Red Clay Board of Education Votes Unanimously For Equity Plan

Last night, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education voted unanimously for the district to develop an Equity Plan through their long-standing Diversity Committee.  The resolution, written by board member Adriana Bohm, would charge the committee to develop the Equity Plan, which will be presented to the board by April of 2018.  Many community members came out to give public comment in support of plan.

Where this gets a bit sticky is the two charter schools Red Clay authorizes, Charter School of Wilmington and Delaware Military Academy.  As their authorizing agent, Red Clay can conduct their charter renewal process along with formal reviews, modifications, and other such matters.  But they cannot dictate district policy to those schools and make them follow it.  Both schools have substantially lower populations of racial groups the Diversity Committee would talk about.  Failure to address this huge gap between the districts and those charters would ignore the inherent and not-to-be ignored problems of race in the district.  Based on enrollment preferences, those schools have the tendency to pick and choose who they want based on “specific interest”.

I definitely think Bohm’s resolution is a good one.  Red Clay had mixed results with their Inclusion Plan over the past few years which has prompted significant changes in the way the district handles special education.  Based on 2016-2017 data, Red Clay has more minorities than white students, with the largest of those minorities being Hispanic students at around 30%.  But what I don’t want to see this committee doing is basing student success on Smarter Balanced Assessment scores.  I do not believe these are a valid measurement of student success in any possible way.  Many in the African-American community feel these are a valid measurement since they include all students, but when the test is flawed it is not a good measurement.

To read the entire plan, please see below.

Delaware ACLU Planning To Sue State Over Education Funding

In a shocking announcement, the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union wants to sue the State of Delaware over education funding.  But the announcement was not made by the ACLU but rather a Capital School District Board of Education member at their meeting last evening. Continue reading “Delaware ACLU Planning To Sue State Over Education Funding”

Delaware Shows Improvement In Special Education But Measurements Are Horribly Wrong

The United States Department of Education released their annual state determinations for special education the other day and Delaware obtained a “Meets Requirements” for indicators under IDEA Part B.  For IDEA Part C, they were designated as “Needs Assistance”.  Part B is for children ages 3 and up to 21, with disabilities, and Part C ranges from birth to 2 years old.  I wrote last year how so many of these special education indicators are based on the state assessment: their scores and participation rate play a very heavy roll.  I have neither the time or the patience to get into the nitty gritty with these determinations at a granular level.  The feds don’t get it and our state doesn’t get it.  I have no doubt the Delaware Department of Education will celebrate this and say “look how far we’ve come”.  But since so much of this is based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I give it about as much legitimacy as a Mona Lisa forgery.

 

District Consolidation Task Force Bill Kicked Back To Delaware House, Bonini Amendment Takes Charters Back Out Again

House Concurrent Resolution passed the Delaware Senate a short time ago with amendment by Delaware Senator to take charter schools out of the district consolidation task force’s discussion.  A prior amendment in the House from State Rep. Earl Jaques included charter schools in the task force discussion.  Oddly enough, Senator Bonini’s amendment didn’t remove a representative from the Delaware Charter Schools Network from the task force.

Senator David Sokola said this bill did not have to be heard in committee but felt it was an important enough topic to have that voice.

Senator Bryan Townsend expressed hope that charters would be a part of the task force’s review.  He said the intent of the legislation is a coordinated school system.  He recognized Delaware’s unique education system and understood the ideological discussion of Senator Colin Bonini but still felt all Delaware public schools should be part of that system.

Senator Bonini’s amendment passed with 12 yes, 8 no, and 1 absent.  For the concurrent resolution, it passed with 17 yes, 3 no, and 1 absent.  I imagine it will come back to the House tonight.

Senator Townsend’s Senate Concurrent Resolution #39, requesting an advisory opinion from the Justices of the Delaware Supreme Court on the efficiency of Delaware’s public school system, was defeated in the Delaware Senate with 9 yes, 10 no, 1 not voting, and 1 absent.  House Bill #142, dealing with training for School Resource Officers in situations dealing with students with disabilities, passed the Senate with 20 yes and 1 no.  The Kim Williams sponsored bill goes to Governor Carney for signature.

Task Force Looking At Special Education Costs In Delaware Is Very Dangerous Ground

House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced today by State Rep. Kevin Hensley and Senator Nicole Poore would look at the costs of special education in Delaware.  Another task force, with the usual representation.  A bunch of people sitting around a table, half of which won’t have a clue what they have jumped into.  The Delaware Way.  But here is the catch with this one: most of the spending going on with special education is based on federal mandate based on IDEA.

I have a hunch what some of the impetus for this is.  For years, districts have been complaining about McAndrews Law Firm.  Most of these cases wind up in settlements and the districts are crying foul on this.  But, if the districts and charters were doing the right thing to begin with, none of these cases would get to that point.  McAndrews won’t even take a case unless it has merit.  They won’t take a case based on a notice of meeting not going out once or twice.

Good luck with this task force trying to figure out WHY special education placements are increasing.  It doesn’t really matter why.  What matters is that they are and our General Assembly better find out how to wrap their arms around it instead of ducking the issues.  I can say most of the kids who lived in my neighborhood that were home one summer day in 2006 were subjected to nasty fumes coming from an accident at the old Reichhold Chemical Plant in Cheswold.  They all have disabilities of one sort or another.  My son is one of them.  We live in a polluted state.  I highly doubt this task force would look at things like that.

Are all special education placements valid?  I don’t know.  I know Response to Intervention is horrible.  Standardized testing should never be a measurement of whether a kid needs special education.  Autism rates have been soaring for over a decade now.  I just hope the Delaware DOE doesn’t put a gag order on district teachers and administrators like they did with the IEP Task Force.  They told districts and charters NOT to have anyone give public comment at those meetings.

Still, not one peep about giving Basic Special Education costs for kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  We don’t need another task force to figure out that no-brainer.  If they really want to care, how about they allow our Auditor of Accounts office to FULLY audit every single penny in special education along with ALL of education.  We know the money isn’t always going where it needs to.  But Delaware loves their task forces to give some crappy illusion of people wanting to do the right thing.  How about just following the law to begin with?

Guest Post: Jennifer Cinelli-Miller On School Resource Officer Training

Yesterday, Delaware’s House Bill #142 was heard in the Senate Education Committee.  This bill deals with training for school resource officers in relation to students with disabilities.  This is a great bill!  It passed the House and is now on the Senate Ready List for a full Senate vote.  Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams worked extensively with Milford parent Jennifer Cinelli-Miller to get this bill going.  With Jennifer’s permission, I present her public comment to the Senate Education Committee:

Good afternoon Gentlemen,

Thank you for allowing me to be here today to speak on behalf of this piece of legislation. My concern with officers being placed in our schools began in 2013, when the Milford School District, in response to the horrific events at Sandy Hook, hired School Resource Officers (SROs) for our elementary schools, including Morris Early Childhood Center. When I began my research, many issues surrounding the use of uniformed, armed officers at the elementary level became apparent.  Most of these issues concerned students with special needs.

