Tag Archives: Delaware DOE

1 to 5 Star Ratings Are Being Pushed by Some Members of the State’s ESSA Advisory Committee

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I was a member of the ESSA Advisory Committee and our last ESSA meeting was last week. I read the entire updated draft ESSA Plan, 90 + pages, and there are a few things that are very troubling – one being the state would like to move forward with the continued labeling of our public schools with a 1 to 5 star rating – similar to a hotel rating. There were members of the ESSA Advisory Committee who support the 1 to 5 star rating but there were members who opposed it. 

There are schools in Delaware that are allowed to select their students based on grades, attendance, behavior, a test, an interview, or a state assessment. There are schools in Delaware that have low percentages of ELL, Spec Ed and Low Income students compared to other schools in our state. How can we compare our schools when some schools can admit students based on academics? How can we compare schools when certain public schools are “Counseling out” students with disabilities  – other schools enrollment practices limits access to certain student populations? How can we compare schools when certain schools can say to a family this school is not the right fit for your child? How can we compare schools when some schools are testing in March compared to those schools that test in April or May? Our bigger schools will have to test earlier so they can test all the students to meet the 95% participation rate so they are not penalized and the smaller schools can afford more classroom time because the size of their school.

Recently, I wrote to the Department of Education, asking why Family Foundation Charter School was approved for a name change. DOE’s response was: Family Foundations Academy stated its rational for the name change was, “There have been many changes in the last two years for Family Foundations.  These changes have included new leadership, new curriculum and a new focus for our future.  With all of these changes we have been focusing on the impact we wish to have in New Castle County as well as the city of New Castle. We are deeply committed to seeing the children of New Castle actualize into adults that make a deep and positive impact on our future.   We want our name to reflect our focus on our community.

Family Foundations Charter School has had plenty of bad press during the last few years. Two of their former leaders were accused of misspending school funds and Federal prosecutors have charged one of the former leaders with theft. According to a Delaware Online article from January 2015, one leader made $73,956.02 in purchases with the cards, while the other leader spent a total of $20,673.85. I have provided a link to the Delaware Auditor’s Office audit on Family Foundation.  The Department of Education and the State Board of Education supported Family Foundations name change but is pushing for the 1 to 5 Star rating – so there is a different set of standards in place when it comes to some of our public schools. The state approved two/three name changes for Moyer Academy Charter School which eventually closed. Changing the name of a charter school attempts to conceal the issues, which in the end hurts the students and community. These schools should to keep their names so we can make sure they are actually improving and that they are transparent. How can our State Board of Education hold some of our public schools to a higher standard than others?  

First Meeting of the Governor’s Every Student Succeeds Act Advisory Committee

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The first Governor’s ESSA Advisory Committee met last night. The first draft will be released to the committee in October and the second draft will be released in December.  The final submission is due to US DOE in March 2017.  Delaware has chosen to submit their plan in the first round which is in March, Delaware could have selected a July date but decided against it. Delaware selected the March date for a number of reasons – one being there is a 120 day window from when states submit their plan and US DOE responds back. Delaware thought it would be better to submit early so they could make any corrections or updates before the beginning of the next school year 2017-2018. If we waited until July to submit the plan, the response from US DOE would not be until November, the school year has already begun. The incoming president could delay the implementation of the states’ plan.

One interesting note: The advisory  group will not be voting on the plan – just advising.

House Bill 307 w/HA 1 (Teacher Reimbursement) was signed into law

House Bill 307 w/HA 1 was signed into law on June 9, 2016. This bill provides a reimbursement upon the applicant becoming a teacher in a Delaware public school. Below is a little background information about the original House Bill 146 which was signed into law last July 2015.

In 2015, I sponsored  House Bill 146, which enacted the one-time fee of no more than $100 for an educator’s first license in Delaware, House Bill 146.   Delaware was one of only a few states that did not charge a fee for educator licensure or for certifications.  Delaware processed approximately 10,000 applications for licensure and certification each year, in addition to other processing requests for current educators, such as plus credits.  Because of reciprocity agreements and the lack of license fees in our state, the Department of Education processes approximately one to two thousand applications per year from applicants outside of the State of Delaware who do not become employed here.  Establishing a $100 fee for new licenses will help deter applicants who apply because of the lack of cost and with the intent to seek reciprocity elsewhere.  This will reduce the processing burden and allow the licensure office to better serve the needs of Delaware’s educators.

 

House Bill 292 (Child Abuse Hotline) was signed into law

House Bill 292 was signed into law on June 9, 2016. This bill requires schools to post the toll-free telephone report line number for child abuse and neglect in a conspicuous location, where it may be viewed by students.

This legislation came from a woman from Texas who was molested as a child by family members. She has been working throughout the United States to pass similar legislation in every state. So far – Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginians have passed this law or one similar to it.   Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Jersey,  New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee have introduced the legislation.

Below is what she originally had sent to me asking if I would be willing to help. When I read her story, it broke my heart thinking about this young child being molested by her family – the very ones who were to protect her.

Today, schools are teaching students to report “acts of violence.”  As a child, I was molested by multiple males I am related to.  If I had been asked if I had endured an “act of violence” it would not have been on my radar.  I did not consider the molestation or even the rape I endured as an “act of violence” because the perpetrators were family. I mistook the emotions they exhibited during the assaults as a show of affection for me.  I reported the abuse to my mother–who chose not to protect me. Other adults in the family made the decision not help me.  I kept the secret while in school because of shame and I was warned not to tell.

