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The State of Delaware Cut Millions to Education and Now They Want the Districts to Hand Over Additional Funds to Charter Schools

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On July 14, 2017, the Department of Education sent a letter to the school districts informing them of the changes to the Match Tax for the 2017-2018 school year.  School district budgets are already in place and their boards have approved their tax rate for the upcoming year – they are required to set their tax rated by the 2nd Thursday in July of every year. This year it had to be set and voted on by July 13, 2017.

The state is pushing for the districts to give a portion of the Match Tax to charter schools. School districts have never handed over any portion of the Match Tax but this administration and the last administration seemed to be set on this new funding stream for Delaware charter schools.

The state just slashed millions of dollars in education funds and now this–who is pushing this? Governor Carney? Department of Education?

The Story Behind HB 85 Veto

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.

School District Consolidation Task Force Must Look at Charter Schools When Issuing Recommendations

Consolidation

The General Assembly passed HCR 39 which establishes a task force to study and make recommendations related to school district consolidation. A report will be submitted to the General Assembly no later than January 30, 2018.

HCR 39 was presented to the House for a vote, at the time there were four amendments submitted, one being House Amendment 2. House Amendment 2 required the task force to study and make findings relating to the inclusion of charter schools in school districts and as part of school district consolidation.

The House voted and House Amendment 2 passed the House with support from every Representative including Republicans. At the time, I was extremely impressed that both sides, Republicans and Democrats came together to review all public schools including charter schools.

HCR 39 went over to the Senate and that is where things started to unravel. Sen. Bonini introduced Senate Amendment 1 which would remove the 24 charter schools from the task force and just look at studying the 19 school districts. Sen. Bonini’s amendment could have failed if no Democrats crossed over and voted yes on his amendment – his amendment passed the Senate 12 yes and 8 no. The charter schools were removed from the consolidation study but they still had a seat on the task force. What Sen. Bonini failed to do in his amendment is to remove the Charter Schools Network from having a seat on the task force.

HCR 39 came back to the House with Sen. Bonini’s amendment attached to the resolution. The House needed to vote again on the resolution. When the House was getting ready to vote on the Sen. Bonini’s amendment, I introduced House Amendment 5 which would remove the Charter Schools Network from having a seat on the task force. I asked for a roll call and the amendment barely passed the House, the vote was 21 yes to remove the Charter Schools Network and 20 no’s which would keep the Charter Schools Network on the task force. What surprised me the most is how many Democrats voted to keep the Charter Schools Network on the task force. The entire House originally voted yes to include the charter schools when looking at consolidation. Rep. Jaques called my amendment UNFRIENDLY and he voted no on this amendment. I did not understand why Rep. Jaques had an issue with my amendment because Sen. Bonini is the one who killed Rep. Jaques House Amendment 2 which added charter schools to be reviewed when looking at consolidation. My amendment passed the House and it was then sent back to the Senate and they voted again and it passed.

How can we really look deeply into consolidation when we are not including charter schools. We have 19 school districts and 24 charter schools and each charter school operates as an independent school district. Charter schools do not share positions, for example, a head of curriculum at Providence Creek, that person stays at their charter school.  Red Clay School District head of curriculum is shared among 27 schools, not one school. Providence Creek has 700 students and 9 administrators which do not include their specialty staff, if we are going to look at consolidation it must include all public schools! People call charter schools public schools but some members of the General Assembly obviously do not believe this when you look into their voting history.

 

 

 

 

Another Budget Year and Charter Schools Are Still Able to Keep Their Leftover Transportation Funds

MoneyGrab

During the Legislative Session budget debate, charter school transportation leftover funds were brought up once again. I just do not understand how we keep doing this year after year, allowing charter schools to keep any leftover transportation funds that they have remaining at the end of the budget cycle. Rep. Kowalko has been fighting this fight for as long as I have been in Dover. Each year in the budget’s epilogue there is language that was added years ago that allows charter schools to keep any leftover funds that they do not spend on bus services for their students. Every year, Rep. Kowalko files an amendment to the budget and every year he pleads with his colleagues on both sides to support his amendment and every year it does not pass. Each year, more and more Democrats support his amendment but no Republicans ever vote yes. Republicans are constantly stating they want the state to be fiscally responsible and I do agree with that. I am not sure how we are being fiscally responsible by allowing this to continue year after year. I just do not understand how we raise people’s taxes and cut education funding and yet the state is not there with their hand out asking for our hard earned money back – it just does not make sense to me, the charter schools did not spend the money so it should be returned to the State.