The research also showed that SROs were not being provided with appropriate training in regards to behaviors, exhibited by children with special needs which are a manifestation of their disability. These behaviors can be viewed, by the untrained eye, as behaviors that reach a level that requires law enforcement intervention.  My biggest fear was that my daughter, whose Autism causes her to have very serious meltdowns, would be mistaken as a public safety risk and arrested, placed in handcuffs or worse could end up dead.

I took my research to then Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and R.L. Hughes – who was at Homeland Security at the time and was working with the school districts to identify improvements to security measures in their buildings. None of the recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security included adding officers. 

The very first year with SROs in the schools in Milford brought about an incident which was by all accounts the “Perfect Storm” and ended with a child being committed to Rockford Center; strictly because he has Autism. There is nothing in this situation that the officers did that was inappropriate. There was a major breakdown in communication on the school’s part which led the SROs to be called for assistance instead of educators.

I had the honor of meeting with Rep. Williams after this incident and we set out to try to ensure that, at least in Delaware, SROs would be trained with a basic knowledge and understanding of children with disabilities. The family impacted by this incident wanted to ensure that it would never happen to another child.

This legislation will provide SROs with training and a basic knowledge of how the behaviors they may see in the schools are a manifestation of children’s disabilities and should be addressed by the educators in the schools.

I want to thank the many of those statewide that have assisted with this process. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet and work with so many of our wonderful officers from the Delaware State Police (DSP) and it was a relief to hear that they had just as much concern about SROs being utilized in situations that were meant for educators. I would also like to thank Brian Moore from Red Clay’s Public Safety Department, the Delaware Department of Education (DOE), specifically the Exceptional Children Resources group. Wendy Strauss and Sybil White from the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens as well as Dafne Carnright from Autism Delaware and Bill Doolittle, a parent advocate who has been an instrumental part every step of the way.

So, after all of our hard work, I am here today to ask for your vote on this bill which has the support of DSP, the DOE and so many parents of children with disabilities.

Thank you,

Jennifer Cinelli-Miller, Parent Advocate

Milford, DE

Delaware DOE Releases 2017 District & Charter Special Education Ratings

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the special education ratings for all Delaware school districts and charter schools.  The information the schools and districts were rated on were based on indicators by the federal Department of Education.  This is information the Delaware DOE collects from on-site monitoring of schools as well as performance data, including participation rates from the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The ratings are based on information from the 2014-2015 school year.  I don’t necessarily agree with these ratings, especially as it relates to parents opting their children out of the state assessment.  I’ve always found that many schools who have higher populations of students with disabilities tend to get the rougher ratings.  It is a sure sign we need more funding, staff, resources, and training for special education.

 

Meets Requirements:

Academia Antonia Alonso

Academy of Dover

Charter School of Wilmington

Early College High School

First State Montessori Academy

MOT Charter School

Newark Charter School

Odyssey Charter School

Polytech School District

Sussex Tech School District

 

Needs Assistance:

Caesar Rodney School District

Campus Community School

Cape Henlopen School District

Delaware Design-Lab High School

Delaware Military Academy

Delmar School District

East Side Charter School

Freire Charter School

Indian River School District

Las Americas Aspira Academy

Laurel School District

Milford School District

Positive Outcomes Charter School

Providence Creek Academy

Woodbridge School District

 

Needs Intervention:

Appoquinimink School District

Brandywine School District

Capital School District

Charter School of New Castle (formerly Family Foundations Academy)

Christina School District

Colonial School District

Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security

Gateway Lab School

Great Oaks Charter School

Kuumba Charter School

Lake Forest School District

New Castle County Vo-Tech

Prestige Academy (closing this year)

Red Clay Consolidated School District

Seaford School District

Smyrna School District

Thomas Edison Charter School

A Review Of “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”: More Of The Same With No Solutions

A University of Delaware class called Documentary Production produced a video called “The Deed: Fixing Education In The First State”.  The cinematography of the video was good, but I feel it should have been renamed “Fixing Education In Wilmington” because that was pretty much what the video was about.

It gave a good history of segregation before 1954, but after that it focused solely on Wilmington.  But I found the stereotypes to be a bit too much.  The video primarily focuses on two Caucasian mothers.  One is in what appears to be a classroom, and the other is out in the suburbs in a very nice home.  When they do show African-Americans (aside from  Tony Allen), it is primarily urban Wilmington.  As if there are no African-Americans in the suburbs.

The TedX Wilmington videos shown in this are from Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, and Dr. Paul Herdman, the CEO of the Rodel Foundation.  Other folks shown in the video are Dan Rich from the University of Delaware and one of the main WEIC players, Atnre Alleyne from DelawareCAN and TeenSHARP, and Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick.   There are cameos from Delaware Teacher of the Year Wendy Turner and the not-even sworn in yet Christina Board Member Meredith Griffin Jr.

Here is a newsflash.  There are 19 school districts in Delaware.  Up and down the state.  I love Wilmington, but if you are going to make a video called Fixing Education In The First State, you have to focus on the whole state.  This was one of the biggest mistakes WEIC made, focusing on Wilmington and expecting the rest of state to pick up the tab to fix Wilmington issues.  Yes, Wilmington is the biggest city, but many issues with poverty and low-income exist all over Delaware.

Like most discussions about “fixing” education in Delaware, we go through the history and the present situation.  Add some current events like the upcoming Colonial Referendum to make it current.  Show some shots from a WEIC meeting a few months ago when Governor John Carney and Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting attended for some extra oomph and importance.

I recognize segregation in Wilmington schools and what school choice has done to Northern New Castle County as major problems in Delaware.  But there are other equally important issues, only one of which was briefly touched on in the video- education funding.  We also have special education with a rapidly growing population of students with disabilities, standardized testing, a growing population of English Language Learners, a General Assembly that generally makes some very bad choices for our schools, bullying in our schools,the continued fall-out from the Race To The Top accountability era, a State Auditor who doesn’t audit school districts every year even though that office has to by state law, referenda, a new Governor that is putting a ton of cuts towards school districts (but not charters), the Rodel Foundation’s stranglehold on decisions made in education, data mining of personal student information, and the upcoming and very real threats of competency-based education, personalized learning, an eventual replacement of real teachers with glorified moderators instead in a digital technology wonderland, and the upcoming Blockchain technology which will institute a full-blown “digital badge” scenario, tracking children from cradle to grave and predetermined careers and what their societal worth will be.  And yes, even Social-Emotional Learning is in the process of getting hijacked by the corporate education reformers (more on that soon).

Many of these things aren’t on the radar as much as they should be.  We are still bickering over how to “fix” education but we are stumbling with talking about what is right in education.  We are in a constant state of flux, in a state of constant improvement.  This obsessive need for improvement is actually what is fracturing education the most in Delaware.  The problem comes when we try to measure all these changes by one standardized test.

For an eleven minute video, it would be impossible to catch all the issues in Delaware education.  But showing very old videos of Tony Allen and Paul Herdman don’t do much for me.  Most Delawareans really don’t know who the two of them are.  Just because they have a TedX stage doesn’t give them more importance than a teacher giving a lecture to a class or a parent giving public comment at a school board meeting.  Those are actually the voices we need to hear more of in Delaware education, the everyday citizen.  Not a CEO of a “non-profit” making over $344,000 a year or a well-meaning Bank of America executive.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Tony Allen is a great guy, but it has become more than obvious that WEIC isn’t heading towards the destination it dreamed of and it is time to move on.  As for Dr. Paul “Rodel” Herdman, I have never been shy about my dislike of his “visions” for Delaware schools that have its roots in corporate profit.

