Tag Archives: Enrollment Preferences Task Force

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.

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Enrollment Preferences Task Force Final Report

After two years, the Enrollment Preferences Task Force final report was released. It has been a journey that started with the passing of House Bill 90 during the 147th General Assembly.  The report does not include specific recommendations; it does summarize the opinions of the Task Force on an extensive list of questions and topics that are currently considered in the enrollment processes for charter, magnet and votech schools. Many of the items that are asked or requested of our families are really not necessary and actually create barriers. Some of the items that are requested have already been asked during the registration process when the families first register at their feeder school. We have a chance to really make significant changes to the way Delaware admits students through choice.

Series of Posts: How the State Bailed Out Sussex Tech High School – Part 1

Rumors were flying around Legislative Hall this January about Sussex Tech, they were supposedly strapped for cash. In April, House Bill 100 was filed, giving Sussex Tech High School a new tax rate ceiling for the next two years and then the tax rate is suppose to sunset to its original level in three years. House Bill 100 was amended, to view the bill click here. Here is the amendment that was added. I voted “NO” on this bill.

  • 23.50 original tax rate
  • 29.00 tax rate for 2016
  • 30.00 tax rate for 2017

School districts have to go to referendum in order to get approval for additional funding. School districts have to work for months to educate and convince their residents why the districts need a tax increase. The taxpayers then decide whether or not to support the tax increase, Votechs do not. Votechs, they just come to the General Assembly and ask for their increases.  They lobby the General Assembly members to get their increases. This bill was filed in April and was signed by the Governor on May 28, 2015, it was fast-tracked.

It is so interesting how we allow certain public schools to have selective admissions and allow schools to send students back (don’t necessarily fit-in as one Delaware Met charter board member stated recently) to their feeder schools. We fund all our schools in different ways. Yet, traditional public schools are always criticized for their state assessments and how they are failing our kids. You can’t compare a school that accepts a student based on grades or test schools to a school who accepts everyone, it is just not right!

It is interesting, when this bill came before the House Education Committee, I asked the bill sponsors, Rep. Schwartzkopf and D. Short, if Sussex Tech’s superintendent had a change in heart about Sussex Tech using grades as part of their admission process. In the bill it states that they can no longer use grades as part of denying a student entrance into Sussex Tech.  Dr. A.J. Lathbury was a member of the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which I co-chaired. (We are currently working on the draft report.)  Lathbury voted “YES” during the task force meeting to keep grades as part of the admission process for votechs, magnets and charters. I asked Rep. Schwartzkopf and D. Short if they would support this as well for New Castle County Votech and PolyTech.  Below are their responses from the House Education Committee meeting on April 22, 2015.

Rep. D. Short said that this bill addresses the tax rate ceiling for Sussex Vocational-Technical School District (SVTSD) in Sussex County by increasing the ceiling for two years and then sun-setting the ceiling to its original level. He said that this bill also helps to address the enrollment increases in SVTSD by creating an enrollment cap, lowering the enrollment over a period of time. He said the funding dilemma in SVTSD was caused partly by the tax ceiling issue, but also due to the lull in the economy. He said the bill also addresses some admission restrictions, including sibling applicants and those with a GPA below the seventieth percentile to be eligible for the lottery.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said that all Sussex County legislators have worked on this bill and they are unified, mostly. He said that this bill is not a panacea, but it is a reasonable path forward and gives the superintendent and board of education time to bring expenses in line with revenues. He said there will be a forthcoming amendment to this bill to deal with expulsion policies and said the bill will not run without the amendment.

Rep. Williams asked if the sponsors of the bill supported the provision for GPAs below the seventieth percentile policy to be applicable to all vocational-technical schools in Delaware.

Rep. D. Short said he would defer to the representatives of those counties, but it is something to be considered. He said that consistency is a good thing, in his personal opinion. He also said that it is not an issue for this bill and the bill should remain as is for passage.

Rep. Williams questioned why Superintendent Lathbury voted against that provision previously in a task force meeting, but now supports the policy in HB 100.

Rep. D. Short said that Superintendent Lathbury is in full support of HB 100; the superintendent was present, but did not testify on behalf of the bill. Reps. D. Short and Schwartzkopf requested that the issue be debated on another day and requested that an amendment addressing that issue not be added to HB 100.

Rep. Kowalko echoed the concern of Rep. Williams and said the bill should be amended to include New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District.