Breaking News: Carney & Bunting To Announce Weighted Funding “Phase One”. Let The Education Hunger Games Begin Again.

Next Tuesday, January 15th, Delaware Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting will hold a press conference at Legislative Hall to announce a weighted funding system for Delaware students.  Luckily, this blogger got the details of it this evening.  The devil, as they say, is in the details. Continue reading

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Carney Raises Local Payments To Charters 2% In Budget Request Based On “Inflation”

Delaware Governor John Carney delivered his FY2019 Proposed Budget and it looks like Delaware charter schools will get some extra cash out of the deal if the General Assembly includes this in their final budget they must vote on by June 30th!

Is this even legal?  Does the Governor have the legal authority to arbitrarily raise a percentage amount for local payments from districts to charters based on “inflation”?  Sadly, he does.  It is written in Title 14.

So what do sections 408 and 509 of Title 14 say?

408:

(e) The district of residence shall, except as provided for in subsection (h) of this section, pay to the receiving district the lower local

cost per pupil expenditure of the 2 districts, adjusted by an inflation factor specified annually in the annual appropriations act, such

payment to be made by November 30 of each year.

509:

(d) The Department of Education shall annually calculate the local cost per student expended by each school district for each type of

student for the year immediately preceding based on the formula set forth in subsection (e) of this section, adjusted by a factor necessary

to fund the charter school on a basis reasonably equivalent to the current year local cost per student, which factor shall be established in

the annual Appropriations Act. The Department shall annually certify each local district’s local cost per student expenditure by September

1 of each year.

So does that mean Delaware school districts are getting 2% more based on “inflation”?  Absolutely not.  Everything goes up in price.  So saying “inflation” without any meaning behind it is just another way to give charter schools more money.  I do not blame the charters for this, I blame the power brokers that snuck this in there.  Of course it is absolutely legal because it is in state code.  But that certainly doesn’t make it right or moral.  Add the extra match tax funds charters will get this year and it is obvious charter lobbyists will squeeze as much juice out of the district fruit as they can!  Lest we forget, charters do get state funding.  They don’t live and die based on local student payments.  They get as much state funding (except for capital costs) that traditional school districts do.  They also have the charter school transportation slush fund

As Deep Budget Cuts Loom, Will New Tax Bills Save The Day In Delaware?

Fiscal Year 2018 will involve a lot of pain if the Joint Finance Committee’s marked-up state budget continues down the same dark path it is on now.  While some cuts seem like a good idea, others will make children go without desperately needed services.  The State Board of Education is kaput if everything stays the same.  But could new tax bills, which would bring in more revenue to the state, cause some of those cuts to disappear?

In Delaware, the General Assembly needs a 3/5 vote to pass any revenue bills.  In the House, that requires 25 yes votes and in the Senate, 13.  This is where it gets very tricky.  The House has 25 Democrats and 16 Republicans.  The Senate has 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.  The House could conceivably pass the budget just on their Democrat base, but complications could easily arise.  Some Dems in the House will not favor certain perks in the epilogue language, such as the Charter School Transportation Slush Fund.  There is at least one Democrat, State Rep. John Kowalko, who will not say yes to the budget if that is in there.  The Republicans in both houses want something: prevailing wage.  They have wanted this for years, but this could be the year where they get what they want, or at least make some inroads towards it.

The Joint Finance Committee has to make the cuts until they see more revenue.  Are they going after some of the programs that help people the most?  Not yet.  But today is another day and is expected to be uglier than yesterday.  The JFC does not meet again until Tuesday, June 6th.  I expect a whirlwind of activity at Legislative Hall every single day someone is there between now and July 1st.

In Governor Carney’s proposed budget, the local share of student transportation costs went from 10% to 15%.  Yesterday, the Joint Finance Committee raised that to 20% with the expectation the school districts can recoup those costs from this mythological one-time Match Tax.  Carney proposed the district school boards utilize this option without a referendum.  Let’s be very clear on this: if this happens, do not expect taxpayers to pass referenda any time soon.

No matter how this plays out, John Carney’s vision of shared sacrifice will have winners and losers.  If the uber-wealthy get more perks like the estate tax repeal, it will become very obvious who is pulling the strings behind the curtain at Legislative Hall in Dover.