We need to focus on what is going right in Delaware education and build from that.  It begins at the grass-roots level, in the classroom.  For that, the student and teacher voice are the most important.  And then the parent.  We go from one reform or initiative to the next, and the cycle goes on and on.

Taking A Deep Dive At Newark Charter School & Christina School District: 5 Mile Radius, Greater Newark Area, & District (Including Wilmington)

Ask, and ye shall receive!  Whenever I put up an article about Newark Charter School and what I view as their low sub-group population percentages compared to Christina School District, I am asked to do closer comparisons.  That is absolutely fair and something I should have done a long time ago.  So I plead guilty on that score.  But sometimes wanting to know that information to shut me up isn’t always the best idea.  Especially when the proof is in the pudding.  Continue reading “Taking A Deep Dive At Newark Charter School & Christina School District: 5 Mile Radius, Greater Newark Area, & District (Including Wilmington)”

Newark Charter School Doesn’t Want Wilmington Black Kids Or Wilmington Special Needs Kids Going To Their Private School

Earlier this afternoon, State Rep. Rich Collins led the Delaware House of Representatives in prayer and asked them, no matter what, to put children first in their mind when they are voting on legislation.  Two and a half hours later, Collins along with 26 other state reps both Republican and Democrat, voted to keep Newark Charter School first.

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 passed the House today with 27 yes, 13 no, and 1 absent.  The bill removes the 5 mile radius enrollment preference for Delaware charter schools with one exception.  Since Christina School District has a portion of their district in Wilmington, that is not landlocked with the rest of the district, those Wilmington children will not be allowed to choice to Newark Charter School.  Even though the Wilmington students from Red Clay and Colonial can choice to other charter schools, those Christina Wilmington students can’t choice to that one school.  They can still choice to other charters within the district or even outside of the district, but not NCS.

The bill still has to go through the Senate.  By primary sponsor State Rep. Kim Williams’ own admission, if the bill did not have that provision it wouldn’t have moved forward in the Senate.  The Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator David Sokola, used to be on the board of Newark Charter School.  It isn’t really a state secret that State Rep. Melanie Smith bought a house in that area so her child can go to Newark Charter School.  Why does it always come back to Newark Charter School?

State Rep. John Kowalko put an amendment on the bill that would have removed that provision, but it failed to pass the House.  25 state reps voted no on the amendment.

I know State Rep. Kim Williams very well.  I know her intent with this bill was to get a start on changing this process.  It is better than what we had before.  But it really isn’t.  Yes, there will be a greater number of Christina School District students who will have the option of choicing into Newark Charter School.  That is true, provided the bill passes and gets signed by Governor Carney.  But it also sends a clear statement about Delaware as a state: we will allow de facto segregation.  Any time we are disallowing students from having a free and appropriate public education, we are not moving forward as a state, we are moving horribly backwards.

State Reps Charles Potter, Stephanie Bolden, and J.J. Johnson, all African-American, voiced strong opposition to the bill for the same things I am writing.  Bolden said it best.  What does it say about Delaware as a state when legislation like this comes up?  She couldn’t say this, so I will.  It shows what a discriminatory state we are to the rest of the country.  It says city kids aren’t good enough for a charter in the suburbs.  It says we vote in legislators who would rather keep one charter school from opening up to ALL students than making Delaware, the first state to sign the U.S. Constitution, a fair and equitable state for all children.

Let’s be honest here, the only reason for this legislation in the first place is because of Newark Charter School.  Taking what could be a good portion of their student population out of the picture in the coming years defeats the whole intent of the bill in the first place.

Which State Reps voted to keep de facto segregation going in Delaware today?

Bryon Short (D)

Paul Baumbach (D)

David Bentz (D)

Gerald Brady (D)

William Carson (D)

Rich Collins (R)

Danny Short (R)

Tim Dukes (R)

Ronald Gray (R)

Kevin Hensley (R)

Deb Hudson (R)

Earl Jaques (D)

Quinton Johnson (D)

Harvey Kenton (R)

Ed Osienski (D)

William Outten (R)

Trey Paradee (D)

Charles Postles (R)

Melanie Smith (D)

Joe Miro (R)

Mike Ramone (R)

Steven Smyk (R)

Jeff Spiegelman (R)

John Viola (D)

Kim Williams (D)

David Wilson (R)

Lyndon Yearick (R)

Only one Republican voted no on the bill, State Rep. Ruth Briggs-King.  I find it ironic that many of the Dems who have part of their district in the 5 mile radius for Newark Charter School voted yes.  A couple of the no votes surprised me, but I will take it.  For those who aren’t familiar with what our state legislators look like, there are no black Republicans in the Delaware House or Senate.  All of the above legislators are white.

No offense to Kim Williams, and I get her intent behind this bill, but I can’t support this bill.  I vehemently oppose it.  Any legislation that restricts a child from doing anything will never be a bill I can get behind.  Any bill that gives Delaware an ugly stain on our perception is one I can not support.  This is not progress.  This is very sad.

We need elected officials in our state who won’t follow the whims of Newark Charter School.  We need legislators who will look out for ALL students.  We need lawmakers who won’t bow to the Delaware Charter Schools Network and do what is right.  We need legislators who realize collaboration when it comes to education is NOT always a good thing.  Today was no victory by any means.  It was a horrible step backwards in Delaware.  We might as well paint a sign on Newark Charter School that says Wilmington students not allowed.  The original five mile radius for NCS was bad enough, but this… this is blatant discrimination by a public school that gets funding from taxpayers around the state.

Newark Charter School is one of the best schools in Delaware.  It is because of laws like this that have allowed them to cherry-pick their students and take advantage of the law so they give a façade of excellence.  If they truly let in any student, they would be no better or worse than the schools around them.  But they would be equal.  I would never let my child go to a school like that.  What kind of lesson would that teach him?  If he were picked in their lottery, I would tell him he won because so many kids could not.  If I lived in Wilmington, would I really want my child going to a school that practiced discrimination and segregation for over 15 years?

I would tell you to voice your opposition to the Delaware Senate on this bill.  But it really doesn’t matter.  If it passes as is, it is the same story.  If it fails, Newark Charter School still has their 5 mile radius and still keeps kids from the Christina School District out of their prestigious public school.  Any attempt at amending the bill will fail.  But the truest failure is how Delaware looks to the entire country with this one bill.

Updated, 6:52pm: I want to add one thing.  My thoughts on this bill are not a knock on all Delaware charter schools.  There are many charter schools in Wilmington who would be more than happy to take the students Newark Charter School doesn’t want.  And they do.  My main issues with charter schools in Delaware have been the very inequity I am writing about here.

 

 

 

Delaware Parents Of Students With Disabilities: Your Immediate Input Is Essential!!!!!