As an adult my internal dialog told me that since my own mother wouldn’t help me-didn’t love me-how could anyone else so I kept my secret until I was in my mid-fifties.  I am now using my secret as a testimony to encourage legislators to pass legislation on behalf of students who are currently being molested by posting the toll free child abuse hotline telephone number in schools where students will view it every day.

Teachers are mandated reporters in Texas. If a teacher had suspected I was being molested I am confident they would not have reported it due to who my family was.  It was common knowledge in the small conservative town I was raised in that my great-grandparents organized the first church in town of any denomination.  I have talked to school employees who suspected a student was being abuse but didn’t report it. You can’t depend on teachers to recognize all students who are being molested or to report all cases.

What I do know is this, if I had of gone to school every day and seen a toll-free child abuse hotline I would have known automatically that there was someone on the other end of that telephone who wanted to help me.  I would have called it for help, the sexual abuse would have stopped, and I would have done better in school and sought a higher education.

Texas schools were required to post the child abuse hotline number prior to my law.  In my research I discovered the number was being posted in areas where students would not view it.  I found the number in teacher’s lounge, in the student handbook, in the entry way of the administrator’s office in lettering so small it was difficult to read, and one school had the number posted so high on the wall it was touching the ceiling…thus the language of the law.

Now public and open enrollment charter schools in Texas are required to post on all campus, in a clearly visible location, in a public area of the school that is readily accessible to students, a sign in English and Spanish posted 11 x 17 or larger, at student eye level, containing the toll-free child abuse hotline telephone number operated by the Department of Family and protective Services, instructions to call 911 in cases of emergencies and direction to www.txabuse.org.  (Texas Education Agency determined the size and location of the poster.)

To the woman in Texas, thank you for advocating for those who do not have a voice.  Thank you for all the work you are doing to protect children.

 

University of Delaware will change their policy regarding state-funded merit-based scholarships

I received an email last October from a parent whose child was attending the University of Delaware. The child was a freshman and in 2010 the student was awarded the Michael C Ferguson scholarship (a state-funded merit-based scholarship) in the amount of $1,000. The student wanted the scholarship to be split into two $500 increments for Fall and Spring semesters to cover books. The university’s policy was to include the Michael C Ferguson and Diamond State Scholarships when deciding how much need-based financial aid a Delaware student would receive. If the incoming Delaware student received one or both of these scholarships, that student’s need-based financial aid was reduced.

I reached out to the University of Delaware to see what could be done to change this policy. Over the last six months , we continued to have conversations around a possible solution.

Below, is a letter I received from the University of Delaware. I appreciate the university’s willingness to work with me to find a solution to this issue. Thank you to the parent who took the time to write to me. By writing to me, you brought an issue to my attention which was resolved. The resolution did not help this student, but it will help future Delaware students.

Email from DOJ regarding DOE Charter School Accountability Committee

The one thing I learned from all of this, the laws surrounding DOE’s Charter School Accountability Committee are very loose and the lobbying laws need to be changed. The Department of Education does not seem to think the public needs to be updated on changes to this committee’s membership or do they seem to have regulations in place to appoint people to this committee.  This committee should have additional members who are not employed by the Department of Education, work for the State Board of Education and who do not serve on a charter school or who lobby for charter schools — we need a balance.

Reardon, Allison E (DOJ)
Thu 4/14/2016 10:11 AM

To:

Williams, Kimberly (LegHall);
Dear Representative Williams:
 
Please allow this to respond to your additional concerns following receipt of our letter dated March 30, 2016. First, you provided an e-mail from David Blowman to you dated July 15, 2015 in which you were advised that  Chuck Taylor stepped down from the Charter School Accountability Committee “for the current major modification application under review.”  We followed up with the attorney for the CSAC and she confirmed that Mr. Taylor did in fact step down from the CSAC in July, 2015. However, he was invited to rejoin the committee and agreed to do so in January 2016 after Providence Creek Academy had completed its renewal process. Along these same lines, you also advised that Paul Harrell participated in the CSAC, made the motion to recommend closure of the Delaware Met School, and voted  at the CSAC convened in December 2015 when he was not a member of the  CSAC. Again, the attorney for the CSAC confirmed through DOE that Mr. Harrell was on the committee at the time he participated.  Membership on the CSAC is apparently somewhat fluid and the website apparently does not keep pace with changes in membership, but those are not issues for the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust to address.
 
Also, you submitted that the calculation of time one spends lobbying should be based on the amount of time an individual spends lobbying while the Legislature is in session. However, our analysis is based on the specific language in the applicable statute which requires us to look at the amount of time spent lobbying “ in relation to the usual duties of [the person’s] employment.” 29 Del. C. § 5831 (b)(3).  Hence, our calculation arrived at the percentage of the person’s total work days in a year, not a percentage of days the legislature meets.
 
We hope this additional information is of assistance to you.
 
Regards,
Allison

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

House Bill 61 (Recording of School Board Meetings) Will Be Heard in the House Today!

A few folks will be happy to find out that House Bill 61 is on the agenda today. Here is a link to House Bill 61. House Bill 61

This bill requires that all public meetings of the boards of education of public school districts, vo-tech school districts, and public meetings of charter schools’ boards of directors be digitally recorded and made available to the public on the districts’ and charter schools’ websites within seven business days. The recordings will not be considered the official board minutes.

Currently the Red Clay Consolidated School District, Christina School District, and the Capital School District on a voluntary basis approved by their boards of education have been providing the public digital recordings of their board public session meetings via the district’s websites.The Delaware State Board of Education is required by the State Board of Education to make available within one business day digital recordings of its board meetings on the Delaware Department of Education’s website.