Tag Archives: Charter Schools

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?

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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.

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.

 

When the auditor’s office does not do its job who audits the auditor’s office?

I was going through the Delaware Online Checkbook and I came across an entry in the checkbook that I wanted more information about – it was a charter school petty cash entry. I sent the entry to the Auditor’s Office for clarification. I was told the Auditor’s Office was reviewing their petty cash accounts.  The Auditor’s Office had a document titled:  Charter School Petty Cash Expenditures – Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2015 which was never released to the public even though Wagner’s office had been working on this for months. Instead Tom Wagner sent the following letters to the charter schools and others in place of the document.  The public was left in the dark once again, so much for transparency with our tax dollars.

When the auditor’s office does not do its job who audits the auditor’s office?

I was going through the Delaware Online Checkbook and I came across an entry in the checkbook that I wanted more information about – it was a charter school petty cash entry. I sent the entry to the Auditor’s Office for clarification. I was told the Auditor’s Office was reviewing their petty cash accounts.  The Auditor’s Office had a document titled:  Charter School Petty Cash Expenditures – Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2015 which was never released to the public even though Wagner’s office had been working on this for months. Instead Tom Wagner sent the following letters to the charter schools and others in place of the document.  The public was left in the dark once again, so much for transparency with our tax dollars.

Response from DOJ regarding DE Charter Schools Network Lobbying Efforts

On February 4, 2016 a letter was sent to the Department of Justice expressing concerns with regards to Delaware Charter Schools Network and their lobbying efforts in Dover.

On March 30, 2016, we received a response from the Department of Justice with respect to our concerns.

On page 3 of the letter it states that Ms. Massett accounts for the time she spends lobbying and estimates she spends 3% of her time as Executive Director on the direct lobbying. The records from 2015 showed that Ms. Massett signed in at Legislative Hall 17 times in 2015. The state goes on to say assuming for the sake of rough calculation Ms. Massett spent half of the work day – or 4 hours – at Legislative Hall each time she signed in, that would account for approximately 3% of Ms. Massett’s work hours for all of 2015.

My response back to the DOJ is in 2015 when we were in session, we were in Dover 53 days. Ms. Massett spent 17 days in Legislative Hall–so she was in Legislative Hall 33% of the time that we were there. We are not in session 365 days a year, we are only in Dover for a short amount of time with very limited hours. Most of my work as a legislator is spent with my constituents in the 19th District, working on constituent issues, researching legislation, meeting with people outside of Legislative Hall, and so on. I work as a legislator 40 + hours per week for 52 weeks (minus vacation that my family may take) per year and we were in session 53 days in 2015. If you calculate the time an average legislator is actually in Legislative Hall, we spend about 12.5% of our time actually in Legislative Hall. If a legislator serves on one of the money committees the percentage would rise a bit. How can the state justify that Ms. Massett does not spend a large amount of her time in Legislative Hall since we are only there 53 days out of the year?  When we are in session that is the only time that bills are heard, debated, voted on and signed into law.

On the last page of the response, DOJ responded to the concern about Mr. Taylor serving on the Charter School Accountability Committee (CSAC). The CSAC decides if a charter school  opens, closes, if modifications are approved etc. As of January 30, 2016 (see below photo) Mr. Taylor was not listed as a member of the CSAC–but Mr. Taylor was permitted to vote on five charter school modifications in February 2016 (see CSAC final reports dated February 25, 2016.)

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Mr. Taylor was not a member of the committee, he was removed from the committee back in July 2015 because of conflicts of interest. I have an email from the Department of Education stating this.

From: Blowman David <david.blowman@DOE.K12.DE.US>
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2015 4:23 PM
To: Williams, Kimberly (LegHall); Nagourney, Jennifer (K12); Haberstroh, Susan (K12)
Cc: May, Alison (K12)
Subject: RE: Chuck Taylor
Rep Williams, you are correct that Chuck Taylor will be the acting head of PCA.  He called Jenn a couple of weeks ago to let us know that he would be stepping down from the Charter School Accountability Committee because of conflicts of interest that will arise with the upcoming renewal applications of PCA and Campus Community. He has been removed from the list of CSAC members on the DDOE website (http://dedoe.schoolwires.net/Page/2218) and is not serving on CSAC for the current major modification application under review (report to be published tonight).
 