The Delaware Department of Education released (finally) the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan.  It will be available for public comment until June 5th.  I strongly encourage all parents of special needs children in Delaware to very carefully go through every single line of this plan.  I will be doing the same on this blog from now until then and I will be putting my breakdown into public comment form for the plan as well.  I do want to thank the very hard work of the Special Education Strategic Planning Group who spent many hours and days, volunteer I may add, to work on this plan.  The group consisted of 24 Delawareans, a moderator, and various employees of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  As well, former Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky as well as current Secretary, Dr. Susan Bunting, provided support for the plan.  I would especially like to thank State Rep. Kim Williams and Dr. Michele Marinucci, the Special Education Coordinator for the Woodbridge School District, for getting this large group of people together during a time when it could have been completely different (and not to the benefit of students with disabilities).

At first glance, I see both positive and negative things in the plan.  It isn’t going to please everyone.  But it is a start and more than we had before.  This isn’t a time to throw stones, but it is a time to let your thoughts be known.  Public comment for this plan is as follows, as per the Delaware DOE:

Public comment for this document can be sent to matthew.korobkin@doe.k12.de.us. Public comments can also be mailed to: 
Matthew Korobkin 
Special Education Officer for Strategic Planning and Evaluation 
Delaware Department of Education 
401 Federal Street Suite 2 
Dover, Delaware 19901 

 

Enrollment Preferences Bill Released From Committee But Newark Charter School Exclusion Remains Controversial

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 85 was released from the Delaware House Education Committee today.  There are very serious concerns due to a “compromise” brought forth by the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  The bone of contention surrounds the Christina School District and Newark Charter School.  Since a portion of Christina exists in Wilmington, those students would not be considered in the enrollment preference which includes all students in a choice school’s district.  The line of thinking appears to be the district section of Wilmington is not connected to the rest of the district.  However, those who oppose this section of the bill feel it is a barrier for Wilmington students who are part of the Christina School District.

Today, State Rep. John Kowalko is bringing forth an amendment but no one on the committee knew specifically what the amendment was.  State Rep. Kim Williams, the primary sponsor of the bill, stated she assumes it would be to remove lines 7-9 of the bill which would give Newark Charter School their Wilmington exclusion.  Williams said she would not support the amendment because she gave her word to Senator David Sokola.  This, apparently, was an addition to the bill from Senator Sokola which caused the House Substitute bill from the original House Bill 85.  State Rep. Joe Miro said he would not support the bill if the amendment passed.

State Rep. Sean Matthews said he is in support of the bill but does not feel the bill serves all students in the Christina School District.  He felt the bill does not allow for Wilmington students to go to Newark Charter School and the exclusion for NCS was put in so it can pass the Delaware Senate.

If Newark Charter School is so good, they should take all students. -State Rep. Sean Matthews

State Rep. Deb Heffernan agreed with Matthews.  The bill was released with 11 votes in favor of the bill.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting said the Delaware Department of Education is taking a neutral stance on the bill.  Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the State Board of Education, said former State Board member R.L. Hughes was on the Enrollment Preferences Task Force and voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius. Kristin Dwyer, the Delaware State Education Association Director of Legislation and Political Organizing,  said she is happy the conversation is opened with this bill but DSEA does not feel the bill goes far enough.  DSEA feels the 5-mile radius should be completely removed.

My concerns with this bill are the very nature of Newark Charter School to begin with.  Even with their 5-mile radius, their student populations do not reflect that of the Greater Newark area.  This is the public comment I gave to the committee and my idea for a potential amendment.

While I am very happy to see this bill, I have concerns around Newark Charter School. When the charter school had their major modification approved to build their high school, they were instructed with formulating a plan to allow for more diversity in their district.  I have yet to see that materialize, even within their current 5 mile radius.  While their special education numbers have increased, they are still woefully under what the state average is, much less the Christina School District.  In the school profile for this school year, African-Americans represent 10.7% of their student population compared to 39.4% of Christina.  While factoring in the African-American population of the Wilmington contingent of Christina student population, the greater Newark area has a much higher population of African-Americans compared to NCS.  I would recommend an amendment be placed on this bill for a weighted lottery for charter schools, magnets, and any choice school where the demographics are disproportionately lower than that of the surrounding district to allow populations that do not seem to be getting access to certain charter school even footing and representation within those schools.  Enrollment preferences are meant to allow the most disadvantaged students into choice schools, not to keep them out. Thank you.

The bill, if passed, would take place immediately.  However, it would not be able to kick in until the 2018-2019 school year since the school choice calendar for the 2017-2018 school year closed in January.  During the House Bill 90 Enrollment Preferences Task Force, the majority of the members voted in favor of removing the 5-mile radius as an enrollment preference for choice schools.  Williams said she does not necessarily agree with the Newark Charter School exclusion, but felt compromise was necessary.  If the bill didn’t move forward, she would not be able to help any students.

Once Kowalko’s amendment is public, I will add it to this article.

Delaware Residential Treatment Center Numbers Go Down As Day Programs Shoot Up

Day programs for children with big behavioral issues stemming from disabilities are shooting up rapidly.  This is a good thing.  Prior to this year, most of these special needs students were sent to residential treatment centers which can result in separation from family and a large financial burden to the state.  This is the most promising Interagency Collaborative Team report I’ve seen since I began covering these three years ago.

The unique challenges these students face is very difficult for families and schools.  At times, extra intervention beyond the capacity of the local education agency is needed.  The choice of sending a student to a day program or a residential treatment center is still a difficult one for a parent.  But a day program, in the same state, is a better option for the student and their primary caregivers.  While a parent doesn’t pay for these programs when it goes through the ICT, it costs the state much more for residential treatment.  In most cases, a local school district pays 30% of the cost while the state pays the remaining 70%.

Most of the children, teenagers, and young adults are male, at roughly 80%.  Over half of these students are teenagers.  Around 3/4 of the students in residential treatment centers go out of state to receive those services.  The number of students in these unique services has hovered in the low 140s for the past three fiscal years.

Withholding Information: The Dangers Of Holding Back

This article originally appeared on the McAndrews Law website.  Attorney Caitlin McAndrews wrote this and it is very important!  It has pivotal information that parents of students with disabilities need to know about during the IEP process.  Parents, even with the best of intentions, can make mistakes during this process.  I agree with the author: give as much information as you possibly can to help your special needs child succeed!

Parents sometimes withhold information from School Districts, worried that the District will find a way to “use it against them.” This can include privately obtained evaluations, information from outside therapists or medical providers, or changes in medication. Though the instinct to protect your child’s privacy is understandable, withholding this type of information from the educators who work with your student typically does more harm than good.

In the example of an independent evaluation, providing the report to the District only gives them more information about how your child learns, which they should use to appropriately program for the student. Hopefully, the District will use the evaluation to help provide appropriate supports and services; but even if they do not, the family can at least say they provided all available information to the District. If parents have to go to a hearing, and they withheld a private evaluation, a hearing officer may hold that against the parent, and may question why the parent withheld outside information about the child that could have helped the District understand and program for the child.