June 30, 2016, Rep Kowalko’s amendment failed 8 yes and 31 no. This year the vote for Rep. Kowalko’s amendment was 16 yes, 21 no and 4 not voting – I guess someone could say he is making progress.

Just wondering how others feel about this; should charter schools return their leftover transportation funds as we continue to cut public education funding and raise taxes?

I just want to say, Rep. Kowalko goes to Dover and fights for his constituents and Delawareans every day – I wish more elected people would fight like he does, he never gives up. I am so glad he is down there with me, he has guts – more than I can say for others who are down there.

 

What Will Happen during the Next Seven Legislative Days

We have seven legislative days left – we are looking to cut expenses and raise revenue to balance our budget – looking to cut/raise about $400 million. As I have said at my civic association meetings over the last months, I am not supporting any revenue bill that raises personal income tax on the lower and middle class, I support adding two additional tax brackets. Rep. John Kowalko introduced House Bill 109 and it was released from committee. Rep. Kowalko’s bill lowers tax rates slightly on the current 6 tax brackets which include anyone making $125,000 or less and adds two additional brackets – one bracket for folks making more than $125,000 and $250,000. Currently, Delaware’s highest tax bracket is $60,000 – a millionaire pays the same tax rate as someone who is making $60,000 a year, it has been like this for about two decades.

Delaware’s top revenue sources are Personal Income Tax, Corporate Franchise Tax, Abandoned Property, Casinos and Lottery, and Gross Receipt Tax – Delaware needs more reliable revenue. Delaware is one of only five states in the nation with no sales tax and ranked 4th in the nation with the lowest property taxes.

Delaware’s personal income tax highest bracket back in the 70’s was $100,000 and taxed at 19.8%, I had to do a double-take just to make sure I was reading it right. Back in the 70’s we had at one point 17 tax brackets and the brackets were taxed at 1.6% (lowest wage earners) to 19.8% (highest wage earners).

In the late 70’s the highest tax bracket went from $100,000 to $50,000 and then in the 80’s the highest tax bracket went to $40,000. In the mid 90’s the highest tax bracket dropped to $30,000 and then increased to $60,000 in 1999.

A study claims Delaware has nation’s lowest tax burden, click here to read the article.

It makes sense adding two additional brackets to stabilize our revenue and it maintains the quality of the services that make our state such a desirable place to live and retire. Delaware is ranked in the top ten states where millionaires live and we were ranked 3rd for best state to retire a combo of low taxes and a great lifestyle.

June 30th will be here soon, I guess we will see if we will we raise taxes on all or add the two additional tax brackets.

Special Education Ratings for DE School Districts and Charter Schools an Unfair Rating System

I just wanted to state how much I hate school ratings and how these ratings are always used to label our schools.

DE DOE recently released Special Education Ratings for all of our school districts and charters, Exceptional Delaware posted about this. Exceptional Delaware listed which school districts and charter schools met the requirements, which ones needed assistance and which ones needed intervention. I am told this is a federal regulation but I do not care if it is a local, state or federal regulation or law – they are just useless.

As everyone knows, many of our schools have enrollment preferences and these enrollment preferences have a tendency to exclude special education students. We are holding all of our schools to the same accountability system but many of our schools admit students differently. Our traditional school district doors are always open – welcoming everyone! Other schools or districts open their doors on a crack and only some are welcomed in.

Charter School of Wilmington received 100%, they scored 6 out of a possible 6 points. The Red Clay School District received 46.51%  –  scored 20 out of 43 points – tell me how this is fair? CSW needed 6 points to score a perfect score and Red Clay needed 43 points to get a perfect score. Charter School of Wilmington has the ability to select their students and has a total enrollment of 971 students compared to the Red Clay School District which has over 17,000 students. How about the feds or state give some type of rating to Charter School of Wilmington on the lack of special education students enrolled in the school since the state’s overall percentage of special education students is 14.9%? If a school does not come close to the state’s overall special education percentages than their overall score is lowered.