School-Based Health Centers Proposal May Collide With Parental Authority… This Is A Game Changer In Schools!

I’ve heard constant echoes of one thing over the past year: we need more supports in our schools for our high-needs students.  But what happens when that call is heard but we may get far more than we ever bargained for?  What if the services provided become very invasive in scope?

The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) put out a request for proposal (RFP) for all nineteen school districts in Delaware and the thirty-two high schools within them.  The goal of the vendor contracts would be to increase the role of wellness centers in schools.  The funding was already put in place in the FY2017 budget.  A few high schools wouldn’t begin these kind of contracts until FY2018 because they didn’t already have existing wellness centers in the schools.

I have grave concerns with how much DHSS wants to happen in our high schools.  I understand why the bid for this is coming out of DHSS, but this is an education matter.  I fully understand that some students may not have access to medical treatment so I am not explicitly against these types of centers in high-needs schools.  But the amount of private student data involved is astounding.  Under HIPAA, that is merely a consent for information to go out from a health provider to another entity.  Parents need to understand exactly what they are signing consent for.  Where this gets confusing is the differentiation between HIPAA and FERPA.  FERPA only applies to educational records.  The data from these health centers in our high schools would not fall under FERPA.  Or at least they shouldn’t.

sbhc1

There are several terms in the above picture that worry me.  “Prevention-oriented multidisciplinary health care”… I’m all for prevention, but prevention against what?  Where is the line drawn?  What if one of these multidisciplinary measures goes against a student’s religion?  What if the student is not aware of that but a parent becomes upset when they find out?  “Integration with primary care”… what does that even mean?  Integration would mean a data system cross-referencing the health information between a primary physician and the school-based health provider.  Does that information flow both ways?  Serious data privacy concerns here folks!

sbhc2

“The delivery of medical and mental health services”… If a student needs immediate treatment, is a school even equipped to act as a triage type unit?  Is that the eventual goal here?  In terms of mental health services, I have long thought it was a good idea for school districts to have psychiatrists or neurologists on hand for IEP meetings.  All too often, psychologists are used to determine “behavior” issues but a psychiatrist or neurologist would be able to give more explanation of what is going on neurologically when a student manifests disabilities.  A psychologist can’t prescribe medicine and as a result, they may not have up to date knowledge of what different medicines do and how they metabolize with the human body.

Students come into our schools with trauma.  Of that, no one seems to be in disagreement.  If families aren’t able to provide students with safe and supportive environments at home, then the school setting would be ideal for students to get the help they need to deal with those issues.  But my concern is this becoming available for ALL students eventually.  All too often parents are denied health information about their child on certain things when it comes to the existing wellness centers.  With this program increasing in scope like this, I can picture that becoming a much bigger issue.

In private practices, these types of services are not cheap.  But that is where the best in their fields tend to go.  With this plan, how many would leave existing private practices to come work in schools?  Not too many I am afraid.  As a result, we would most likely get younger, fresh out of college mental health providers without the experience.  They would get paid less and as a result an inequity would develop between students who come from stable and wealthier home environments and those who come from low-income or poverty families.  Those who come from the stable homes would most likely continue to go to private practices.

DPH is the Division of Public Health.  They would provide partial funding for this project.  But what happens when the project becomes mainstream?  All too often, our school districts become the financial bearer of state mandated programs.  Yes, the funding exists now, but what happens when it isn’t available?  Do they cut these programs out of schools entirely or do local school districts bear the financial burden for paying for these programs?

sbhc3

My first question: what is the School-Community Health of Michigan entity that appears to house school-based health information?  How secure is this data?  If one of the vendors chooses to implement the two years to develop their plan for data reporting, how safe is that data in the meantime?  Should all student risk assessments be standardized?  I would think students with disabilities, those coming from broken homes, or those dealing with poverty would tend to fall lower on a standardized scale as opposed to their peers.