Additionally, the private evaluation might contain information that would trigger the District’s Child Find obligation – that is, by putting the District on notice that the child has certain needs/diagnoses, and might require special education support.  If the District never saw the outside evaluation, it may be harder to prove that the District knew of the child’s disabilities.

Similarly, Districts often request permission to speak to outside providers, such as private speech/language or occupational therapists, treating psychologists, or pediatricians. This information could help the District program for your child, and withholding it can make a parent appear uncooperative in front of a hearing officer.

In general, the instinct to hold back can be a very natural and protective one, but ultimately, parents should ask themselves, “What am I afraid will happen if I share this information?” and “What good could potentially come from sharing?” In the vast majority of cases, the potential good will outweigh the potential harm.

By Caitlin McAndrews, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies

This article originally appeared on long-time Delaware special education advocate Steve Newton’s LinkedIn account yesterday.  I read it today and Steve not only hit a grand-slam with this article, but he hit it out of the park!  This is the must-read of the month and the timeliness of this could not be more important!  Normally, I would italicize this but for reasons which will soon become clear, I did not.  Great job Steve!

The road is about to get a lot rougher for special needs kids in America’s schools

It’s never been easy.

IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act] was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 to stiffen the supports for disability-challenged American students that already existed in Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. IDEA established the rules for determining the need for special services, how supports within the education system would be determined, and provided for their monitoring via IEPs [Individualized Education Plans]. The trifold intent of IDEA was to (a) guarantee parents and students a role, a voice, and an appeals option in the process; (b) fund services that would allow special needs students to receive FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]; and create mechanisms for monitoring/enforcing the entire process.

Despite the fact that none of those goals has ever really been attained (Congress has never fully funded IDEA in any budget in the past 27 years), IDEA represented a massive improvement for special needs students across America. Millions of kids with specific Learning Disabilities (as in Math or English), with Emotional Disabilities, with ADHD, with Autism, and with other, lesser-known disabilities managed to finish school and go on to college, or employment, and independent, productive lives. Flawed as it is in the execution, IDEA has been a hugely successful law.

But the last decade has seen major problems setting in Continue reading “Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies”

Origins: Bugarach & Bayhealth

The definitive seeds for this blog bloomed in late 2013 and early 2014. But what if I said the germination of those seeds began years before?

In 2009, I met someone who was making some very poor choices with their life.  They told me they had a child with a lot of problems.  One night, that person had to take their son to the hospital.  I thought about meeting the person to talk to them about those very poor choices, but the son’s problems took front and center.  I went to Bayhealth in Dover that night after thinking about it for a couple of hours.  As I walked in, the person didn’t see me.  I saw them rocking this teenage boy child in their arms, back and forth, back and forth.  While I didn’t agree with this person’s life choices, I understood how broken they were.  Their entire life was devoted to helping this child.  I could tell they didn’t have a support system that allowed them to get the help they truly needed.  I walked out of the emergency room waiting area and drove home.  It was about 2am in the morning.  I talked to the person briefly a couple of days later but I lost track of the person and I have never seen or heard from them again.  I’ve always wondered how that person and the boy were doing.  I’ve never shared this with anyone until now, not even those closest to me.  But it stuck with me for some reason.  While I’ve been blessed in many ways to be able to give my own special needs child the most basic of comforts, there are others who are unable to.

Almost two years later, I had a dream one night. It was the most bizarre dream of my life and I remember every single detail of it.  Terrorists were launching a full-scale attack on the airport in San Diego airport.  I was on a plane attempting to take off in the midst of fire and carnage.  I looked out the window of the plane to see  fire and death on the ground.  People were dying before my eyes as I flew off into the sun setting over the Pacific.  As dreams go, moments shift in the blink of an eye.  The plane was flying towards a mountain.  There was a flat area so the plane could land.  There were not that many people on the plane.  We got off after a bumpy landing to find soldiers escorting us to a door in the mountain.

We walked into the mountain and I quickly realized the world was ending. Inside the mountain was an entire city.  It was built like a mall with different stores and what I could only call processing centers.  I walked into an auditorium and saw children and teenagers.  All of them seemed like there was something unique about them.  While I didn’t realize this in the dream, I believe they were special needs children.  Those with Autism, Aspergers, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, OCD, ODD, and the different.  The separated.  The cast out.  They were told to listen and behave.  I knew instantly that something was very wrong with this whole scene.  For some reason, I got a job at the mountain as a guard of some sort.  I walked around this mountain mall for a while.  People were walking around and seemed happy, but I noticed I didn’t see any of the children that were in the auditorium.  All the people walking around were grown-ups.  What happened to the children?

I found out the answer to that question. Soldiers were placing corpses on a conveyor belt which went through a door to the outside.  I got close enough to take a peek out the door and what I saw horrified me.  Children were being sent into an outside furnace.  Some of the children were still alive as they were led to the slaughter.  A guard motioned towards me and I woke up from my dream.

That dream haunted me for months. One day at work during a break I happened to see a newspaper headline about a mountain in France that was attracting New Age followers.  December 12, 2012 was fast approaching and they believed this mountain in the Pyrenes chain would save them from the upcoming apocalypse.  They call Bugarach the “upside-down” mountain based on its geographical structure.  That apocalyptic moment never came in 2012.  UFOs did not take the New Age followers away to some interstellar promised land.  But when I read the online article about this bizarre mountain in France, they showed a picture of it.  It was the exact same mountain as the one in my dream.   Granted, there was no revelation about a mountain mall at Bugarach.  I began to do tons of research on Bugarach and found some bizarre stuff.

pech_de_bugarach_27072014_02

It was more the dream that stuck with me.  When I began this blog, I did a couple of articles on treatment of those with disabilities in history.  It really isn’t until the past fifty years that those with disabilities began to gain the rights they should have always had.  I even incorporated Bugarach in a never-finished series called “Delaware Horror Story”.  Maybe one day I will pick that up and give the history of what happened to Mike Matthews and Paul Herdman when Sussex County was wiped out due to melting glaciers.  But not today.  For me my dream about Bugarach and the dark horrors within represented a potential future to avoid at all costs.

So why am I just now revealing these what could only be viewed as crazy moments in my life now?  First off, the topic of that person I met with the child at Bayhealth recently came up.  I didn’t realize what an impression that made on me over the years.  I didn’t know the first thing about special needs, how to advocate for rights, or certainly any knowledge of how to help a child who was clearly suffering.  As far as the dream, I have tried to get back to that dream in the six years since with no luck whatsoever.  It was the worst possible future for these kids.  Do I think that could really happen?  I pray to God not.  But if you asked someone if the Holocaust or the wholesale slaughter in Rwanda in the 1990s if they could have foreseen those moments, perhaps not.  History is filled with such atrocities going back tens of thousands of years.  Like I said, history is filled with very bad treatment of anyone different.  As I said in the intro for this, these were just seed germinations.  The simple truth is this blog would have never happened if not for the very difficult birth of those seeds bursting to life all those years ago.  For some, it seems like just yesterday that late 2013 and early 2014 happened.  For me, it feels like a lifetime ago.  Along with all that came before that.

