Tag Archives: General Assembly

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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Delaware General Assembly has a new bill tracking system

The Delaware General Assembly has a new bill tracking system, you will be able to view new legislation that has been recently filed. You will also be able to track all legislation and easily view which legislator has sponsored or co-sponsored legislation.

Click here to visit the site. Go to the tabs at the top of the page and click on Bills and Resolutions.

Farmland Preservation, which lawmaker benefited from this program?

Last year, Rep. Wilson introduced a bill House Bill 124, this bill would amend the Delaware Constitution to restrict any appropriation of the state’s transfer tax collections until farmland funds receive $10 million. The Delaware Farmland Preservation Fund was created under the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Act in order to conserve, protect, and encourage improvement of agricultural lands within the State. A Constitutional amendment requires two-thirds approval of the House and Senate in consecutive sessions of the General Assembly.

On March 9, 2016, The News Journal published an article titled:  Bill would ban lawmakers from raiding farmland funds.  Rep. Wilson is quoted in the article stating that “They have robbed that fund for the past six years,” Wilson said. “We want to keep it sovereign.”

My issue with Rep. Wilson, he sponsors a bill that is amending our constitution and he does not disclose that he has benefited from the fund. According to DNREC’s website, he has received from this program almost $400,000.00, see below document.

I introduced House Bill 391 which would require every member of the General Assembly or person elected to state office to  disclose as part of their financial disclosure if they have received more than $10,000 in the last 10 years due to the sale of land, development rights, an agricultural conservation easement, a forest preservation easement or any other type of easement to the State of Delaware, any county, any municipality, any public instrumentality, or any government agency or organization. My bill did not make it out of committee. We need more transparency in our state government.

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.

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.

 

State Board Audio of WEIC Discussion

The State Board of Education did not follow the law with regards to WEIC as stated in Senate Bill 122. The State Board was suppose to vote no or yes –if they voted no they needed to send a response back to the commission as to why they voted no. The State Board President, Dr. Gray, instructed someone (possibly Donna Johnson) to have a side bar off the record, which in my opinion, should not have happened, again I think they broke the law with regards to open meeting laws. The president of the State Board would not allow for Dr. Allen or Dr. Rich to give a public comment even though it was promised. The attorney for the State Board stated that the law allowed for public comment if the President agreed to it.

After the WEIC Commission left and the meeting was still taking place, the State Board President Dr. Gray, came over to the attorney’s table and had another side bar conversation, off the record, asking the attorney about WEIC.  These are public meetings and there should be no conversations off the record.

Audio of State Board Meeting

 

What’s going on in Dover this week!

Today, David Bentz was sworn in as the State Representative representing the 18th District, he replaces Rep. Mike Barbieri. Former Rep. Barbieri stepped down from his seat during the summer to become the new director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Tomorrow, House Bill 186, charter audit bill, will be heard in the Senate Education Committee, I am hopeful it will be released from the committee. We have seen the abuse that has taken place with some of our charter schools using taxpayer funds inappropriately. Currently, charter schools hire their own auditors, they are not required by law to go through the State Auditor’s Office.  All Delaware school districts including votechs go through the State Auditor’s Office for their audits.

Thursday, Rep. Kowalko will attempt to override Governor Markell veto on House Bill 50, Opt Out bill.

Education Funding Improvement Commission, Are the Recommendations in Place Already?

Senate Joint Resolution Number 4 created the Education Funding Improvement Commission to review and make recommendations to modernize and improve Delaware’s System for Funding Public Education. The chair of this commission is former State Representative Scott from Dover. My impression from working with him on the House Education Committee, he is a big supporter of a weighted funding formula.  I do not support removing the unit count; I support enhancing it by adding a weighted funding formula, like the state does for Special Education.

Note: The state does not fund Basic Special Education kindergarten through 3rd grades. I filed House Bill 30 last year, it is currently in House Appropriations Committee, this would add Basic Special Education funding for kindergarten through 3rd grades.

After attending the meeting this week, I got the impression that the recommendations may already be developed, I could be wrong. I think we are heading down a dangerous road if the unit count is removed completely. Just because something has been in place for many years does not always mean it is a bad thing. Lets see if this commission and WEIC Funding Student Success Committee agree on each others recommendations.

Click here to read Senate Joint Resolution #4. You can read more about the commission by clicking here.

The commission is suppose to make recommendations regarding the following:

(1) Transitioning to a student-focused funding system and weighting funding based on demographic characteristics of students.

(2) Introducing more flexibility for the state, districts, and schools to raise and spend resources more effectively for their students.

(3) Improving the way revenues are collected and allocated for education throughout the State.

The Commission may also consider the following topics:

(1) The amount of funding necessary to prepare a student to be successful.

(2) More effective uses of current funding sources.

(3) Those groups of students that would benefit the most from receiving additional funding, such as low-income students, high-need students, rural students, and English language learners, and the amount of resources or nature of support that those groups would need to be successful.

(4) Adequacy of resources available for students with special needs.

(5) Whether additional resources are needed to better serve students who are homeless, have behavior challenges, or are adjudicated delinquent.

(6) Whether, and how, different types of funding should be allocated, including operational funds, capital funds, and grants.

(6) Ways to provide more flexibility for schools and districts to use funding to best serve student needs.

(7) Current and future system resource constraints and demographic trends.