Tag Archives: House

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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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.

 

 

 

 

I will be supporting House Bill 50 Veto Override Today!

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Today, in the House, there will be an attempt at overriding Governor Markell’s veto of House Bill 50, Parent Opt Out bill. I will be voting yes to the override. House Bill 50 originally passed the House 36 Yes, 3 No (Barbieri, Dukes, and Jaques) and 2 absent.  I don’t agree with the Governor vetoing House Bill 50 and his reasons behind his veto. I am for useful assessments; assessments that will provide meaningful data that can be used to direct resources to our schools, to our classrooms and to individual students. I am hopeful that my colleagues in the House will join me in overriding House Bill 50 veto today!

Sign the Petition Supporting the Override of Delaware HB50 Veto – Opt Out Bill

Please take a minute to sign the petition, I signed it and I hope you will as well.

Sign the petition to override Delaware House Bill 50 Veto.

The below was taken from the Delaware PTA Petition page.

It is a parent’s fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children!

HB 50 was legislation sponsored by Rep John Kowalko which provided a consistent process to allow Delaware parents to opt their child(ren) out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment without fear of punishment or reprisal from district and school administration. The Bill also required meaningful academic instruction for those students not participating in the test. In its simplest form, HB 50 would secure a parent’s right to opt their child(ren) out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interest of their child. The Bill acknowledged the parent’s right to protect their child from unnecessary and harmful tests. At its core, HB 50 was proposed legislation that would place students first.

With an overwhelming majority (86% in the House and 71% in the Senate), the bill passed at the end of June. Yet, despite the vote of the General Assembly and the strong public support expressed for HB 50 by educators through DSEA, parents and families, the state PTA, and school administrations the Governor vetoed this bill.

HB 50 was, and is, not about one specific test – the Smarter Balanced Assessment, despite what opponents would suggest.  Supporters of the bill are not suggesting or encouraging parents to opt out of state assessments, whether it’s the SBA or another assessment.  Rather, we believe this is the right of the family and a decision that should be left in the capable hands of parents to decide what is best for their children.

Delaware PTA, as well as the majority of HB 50 supporters, is not, and never has been anti-assessment. We support standardized tests, if they are limited, developmentally appropriate and provide useful instructional feedback. The Smarter Balanced Assessment does none of this. Assessments, regardless of which one is used, have to be judged against their intended uses. The SBAC was not designed to meet the needs of students and teachers; it was designed to meet the needs of the state, to allow state level and inter-consortia comparisons of student performance. For years parents and teachers were led to believe that No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiatives would help identify at risk students and schools, allowing state officials to direct resources and supports to our most neediest schools in an attempt to reduce the achievement gap. In fact, all that has happened under these initiatives were attempts to label, punish and close our schools. Yet, we are to believe that the new Smarter Balanced Assessments will do more than prior assessments and initiatives, and that the Smarter Balanced Assessments are necessary to reduce the achievement gap.

However, regardless of our beliefs about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the issue at hand is the parent’s right. Current state code does not contain any language that prohibits the parent/guardians from opting their student out of the state assessment. Many school and district officials have already confirmed that they cannot and will not force a student to participate in the assessment. HB 50 simply codifies this – ensuring that the decision maintains the parent’s.