I see what is going on now in our world.  In America, we seem more divided than ever.  I don’t see the “growth” happening for students with disabilities that all the faux Common Core believers profess they are having.  I see people at each other’s throats over party lines.  I believe we are fast approaching a tipping point in society.  A line will be crossed and there will be no looking back.  But I also have hope.  Hope that we can overcome our differences and unite to help all people.

Last Friday night, I attended a candle-light vigil for Lieutenant Steven Floyd in Dover.  For those around the country who read this blog, Lt. Floyd was the correctional officer tragically murdered in last week’s prison siege at the Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, DE.  I saw hundreds of people paying tribute to a man that saved others with his actions.  He was and is a true hero.  Everyone who attended this vigil, along with the accompanying tribute in Smyrna, was there to pay tribute and to mourn.  As we held our candles up high for Lt. Floyd, I remembered another evening where many of us lit candles to remember.

It was after 9/11.  I lived in California at the time.  Word was going around on the internet that everyone should hold a candle-light vigil one Friday evening.  I went outside and found people just coming over.  Some I had never met before.  I became the de facto leader of this group and started to speak.  This was something I never did before.  I thought, “Why me?”  But I got through it.  After everyone left I felt a feeling of peace.  In the midst of unspeakable tragedy, people could still unite for something bigger than themselves.

In the span of my life, my advocacy for special needs, opt out, and getting rid of corporate education reform is still in its infancy.  I truly don’t know what will happen next.  Things are moving very fast and there are many things I need to put in the “unable to control” box.  While I was blogging, life continued to move forward.  I’m at a crossroads with many things in my life right now but I know I have a few things in my corner: friends, hope, and love.  Will the dreams of yesterday and missed opportunities create change in the future?  Time will tell.  But my days of living in darkness, of drowning in it, will not define who I am.  It will not shape my world any longer.  I refuse to let it.

At the vigil last Friday evening, a Reverend spoke to the crowd.  His final words resonated with me like no other words in a long time.  I can’t remember it verbatim, but he was talking about how much people need help from others.  How so many of us just walk right past them.  He said we should only be looking down unless it is to lift another person up.

When we are fighting on Facebook about politics, are we really contributing anything worthwhile to the world?  Do we really believe a local fight on Facebook is going to change the shape of a nation?  Are we that self-absorbed to think that?  I am not bemoaning standing up for rights or what you believe.  What I am criticizing is the way so many of us are going about how they convey their beliefs.  If making a point hurts someone to a level where the words “I’m sorry” are said, it has gone too far.  If friendships die forever over this stuff, that is the truest shame in the world.

The driving force for this blog has evolved in the past couple of months.  I felt I said all I needed to say about certain subjects.  I was no longer in a place to do vast amounts of research and spend so much time on it.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  I still am in some respects, but I’ve also experienced a reawakening I never expected.  Here comes the future.

 

Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Nears Completion

facilitatedworkgroup

After some starts and stops, the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan is almost finished.  The plan has been underway since 2014 when Governor Jack Markell inserted the creation of the strategic plan in the FY2015 epilogue language of the state budget.  Matthew Korobkin, the Special Education Officer through the Secretary of Education’s office at the Delaware Dept. of Education, will give a status update on the plan to the State Board of Education at their meeting on January 19th.  This is not to be confused with the State of Delaware Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities.

Last fall, the Special Education Strategic Plan was retooled after disability advocates viewed an initial draft.  As a result of that, along with a very big push from State Rep. Kim Williams, a Facilitated Workgroup came into formation to fine tune the plan and make sure all voices were heard.  In mid-December, the newly created group had a public two-day retreat to decide what should be in the plan.  From there, sub-groups worked on different parts of the plan.  It is expected to be released for public comment at some point in February, shortly after the State Board of Education meeting next week.  From there, at some point in March, a presentation will be given to the State of Delaware Oversight Group for the Special Education Strategic Plan which includes members of the Delaware Interagency Resource Committee, a representative from Governor Carney’s office, and the Chairs of the Senate and House Joint Finance Committee.

The stakeholder workgroup has seven goals for development of the strategic plan which include the following: Students, Parents & Families, Community, Staff/Partners, Resources, Policies & Regulations, and Delivery/Structure/Systems.  Like most Strategic Plans, this one will be not be set in stone and will be considered a fluid document whereby changes and tweaks can be added as needed.  But every plan needs a foundation and what we will soon see are the building blocks for this plan.  Things can happen which could substantially change the plan including the Delaware state budget and the upcoming ruling on the United States Supreme Court special education case of Endrew v. Douglas County School District.

Various groups and committees revolving around special education have occurred in Delaware over the past decade, but this is the first time I have seen such a huge mix of school districts, parents, and advocacy groups.  The last group to form policy around special education was the IEP Task Force from 2014 which led to a large number of changes to state law and regulations.  No education plan will ever please everyone and there will be parts people love and some others disapprove of.  If there is one thing I have learned in education, it is constantly evolving and nothing will ever be perfect.  But I would encourage any and all persons who care about special education to give this plan a very careful read when it comes out and let your thoughts be known with a goal of improving education for special needs kids.

The members of the Facilitated Workgroup consist of the following:

Michele Marinucci, Woodbridge School District

Daphne Cartright, Autism Delaware

Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School

Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware

Jon Cooper, Colonial School District

Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter Schools Network

State Representative Kim Williams, Legislator

Kristin Dwyer, DSEA

Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association

Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District

Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Delaware Dept. of Education

Elisha Jenkins, Division for the Visually Impaired

Bill Doolittle, Parent Advocate

Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District

Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program

Wendy Strauss, Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens

Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware Center for Disability Studies

John Marinucci, Delaware School Boards Association

Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate

Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware

Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf

Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs

Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District

Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

*above photo courtesy of State Rep. Kim Williams, photographed by yours truly at the 12/9 retreat

 

The Heart Of Special Education Was Argued Before The U.S. Supreme Court Today

The United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for the Endrew v. Douglas County School District today.  This case could determine the goal of special education in America: a bare minimum special education or a more than minimum special education.  These arguments weigh the words “significant” and “meaningful” quite a lot since it is the center of the case.  Another question is how do you measure progress for a student with an Individualized Education Program.  Does the IEP team just write the IEP and make sure the student is on target to perform as well as their non-disabled peers or do you go above and beyond?

Another huge issue is funding for special education.  The fact that the Federal government spends less than 15% of what they promised to do for special education is a large problem.  It was not the Congressional intent to dump all of this on the states and local school districts but that is exactly what happened.  As well, what does “standard” mean in this context?  Is it the Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes testing that supposedly measures the ability of the student to grasp those standards?  Do classroom grades count for anything anymore?

The case is officially submitted into the highest court in the country.  This will be fascinating to watch, especially the final ruling.

President Obama’s Office Releases Massive “Rethinking Discipline” Report For Schools

Today, the White House released a very long report on school discipline entitled “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline”.  The report has a plethora of recommendations for public schools in America.  I agree with most of them based on a cursory glance, but like many reports of this nature that I write about, it fails to recognize the fact that Common Core State Standards or other similar standards along with the high-stakes testing environment accompanying those standards are causing more problems than they are worth in our schools.  I will write more about this as I go through the report in the coming days.