I hope this is helpful,
 
Best David

When DOJ recently questioned counsel for the CSAC about Mr. Taylor, CSAC counsel told the DOJ that the website was out of date and, more importantly, that Mr. Taylor did not vote on any matter before being appointed to the committee. According to the CSAC reports, Mr. Taylor voted in February on all the modifications before the CSAC. The website has just been updated showing the that Mr. Taylor is now a voting member  of the CSAC. 

The CSAC does not appear to have any regulations that they must operate under as far as who serves on the committee, how someone is appointed to the committee, how long is their term, etc. Back in December 2015, CSAC recommended closure for Delaware Met Charter School, in the report one of the people present who was not a member of the committee recommended closure was Paul Harrell (see page 2 under voting committee members). Mr. Harrell made the motion to close Delaware Met Charter School–he was not a member of the CSAC, yet he was allowed to sit on the CSAC and cast a vote.

I reached out to the DOJ after reviewing their response. They requested that I forward the email from DOE to them showing that Mr. Taylor was stepping down from the CSAC–the DOJ informed me that they will get back to me.

When the Charter School Accountability Committee Approved the Five Charter School Modifications Did They Violate the Law?

Williams, Kimberly (LegHall)
Tue 3/22/2016 9:12 AM
Show all 12 recipients
To:

Reardon, Allison E (DOJ);
Patterson, Gregory B. (DOJ);
Denn, Matthew (DOJ);
Siegel, Kim (DOJ);
Good Morning Allison, do you have an update with respect to our letter dated February 4, 2016 and when can we expect an answer from the DOJ? The Charter School Accountability Committee just recently approved major modifications to Delaware Public Safety and Security, Delaware Design Lab High School, First State Montessori, and Prestige Academy charter schools and a minor modification for Odyssey Charter School. Chuck Taylor, who is not a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee (Department of Education Committee), recently voted as a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee on whether or not these five charter school modifications were approved or not. Chuck Taylor is the president of the Delaware Charter Schools Network in which the News Journal reported as one of the top five lobbyists in Delaware. He is also Head of School for Providence Creek Academy Charter School. Delaware Charter Schools Network is a member of the Charter School Accountability Committee and that seat is held by Kendall Massett; she is a non-voting member without a proxy.
Members of Charter School Accountability Committee
Modifications
On February 25, 2016, Chuck Taylor was a voting member of the Charter School Accountability Committee in which they approved all five of the charter school modifications even though Ms. Massett is a non-voting member without a proxy. Mr. Taylor’s votes violated Delaware code/regulations.  
It is going on two months since we sent our letter to you. We have code/regulations in place that people are abusing. The state is allowing a lobbyist group, whose mission is to expand charter schools, the power to approve charter school applications and their modifications by allowing them to sit on a DOE committee. I find it frustrating that the state continues to allow this to go on.
I look forward to your response.
 
Representative Kim Williams
19th District
302-577-8476 Wilmington Office
302-744-4351 Dover Office
Kimberly.Williams@state.de.us
Twitter: @kimwilliamsde

Members of the General Assembly asked AG Denn if the Executive Director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network should be Registered as a Lobbyist?

Last July, the News Journal reported that Delaware Charter Schools Network was one of the top five lobbyists in Delaware. Yet, when the Public Integrity Commission was contacted and when the January 2016 lobbyist report was reviewed, Delaware Charter Schools Network, Executive Director Kendall Massett and Board President Chuck Taylor were not registered lobbyists. They both are members of the Department of Education Charter School Accountability Committee which makes recommendations as to whether a charter school will open, expand, close, go on formal review or be modified. They both are seen regularly in Dover speaking with Senators, Representatives, members of the Department of Education, and the State Board of Education. They are soliciting support for certain educational bills and then lobbying hard against other educational bills. They wrote Senate Bill 171 (Sen. Sokola’s replacement bill for my Audit Bill) and they were in Dover on June 30th to campaign against House Bill 186 – Charter Audit Bill.