sbhc4

I don’t mind a culture of health.  Lord knows we can be healthier in this country.  But when I see “How youth and parents would be involved in the “planning, operation, and promotion of the SBHC,” that seems like a lot of emphasis put on parents.  If these services are for high-needs students whose parents aren’t big on family engagement, this would result in parents of regular students doing the pushing for these programs.  Will they want to do that if it isn’t for their own child?  “Potential partners and key stakeholders”… as defined by who?  And as we all know, data flows to “partners” quite a bit with education records.  Would parents be given consent forms to send their child’s medical data to entities who really don’t need that information at all?  It mentions HIPAA here, but this is a very slippery slope.  I need a lot more information here.  What is a “diversified funding base”?  Since, invariably, all of this would be paid for by the taxpayers of Delaware, will they really want to pay for other students health services?  We already do, to some extent, but this would increase those costs.

sbhc5

I’m sorry, but did that really say “if the SBHC intends to be a Title X/family planning provider”?  For those who may not be familiar with Title X, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes this program on their website:

Family planning centers offer a broad range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods and related counseling; as well as breast and cervical cancer screening; pregnancy testing and counseling; screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs); HIV testing; and other patient education and referrals.

I hate to even bring this up, but if this could in any way lead to abortions being provided in schools that would cause a nuclear war between parents and schools.  No matter what your views on abortion might be, I would tend to think the school would be the last place anything like that should happen.  For that matter, the various “screenings” allowed under Title X could lead to serious contention as well.  For the “5 performance measures for the basis of evaluation”, based on federal guidance I imagine, does that mean every single school-based health center would be required to perform these five measures?  Chlamydia testing can be done by urine samples for both males and females, but sometimes they are performed for females as vaginal swabs.  I would hope that isn’t the method being proposed in this contract.  With all seriousness, I do know chlamydia is a very serious sexually transmitted disease and among the most common.  I don’t know if school-based health centers currently screen or test for chlamydia.  If anyone has information on this, please let me know.  I reached out to a few people who were shocked this would be included in this.

Once again, my biggest concerns with all this surround student data.  This goes way beyond my concerns with existing student data.  Parents should seek answers for this.  I know I will be!  Please read the entire RFP, seen below.  I need to know your thoughts on this.  This is very big and I don’t feel Delaware citizens are even aware of this going on without our knowledge.  The transparency on something of this scope has obviously not been present.  Please share this with everyone you know in Delaware.  Get feedback from your friends or those in the medial profession.  Is this too much?  I have seen a lot of “futurist” lingo talking about how our schools will become “community schools” in the truest sense of the word based on things like this coming to fruition.  Does the term “the whole child” include aspects that will eventually take authority away from parents when it comes to their children’s health?  How much will parents be able to opt out of these programs?

Unsustainable

Delaware education funding is out of control. It is unsustainable!!!!  Something is going to have to give.  Kids can’t take any more hits, so it is going to have to come from the adults.  I hate to say this, and teachers, principals, administrators, and superintendents will want my head on a platter, but your pensions and benefits are skyrocketing through the roof.  Every time you get a step raise, your OEC (benefits and pensions) go up as well.  When these OEC amount to 44% of your pay, we are having serious issues keeping up with it.  I know you want raises, but you actually get raises every year because your benefits keep going up.  For those who aren’t state employees, our insurance rates keeps going up as well, but we pay for much more of it than you do.  It comes out of our take-home pay where yours are not like that.  I hate to ask this, but would you be willing to pay more for insurance if it meant the resources and lower-size classrooms could happen because of that?  Something to think about.

In the meantime, taxes keep going up.  Not at a state level.  They are adamant about not raising those taxes.  So who takes the hit?  Every single school district when they have to keep raising taxes every single year.  It makes the state look like heroes.  It is unsustainable!

A Day Like No Other And Why Governor Markell Should Not Be Trusted

Seven weeks ago, the Democrats in the Delaware House of Representatives were in caucus discussing the Wilmington education bill which would allow the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission to draft up plans which would in turn authorize the State Board of Education to redraw district lines.  After that, as the plan goes, the schools in the city of Wilmington that belong to the Christina School District would convert over to Red Clay Consolidated School District.  But something went awry.

