As you may have heard by now, the Governor vetoed House Bill 85, a bill I sponsored. HB 85 would have removed the 5-mile radius that charter schools use as an enrollment preference. I chaired the Enrollment Preferences Task Force a few years ago and this is one of the items that were discussed during the task force meetings. The members of the task force agreed that the 5-mile radius should be removed – the vote was 10 to remove it, 3 to keep it and 2 abstained from voting.
I asked Sen. Sokola to be the Senate Prime Sponsor on this legislation, originally I was removing the 5-mile radius completely. Sen. Sokola is the chair of the Senate Education Committee and he was a member of the Enrollment Preferences Task Force. He heard first hand the discussion around the 5-mile radius from task force members and he knew most of the task force members agreed that the 5-mile radius should be removed. The task force was made up of many stakeholder groups including members who represented charter schools.
Sen. Sokola did not agree to support the legislation removing the 5-radius completely unless a new preference was added for students located in the portion of the regular school district that is geographically contiguous with the location of the charter school. The issue with this, this preference would exclude families from the Christina School District that live in the city in the non-contiguous part of the Christina School District. I needed Sen. Sokola to release this bill out of the Senate Education Committee. The Senate this year reduced the members of all of their committees so there are only five members on the Senate Education Committee, 3 Democrats, and 2 Republicans. I knew that three members of the Senate Education Committee were huge charter supporters. I knew if I did not have Sen. Sokola’s support the bill was going to be dead on arrival. Change can be slow, but I knew this step was not a huge one but it was moving the state forward.
The 5-mile Radius Bill and the Charter Audit Bill (which passed last year) were probably the most difficult bills that I have worked on. It is always hard running a bill knowing you had to compromise, but compromise is necessary in order to get anything done in Dover and in Washington. In order for me to get a bill passed, you must get the majority of the legislators – 21 in the House and 11 in the Senate – to support your bill and then you hope the governor will sign it.
THE BILL AND THE HOUSE
When the bill came before the House Education Committee there was little discussion about the bill. Rep. Heffernan and Rep. Matthews expressed concerns with the language surrounding the word contiguous. The House Committee meeting was fast and a motion was made by Rep. Potter to release the bill and it was signed out by 12 members of the committee – no one signed it out unfavorably. There was no arguing or debating, I had spoken to the House members about the bill and explained to them what had transpired. When the vote came to the House Floor, that is where the debate started. I applauded Rep. John Kowalko he never changes who he is as a legislator and he had issues with the bill. He made it clear his issues were not with me but with the contiguous language that was in the bill, he knew the language came from Sen. Sokola. I would assume Rep. Kowalko has constituents who attend Newark Charter School since he represents a part of the Newark area. The vote passed the House and the Democrats who voted yes knew how we got to this point. They knew that it was a step forward, not the entire step we wanted, but there was movement. I am extremely happy to see discussion around enrollment preferences and what happens when we use these preferences.
THE BILL IS NOW OFF TO THE SENATE
The bill was released from the Senate Education Committee really with no issues, there was some discussion around the contiguous language. It would head to the Senate Floor. A representative from the Governor’s office came and visited me about HB 85 a few days before the Senate was going to vote on it. The Governor’s representative stated that the Governor’s office had an issue with the bill. I asked if the Governor was going to veto the bill and he said no that is not what he was saying. I asked the Governor’s representative to ask the Governor to go and personally speak to Sen. Sokola about the bill before it went to the floor. I was hopeful that if the Governor personally spoke to Senator Sokola maybe he could convince him to support Sen. Henry’s amendment, removing the contiguous language – that never happened. One would think if you were against this bill because of a line in the bill but you supported the main point of the bill, why would you not go and speak to the person about it? (Side note: Rep. Kowalko had also filed an amendment in the House, it failed.)
Behind the Scenes
The Governor’s office should have come to me way before it got to the Senate and told me he was going to veto it. Instead, they lead me to believe that he may not veto the bill. I found out that they were going to veto the bill on July 20th, the day it got vetoed. I had heard that there was a letter being circulated by a legislator for signatures on July 19th requesting the Governor to veto House Bill 85. The letter was sent to the Governor July 19th and the very next day he vetoed it. Nothing in Dover works that fast, they knew all along that the Governor had plans on vetoing this bill. It is much easier to sign a veto statement then to go and really fight for something. I would have loved the Governor’s help early on when the bill was first filed back in March.
I want change but change comes very slow in Dover. I was not involved in politics until I was elected back in 2012, it is very disheartening at times to see what goes on in Dover. To change something, you have to fight hard, you have to be seen and heard. Change can only happen when you collectively work together and see the issue and be determined to make the necessary changes. That cannot be done through a letter or a veto statement, it must be done by communicating face-to-face and standing together.
When the enrollment task force report was released which shows the barriers that are in place in our educational system, I would guess that very few read the report. There are many things that need to change but the question is will folks step up and make those changes, I guess time will tell. When I was first elected, special education students who applied for choice could be and were denied their choice because they had an IEP or a 504 Plan, Delaware code allowed that. I assume when the choice law was created that language was added and it passed in Dover. I worked to change that law shortly after being elected, I could not believe Delaware allowed public schools to deny access to any student let alone a student with a disability. We deny many students access to schools, through barriers that are created by the laws we create and these laws have been in place for two decades. I hope when the time comes, people in Dover will rally together and support change! The below sentence was copied and pasted from a letter written and signed by a few legislators asking the Governor to veto HB 85.
It is one thing for charter schools to be able to self-select their students; it quite another to allow them to self-select the communities where those students live.
Legislators know schools are self-selecting and nothing has been done in two decades to change this practice!
I have requested a meeting with the Governor’s Office, Secretary Bunting, Charter Schools Network, and a few legislators to see if we can all agree to remove the 5-mile radius for good. I am filing a bill in January removing the 5-mile radius completely. I hope everyone will come out and support this bill when it is filed and not sit there quietly.