Yesterday, I was reviewing the current lobbyist report and Kendall Massett is now listed on the report. I am hoping DOJ will respond to our letter soon.

 

Newark Charter School will only accept five year olds into their kindergarten program

Over the weekend, Rep. John Kowalko emailed me concerning a family whose choice application was pulled from the lottery because their daughter did not turn five during a specific time frame. They were told that they would not be allowed to apply to kindergarten for the 2016-2017 school year. Newark Charter School’s board recently voted to change their admission’s policy pertaining to students who apply to Newark Charter School for kindergarten. Prior to the board’s vote, children had to be five years old at the time of admission. Below is Newark Charter School’s new policy:

All Kindergarten applicants must turn five years of age in the period from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016 to apply for KN in the 2016-2017 lottery

I am not sure what Newark Charter School’s reasoning is for changing their policy. There are many reasons why a family may decide to hold their child back a year from starting kindergarten. Many children have late summer birthdays, a disability, or some children just need that additional year.

This family’s child has a physical disability which impacts her fine motor skills and limits the use of her hands and arms. During a parent/teacher conference last spring, the pre-school recommended that the child be retained for an additional year. The family reached out to their feeder school and the feeder school had no objection.

The family reached out to Newark Charter School and it is my understanding the Board of Directors and the Department of Education stated that Newark Charter School followed all proper procedures.

Over the weekend, I wrote to Secretary Godowsky about this family and my concerns over Newark Charter School’s new policy only allowing students who turn five to be entered into the lottery.  I asked Secretary Godowsky if Newark Charter School’s new admission’s policy had been approved by their authorizer?  I did some researching of Title 14 and found some language that I thought would be helpful to the family –Title 14 – Chapter 27 allowed a family to delay kindergarten one year if the child had been evaulated.

Title 14 – Chapter 27 – School Attendance allows for a family to request a one year delay if the child has been evaluated. The family had their child evaluated the year before, so I assumed this part of the code would apply to them. I pointed this out to all parties involved.

The child was entered into last night’s lottery, she is on the waiting list. I am not sure who made the decision to add her name to the lottery and I am not sure why they made the decision — I am just glad the student was entered.  I still have an issue about Newark Charter School’s current policy. Why was the change made? Is it legal? If it is legal, is Newark Charter School obligated to point out the section of Delaware Code to applicants that there is an exception to their policy? I am still trying to get my questions answered.

ATTENDING A PUBLIC SCHOOL SHOULD NOT BE THIS DIFFICULT. If the family did not reach out to Rep. Kowalko, their child would have not been entered into the lottery.

(c) The following provisions shall be applicable to the administration of subsection (a) of this section in regard to compulsory attendance in the kindergarten for a child age 5 years:

 (1) If a child is a resident of the State at the time of that child’s eligibility for admission to the kindergarten at age 5, the parents, guardian or legal custodian of that child may request that school authorities evaluate the child’s readiness for attendance and may request a delay of 1 year in that attendance. However, admission to first grade will be authorized only after schoolauthorities evaluate the child’s readiness for attendance.
 

Send a letter to our Delaware Senators

Our tax dollars are being mismanaged or stolen and no one is being held accountable, we need this to stop. Please remember, this is not about charter schools vs public schools, this is about accountability and transparency, it is about making sure our local and state tax dollars stay in the charter schools and not in someone’s wallet. Currently, charter schools are  funded by our local tax dollars through property taxes and state taxes. The charter schools are not audited through the State of Delaware Auditor of Accounts as public school districts. House Bill 186 gives the Auditor of Accounts the necessary power to audit charter schools as they do public school districts.

Please sign the letter asking the Senate to support House Bill 186 and not to support Senate Bill 171, Sen. Sokola’s bill. Sen. Sokola’s bill does not give the Auditor of Accounts the authority to audit the charter schools. We cannot continue to allow individuals to continue to mismanage or steal our tax dollars.

It takes 30 seconds to read and sign the letter to the Senate.

Click here to send a letter to our Delaware Senators.