I have heard this story, from both sides, and the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle.  I will not name legislators in this story, but Senate Bill 122 almost died that day.  Two problems arose during their caucus.  One was the issue with Brandywine.  Did they not want to be a part of the redistricting or were they not included in it on purpose.  Of note is the fact that Brandywine School District has no charter schools in their district.  The second, and even bigger problem, was something Governor Markell may or may not have said.  I am inclined to believe he did say it based on history surrounding what was said.

A discussion came up with the Governor surrounding a traditional high school in Wilmington, which there is none of right now belonging to any district within the city limits.  When asked where high school students will go after the redistricting, Markell was overheard to say they would go to the Community Education Building.  This is the property donated by Bank of America and the Longwood Foundation to run charter schools.  There are currently two charters in the building with another set to open later this month, Great Oaks.

When this came up in caucus, the whole group of representatives charged into Governor Markell’s office in Legislative Hall to demand the truth.  Imagine, if you will, multiple elected officials bursting into a Governor’s office to find out if a rumor was true.  This would never happen on a Federal level, but this is Delaware.  Tony Allen, the Bank of America executive, chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee and the just announced chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, who was with Markell in his office, said if this was true he would pull out of the whole initiative.  Markell denied ever saying anything of the sort and after the legislators calmed down and came out of caucus, they assembled in their legislative session and passed Senate Bill 122 with a vote of 36 Yes, 3 Not Voting, and 2 Absent.  The bill had already passed the Senate on 6/11/15.

Yesterday, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 122 into law, along with House Bill 148, which creates WEIC.  The glaring elephant in the room with all of this comes down to funding.  I would find it very hard to believe a Governor as on top of things as Jack Markell would not see the funding just plain doesn’t exist for this redistricting of Wilmington schools.  The projected deficit of $160-170 million next year will not allow for this to happen.  If it did, funds would need to be taken from many other demanded services in our state.  The DOE can’t even afford to keep to their promised allocated amount with Red Clay’s three priority schools.  Which is seriously ticking off Red Clay.  Their board president, Kenny Rivera, will be one of the vice-chairs on WEIC, so he will be very close to any discussion at the planning and meetings for all of this.

So if the funding doesn’t exist for this on a state level, where would the millions upon millions of dollars to make this happen come from?  It would be quite logical for corporations to “donate” funds for this.  It would also be logical for them to want their own stipulations for this as well, such as making the schools in Wilmington a charter district.

None of this exists in Senate Bill 122.  To prevent a referendum, the affected school districts would have to agree to the transfer of property to the receiving district and their boards would have to pass a resolution in support of this.  The trick will be in the timing.  Say WEIC makes their plans, and all the schools in Christina go to Red Clay.  The State Board does the redistricting, and it happens as written.  This is the crucial moment: funding.  WEIC is required to determine this in their report.  The State Board has until March 31st next year to complete this or their authority goes away.  Shortly after the General Assembly returns in January, Governor Markell will release the FY2017 proposed budget.  If WEIC completes their report prior to this, Markell will have to plan the budget around that.  Otherwise the legislators will have to see where these puzzle pieces would fit into a picture that may not allow this to happen.

Why would Tony Allen, a very high-functioning and brilliant executive at Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, agree to chair not one but two committees when issues of funding would be paramount to the whole thing?  I can’t help but remember the Christina Board of Education meeting at the Sarah Pyle Academy last September.  Nnamdi Chukwuocha, the 1st District Council Member for the Wilmington City Council and also the chair of their Education Committee, spoke during public comment about funding for Wilmington Schools.

We talk so much about the quality and what is happening at some of our charter schools.  We often mention East Side Charter School, but one thing that’s not ever mentioned about East Side Charter School is the relationship that they have with Barclay’s Bank, and Barclay’s Bank supporting that initiative.  You want to do something for me, do something for my children in the City of Wilmington, I want all these institutions, let’s take JP Morgan Chase, let’s take DuPont, take Bank One, all of these banks, and let each one of them adopt one of these six schools and then let’s talk about this initiative. To me that’s what we need, we need these priority schools to be supported.

If I were a betting man, I would guess this is already in play and has been for years.

If The DOE Only Gets $1.3 Billion In State Funding, Why Do They Spend So Much More?