The Every Student Succeeds Act addresses school discipline and how our schools carry out punishment for negative behaviors.  On Monday evening, the ESSA Discussion Group I am a member of in Delaware addressed this very issue.  As well, a Delaware newspaper is working on an extensive article about bullying in Delaware and how our schools respond to bullying reporting.

It remains unclear how the incoming Trump administration will view this report.

For now, please read the below report.

17 Who Will Make An Impact In 2017: Kendall Massett

kendallm

Kendall Massett, the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, will soon be standing at a crossroads.  As someone who preaches district and charter collaboration on one hand, the other hand is busy trying to find ways to get more district money to follow students at Delaware charters.  This dichotomy is going to define the future of charter schools in Delaware.

As anyone breathing in Delaware is well aware, fifteen charter schools sued the Delaware Dept. of Education and the Christina School District over funds they felt should have been going to charter schools.  The defining moment in the lawsuit: when Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky reversed changes to the local funding formula for school choice payments after September 1st.  They could have been patient and allowed Godowsky or the next Delaware Secretary of Education and the General Assembly the opportunity to figure it out.  But instead, they took the legal route which was championed by Kendall Massett.  As a result, the law firm of Saul Ewing will get $300,000.  How many teachers could be hired with that kind of money?  How many students could have received a paraprofessional in a school room bursting with over 25 kids?

If the collaboration Massett truly desires took place, this lawsuit wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  If there is blame to be thrown around regarding who was at fault with the local funding formula, that blame lands solely at the feet of the Delaware Dept. of Education.  They should have been the ones answering the questions for the charters.  Christina performed their due diligence and submitted their exclusions to the Delaware DOE.  This originated last Winter, with Newark Charter School calling in the DOE who apparently “confessed” to the powers that be about the exclusions submitted by Christina.  The DOE had an opportunity right then and there to make good on this.  The charter schools could have gone public with this information and forced the DOE to do something about it.  And if that didn’t work, they could have brought in the General Assembly.  But instead, they kept this a secret for many months.  They had to know when the public found out about this they would be understandably upset.  These were huge funding changes with charter payments.  This was not a wise move for the charters involved.  By alleging that Christina was purposely withholding funds from these charters when the district did the same thing they had been doing for 12-13 years, which I might add was completely legal since the DOE approved them, the charters started a war.  It is not that difficult to see this was the original intent.  It boils down to Greg Meece having a hissy fit because his school wanted more money and if Christina wouldn’t willfully give it up, he was going to punish them and cast blame.

In an article on Delaware First Media, written by Meg Pauly on December 1st, Massett weighed in on the Christina Board of Education signing the settlement with the fifteen charters.  Massett, as the go-to spokeswoman for Delaware charter schools, seemed to have some very big misunderstandings about what this settlement really is.

She said the decision most likely won’t require a vote from each schools’ entire board of directors, which could make it easier to approve.

“Because there would not be any money going out – they’re not paying out a settlement, it would be money coming in – there’s not really a fiduciary responsibility that the board would have to approve,” Massett said.

There is certainly a fiduciary responsibility stemming from this settlement.  The charters, according to the settlement, would have to make sure the funds were allocated to certain functions similar to what those funds were used for in the Christina School District.  As well, the Pandora’s box called tuition tax funds were brought up in the settlement.  It states:

In the CSD settlement agreement, CSD has agreed to catalogue and describe, for DOE and CSD Charter Schools, those services provided by CSD to children with special needs (“Special Needs Services”) that are funded in whole, in whole or in part, with revenues generated by the levy of the so-called Tuition Tax by CSD.  The objective of this undertaking is to determine whether CSD shall be financially responsible under Section 509(f) for funding the same or similar Special Needs Services provided by CSD Charter Schools to their CSD resident students.  If requested, DOE will participate in the discussions and inquiry described in this subsection, and, where necessary, shall enforce this provision.

So what does Section 509(f) of Delaware State Code say?

For any student, who because of educational need requires services that are appropriately financed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title, either at the outset or subsequent to a decision to enroll in a charter school, the student’s district of residence shall remain financially responsible for such student and the charter school shall receive from such district a payment determined in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of this title.

Which brings us back to Chapter 6 of Title 14:

(a) If any pupil is counted in the preschool, intensive or complex unit and attends school in a program operated by a district other than that in which the pupil resides, by an agency of the Department of Education or is in an approved private placement pursuant to § 3124 of this title, the receiving district or the Department of Education shall collect a tuition charge for the nonresident pupil, provided approval for attendance has been granted by the sending district. Such tuition charge shall be paid by the school board of the reorganized school district in which the pupil is a resident from the proceeds of a local tax levied for this specific purpose, except that in the case of a district assigned by the Department with the approval of the State Board of Education to administer a school or program for children with disabilities, or special programs approved by the Department of Education for persons without disabilities such as programs for bilingual students or programs for pregnant students, the district so assigned shall be both the sending and receiving district in regard to that school or program and is authorized to collect tuition charges accordingly.

(b) In determining the tuition to be charged for a pupil counted in the preschool, intensive or complex units or for a person without disabilities attending approved special programs, such as bilingual programs or programs for pregnant students operated by a district other than that in which the student resides or by an agency of the State Department of Education, the receiving district or the State Department of Education shall compute the tuition by adding such receiving district’s share of educational related expenses as allowed by the Department of Education regulations. The sum so obtained shall be divided by the total number of pupils in the special program as of September 30 of the current school year. The resulting figure shall represent the amount of the “tuition charge” per pupil.

(c) In determining the tuition charged to the sending district in the case of private placement for children with disabilities, tuition will be defined as in § 3124 of this title and the sending district will be charged 30 percent of the total tuition cost. The remaining 70 percent will be covered through funding provided by the State Department of Education from the annual appropriation for this purpose.

The charter schools get IDEA Part B funding from the federal government.  They receive special education funding from the state for Basic Special Education for students in pre-school (if they have those programs) and students in 4th-12th grade.  They get intensive and complex funding for students in all grades.  Where the tuition tax gets very complex is how it is determined.  The local school board votes to set the current year’s tuition tax rate for taxpayers.  It is not something the district can change on a whim.  And state code is very specific about what those funds can be used for.  What makes Christina very unique is that they are the management district for several special needs programs.  Those are not funds the charter schools could touch based on this settlement unless they are providing comparable services.  Then we get into the definition of a comparable service.  Would Gateway Lab School be considered the same school as the special schools within Christina?

Where Kendall, as well as the entire settlement, performs a massive overreach is in this particular section.  It is tampering with state code in unbelievable ways.  State code does not legally have to honor a settlement stemming from a lawsuit between a school district and a group of charters.  As well, it can not, and should not, dictate what a state agency has to do.  That is what we have our General Assembly for, to create and amend laws.  We can certainly discuss the merit of some of those laws, but that is the very essence of the Constitution of Delaware.  A settlement should not create new contradictions that try to negate existing law.  Which is why Secretary Godowsky wanted the General Assembly to intervene in this entire funding process.  I am assuming the Delaware DOE signed their settlement agreement with the fifteen charters.  Which is even more concerning in my eyes.  The fact they would allow changes in Delaware law without approval of the legislative body charged with performing that task.  A settlement cannot create laws or regulations.