The DE Department of Education letter which accompanied the ratings to each school district and charter school starts out by thanking the Charter School of Wilmington for their ongoing dedication and commitment to educating students with disabilities – there are SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS in Charter School of Wilmington compared to the Red Clay School District which has over 2,000 special education students how is that a commitment? Please do not take this as an attack on Charter School of Wilmington, I am just so tired of these unrealistic labels and comparisons that are meaningless that are placed on our school districts and schools.

I was looking through the various letters and I noticed Delaware Military Academy received a 60% scored 6 out of a possible 10 points. DMA has 584 students and 20 special education students and only scored 13.49 percent higher than Red Clay School District who serves over 17,000 students and over 2,000 special education students, I would think the state would be really concerned about that. DMA only needed to score 10 points compared to Red Clay needing 43 points.

First, we need to fund basic special education for kindergarten through 3rd grades, we all know the schools could use the resources. Secondly, we need to get out of the business of labeling and rating our schools – we keep testing and assessing and we always come up with the same results, we know what needs to be done.

Let’s get back to educating our students and move away from testing, evaluating and labeling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee Should Sunset the State Board of Education

Today, the Joint Legislative Oversight and Sunset Committee met to discuss their recommendations regarding the State Board of Education.  There were 13 recommendations that the committee voted on, Recommendation #1, “The State Board of Education shall be terminated and applicable sections of the code be amended to remove the State Board of Education.” This recommendation was tabled, the committee wanted to go through the 12 remaining recommendations first before they voted on whether or not to terminate the State Board.  Note: Recommendation 9 was voted on 10 yes and 0 no. The recommendation was to provide more  accessibility to the members of public to the State Board meetings. Recommendation 13 was tabled, the vote to release the State Board or to hold them over.

The Sunset Committee voted 10 yes and 0 no.

The Sunset Committee voted 4 yes and 6 no, the Sunset Committee voted not to move forward with this recommendation.

The Sunset Committee voted 10 yes and 0 no. 

The Sunset Committee voted 10 yes and 0 no, for Option 1.

 

 

 

 

The Sunset Committee voted 10 yes and 0 no.

 

 

 

 

The Sunset Committee voted 10 yes and 0 no. Note they removed the time limit, comment was made that State Board should focus on shortening their agenda.

Sunset wants a list of what the public can and cannot comment on at the State Board meetings and change the word “after” to “before”. The State Board will bring the list back to the Sunset Committee and then the committee will decide on the next step for this recommendation.

The Sunset Committee voted 10 yes and 0 no.

Recommendation 11 the vote was 10 yes and 0 no. Recommendation 12 was tabled.

Peter Greene: ESSA is Now Officially a Big, Hot Mess

Diane Ravitch's blog

At the end of 2015, Congress finally replaced No Child Left Behind–ten years late–with a new law called Every Student Succeeds. The two names actually mean exactly the same thing, and mean nothing at all. Does anyone really believe that a federal law will cause “no child” to be “left behind,” or that “every student” will “succeed”? Washington ships out some money and some mandates, and therefore what? Hyperbole.

No Child Left Behind introduced an unprecedented level of federal control of education, a function traditionally left to the states. The federal contribution of about 10% of overall education funding enabled the government via NCLB to set conditions, specifically to require that every child in grades 3-8 must be tested in reading and math every year. Based on test scores, teachers and principals have been fired, and schools have been closed for not reaching unrealistic targets. NCLB was an intrusive, misguided…

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The Disappointing Results of Vouchers in Louisiana: An Evaluation of the First Two Years

Diane Ravitch's blog

A team of researchers associated with the University of Arkansas studied the first two years of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Their report was released in late February. For those hoping to see a validation of the transformative power of vouchers, the results were disappointing, to say the least.

“The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) is a statewide private school voucher program available to moderate- to low-income students in low-performing public schools. The LSP is limited to students with family income at or below 250% of the federal poverty line. Children in these families also have to either be entering kindergarten or be attending a public school that was graded C, D, or F for the prior school year. In the program’s rst year, 9,809 students were eligible applicants, with a majority of them located outside of Orleans parish. This group of students, the 2012-13 LSP applicant cohort, is the focus…

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