Avi with Newsworks made an excellent point last night in a comment.  He stated:

Wait. You’re saying the DOE spent $2 billion on employee compensation? They only receive about $1.3 billion overall from the state. Obviously there are other (much smaller) sources of revenue. But that still feels way off.

The reason the DOE shows such a high figure for employee compensation is because the paychecks are generated through the state.  So the entire cash flow for Delaware education has to flow through the state coffers.  Avi is right.  This duncehead somehow found the figure for employee compensation for all state employees.  That was the only thing I searched specifically for, so I apologize for the error and making you all do some math this morning!  In simple terms, my figures are way off.  But according to this breakdown from the Department of Education website, it shows how this could be.  Granted, this is for FY14, but it still shows the same basic formula:

State Source of Educational Revenue (2013-14)
Category 2013-14 Percentage
Federal $200,187,600.37 10.27%
State $1,147,977,149.19 58.88%
Local $601,621,774.97 30.86%

For FY15, the federal allocation is most likely smaller due to Race To The Top funds starting to dwindle.  If the DOE’s budget is $1.3 billion dollars in state money, than based on this chart, the total revenue in education dollars for Delaware would have to be $2.2 billion dollars.  This would mean local funding, usually in the form of school taxes, would have to generate $678 million dollars, and the feds would have to pony up $230 million dollars.  This is why a failed referendum can have disastrous results for a school district, like Christina recently had.  It’s also why rampant spending in the DOE on consultants and vendors, as well as very high salaries in their offices, takes away a lot of money from the classroom.  And yes, someone will go there, the districts could stand to shave off a lot of administrative costs.  How much do standardized tests really mean if the funding for it gets in the way of actual classroom learning?

This is also why charters taking away from local funding can also have a very bad result for a local district.  For a district like Milford, that doesn’t lost a lot of students to charters, it’s not that big of a deal.  But to a district like Christina or Red Clay, it is really bad.

President Barack Obama, Arne Duncan & Delaware Governor Jack Markell Pull The Race Card Over Education

President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell continue to pull the issue of race into education.  Every time they talk about the proficiency gaps in low-income schools, they fail to mention the very mechanism by which these gaps are allowed to flourish: standardized assessments.  It’s a Catch-22 for a lot of folks.  If you disagree with them or their minions, you are accused of not caring about black kids.  If you agree with them, it looks like you are selling out traditional public school districts.

As Civil Rights groups speak out on the ESEA reauthorization, we already have veto threats by President Obama on either the House or Senate acts.  He has not come right out and said it, but he is given strong notions he doesn’t support either legislation.  Arne Duncan is pulling the Urban League president to support not getting rid of standardized assessments.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell openly said he “doesn’t like” a parent opt-out bill that would codify a parent’s right to opt their children out of the state standardized assessment, citing as one of his reasons that minority children would be disadvantaged.

I take great issue with even the tiniest implication that I don’t care about minorities.  As my son is a special needs student, he already is a minority just by the very nature of his rare disability.  Many of the children in the schools that need TRUE help the most, have all three: poverty, disabilities, and a minority status.

The bottom line is this: there is far too much federal and state control in education.  The result of this is students who are tested incessantly, teachers who are judged based on these test scores, and an out of control charter school industry that doesn’t play by the rules and the states and feds allow it.  By openly stating the bottom schools aren’t doing well in the environment Obama, Duncan, and many state governors created, is all the proof we need that what we have now just isn’t working.

As Smarter Balanced and PARCC scores start to trickle in from assessments given in Spring, we are seeing these great tests are no better than what came before.  It will show standardized assessments with high-stakes are not a true measurement of student’s abilities.  But it will show they need improvement, allowing more state and federal dollars to go to “consultants” who will “fix” our schools.  And the cycle does on and on, unless Congress finally steps up and does what is truly right for America’s public school students.

The first step they need to take is implementing all promised Title I and IDEA funding as originally approved.  Until they do that, nothing is going to improve for low-income, minority, and students with disabilities until they get the proper resources they need: lower classroom sizes, more special education services tailored for their individual IEPs, more education regarding these issues to educators and staff, and true educator-parent-student relationships with a collaborative effort.  It doesn’t matter what you call a curriculum or a standard, if you don’t have the basics down in terms of having an equitable school, nothing else matters.