What this section does is change the duty of charter schools in regards to their adherence of special education law which they should already be doing to the best of their ability.  This settlement is much more than a “fiduciary responsibility” in nature, as Massett put it.  Something that magnanimous in scope should be approved by a charter school board, not a Head of School or even an interim principal in one case.  It is fiduciary in a sense that the charters would receive more money from a tuition tax, but it would require an oversight of the special education services within each of those charter schools to make sure they are performing at a comparable level to Christina.  That could involve extra resources and staff those charters may not have.  Could a charter hire that staff and pay for those resources and then submit for those tuition tax funds?  Or would those services and staff have to already be in place to be eligible for those funds?  The settlement does not define that.

If, for some odd reason, legislation is created out of this part of the settlement, it would require districts to collect even more tuition tax from taxpaying citizens within their district.  They would have to because more would be required to go out to charter schools for those students.  They should not be tasked with divvying up the existing tuition tax they receive for the students within their own district with those needs or funds they are already sending to special education schools outside of their district.  That would take away from those students.  But here is the major problem with this: the local boards have to determine the tuition tax rate in the summer before the school year starts.  They base this on projections within their own district.  How can they determine the needs of special education students who reside in their district but attend charter schools before the school year even starts?  For some they can, but special education can be very fluid, evolving from year to year.  It is hard enough for the districts to do this for their own students.

If Kendall Massett wants more collaboration between districts and charters going forward, she needs to stop drawing this line in the sand when it comes to money.  She is going to continue to piss off the districts and they will not want to collaborate with the charters who keep demanding more and more from them.  Districts can’t always get performance funds or donations from foundations.  They can’t always have silent auctions like many charter schools do.  All Delaware public schools have the capability of applying for grants from the state or the federal government, including charters.  Districts don’t get to keep their excess transportation spending if they set their budget higher than what they actually spend.  And charters are free to use this money as they please.  So please, tell me Kendall, if the charters are getting what you view as their “fair share“, will you promote removing those extra perks for the charters that districts don’t get?  When it comes to education funding, there is a crystal-clear difference between what a charter school needs and what an entire district needs.  In some ways, it is like comparing apples to oranges.  You can’t complain about charters not receiving capital funding.  That was the way the law for charters was set up.  It was the price of admission into Delaware public education.  So by default, on paper, it would appear charters get less than districts for that very reason.

Some could argue that this latest misstep by the charters is just more of an ongoing agenda to privatize public education.  Just one more chunk taken from school districts and flowing into the hands of charter schools which are actually non-profit corporations.  By state law, those corporations are required to file IRS tax returns.  But because of loopholes in IRS guidance, the one charter school who actually started this whole charter payment mess is the one school that does not file those tax returns.  The guiding force behind the lawsuit was Greg Meece and Newark Charter School.  They created the very conditions that led to the lawsuit.  The settlement promises severe disruption to all Delaware schools involving special education and funding.  But Newark Charter School is not transparent with their own finances the same way the rest of Delaware charters are.  I have grave issues with that.  And I have no doubt in my mind Kendall is aware of this.

In a News Journal article from December 5th discussing the settlement details, written by Adam Duvernay, Kendall states the following:

“I’m glad everyone will have a seat at the table, and that the process will be transparent, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again where charter schools go for years without answers and feel like they need to resort to legal action to make their voices heard,” Massett said.

What about the questions many Delawareans have been asking the charter schools for years without any real answers?  Like how certain Delaware charter schools can cherry-pick students in defiance of state and federal law?  When does Newark Charter School, which created this whole mess, finally implement their plan to balance their demographics at their school?  When does Newark Charter School become fully transparent with their own money the way every other Delaware charter school is required by law to do?  Massett cherry-picks her statements.  She wants districts to answer any questions charters have, but when those answers are needed by others, she either deflects or states it just isn’t true.  And when people do take legal actions surrounding charter demographics?  Like when the Office of Civil Rights asked for all charter school applications a couple of years ago going back the two years before that request?  The Delaware Charter Schools Network became the organization tasked with collecting that information.  And what happened?  Massett informed the Office of Civil Rights the charters did not know they needed to keep that information.  And then there is the matter of the now two-year-old complaint from the Delaware ACLU against the State of Delaware and Red Clay regarding practices of segregation and discrimination from some Delaware charter schools.  Kendall called that “a myth.”  Two years later and that complaint has gone nowhere.  Forcing someone to sit at the table with a menu where there are two choices, our way or no way, is not collaboration.  It is not legal action.  It is manipulation that doesn’t belong in education.  With education, every decision eventually affects students in a good way or a bad way.  For far too long, those decisions have existed for the benefit of charter school students.

Getting real here, Kendall’s job is to promote charter schools and to serve as a buffer between them and the state in certain areas.  At heart, Kendall is a lobbyist, seeking to influence the General Assembly and the Delaware DOE in ways that will benefit charter schools in the state.  Charter schools pay dues to the Delaware Charter Schools Network.  In a sense, they are very similar to some of the roles the Delaware State Education Association plays in education politics.  But the difference is that DSEA represents the teachers in district schools.  They promote or oppose legislation that will benefit the teachers within their organization.  I have no doubt DSEA would love to have charter school teachers unionize.  But the Delaware Charter School Network exists for a niche within public education that almost serves as a parasite on the districts they feed from.  It takes from the host body and sucks the energy out of it.  That is the price of school choice that Kendall cannot seem to fathom.

In 2017, education will once again be front and center in Delaware.  The corporate education reform movement, led by the Rodel Foundation in Delaware, will become more pronounced with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  But in some ways, it almost seems like the charter movement in Delaware and those who advocate for them, seem to have become more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA.  He promised billions of dollars to charter schools.  To add salt to that wound, he appointed Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  A charter school lover if there ever was one.  I have no doubt charter advocates across the country are feeling almost empowered by these events.  Supporters of public education are very worried about what will happen to further erode an education system that has been in place long before the very idea of a charter school was introduced.

In Delaware, Kendall Massett will continue to have great relationships with the Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education.  She will exert her influence on the General Assembly.  If any bill is introduced that will negatively impact charter schools, she will wield her power and influence to put a stop to it.  She is backed by some very powerful forces in Delaware that will not be trifled with in any way.  But none of these forces see what their choices and decisions make to education as a whole.  If charters and districts were funded the same way as the vo-tech schools in Delaware, I don’t think the issues with charter schools in the state would be as big.  But this parasitic relationship between districts and charters is paralyzing to education in Delaware.  There are other things that perform the same damaging results,  but we can control how this particular relationship evolves.  Districts and charters aren’t going anywhere.  If charters want to co-exist with districts and have true and meaningful collaboration, they have to stop these games.  And Kendall Massett, as the spokeswoman for the charters, will have to take on a different mantra.  It isn’t a question of choice at this point, it is an answer that demands immediate implementation.  Fair goes both ways.

If I were Kendall Massett, I would actually recommend the Christina Board of Education rescinds their vote on the settlement.  Funding is important, but shaking down a district like this which will only tick off the other districts in the state, is not something to be proud of.  It is not a victory when students continue to pay the price.