters short and towards the end would interrupt them.  He then introduced an amendment to House Bill 50 when it came up for a Senate vote all but guaranteeing it would kick the bill back to the House of Representatives for another vote.  It did just that, and another amendment put on the bill by Senator Bryan Towsend almost killed the bill, but common sense prevailed and Townsend’s amendment was shot down after a 2nd vote.

I am sure Sokola is presently making the rounds about an override of House Bill 50.  It would need a 3/5ths vote in both houses to pass, and I have no doubt Sokola and his counterpart but not so smart buddy in the House Earl Jaques are making the calls as I write this.

A pattern begins to form with Senator Sokola’s greatest hits.  Rigorous testing, more charter schools and autonomy for them that they clearly don’t deserve, and what many view as unfair accountability for teachers.  Sokola has gone on record as recently as last month in saying we need to compete with other countries with standardized assessments, but he seems to forget that was the argument two years ago for Common Core.  It is very hard for me to trust any legislation introduced by Senator David Sokola when it comes to education, cause something always seems to come back to bite public schools and educators in the ass, with the exception of his beloved charter schools.   He has used his position and created multiple conflicts of interest but the Delaware Senate looks the other way.  Just like the Delaware Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education seem to want.  In a sense, Sokola could be directly blamed for the current status of segregation in Wilmington with his original charter school legislation and his demands for rigorous standardized testing that has done more damage to schools than anything Governor Markell could ever hope to do.  He will pretend to stand up for black students, but his actions speak otherwise.

Senator Sokola is up for re-election in 2016.  Will he run again, or does he possibly have something else lined up now that he has retired from DuPont?  Rumors circulate, but at this time they are just that.  Will he fade into oblivion or end up running some huge charter management company in Wilmington?  Or will someone finally hold this man accountable for his actions?