Tag Archives: IEP

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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Trump, St. Andrew’s School in Florida, school choice and state vouchers – the appearance of helping disadvantage students – Fake News!

On February 28, President Trump addressed Congress, speaking briefly about school choice for disadvantaged youth, breaking the cycle of poverty.  He talked about how families should be able to choose the schools that are right for them, whether they be public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home schools.

On Friday, President Trump visited a private school in Florida  – St. Andrew Catholic School – Florida is one of 14 states and DC, which has a state-funded school voucher program to qualifying students.

If you look at St. Andrew’s admission requirements you must provide most recent report card and state assessment, which would be ok since it is a private school. But President Trump though is pushing for school choice and vouchers. There is a $250 registration fee (non-refundable) per child is assessed. There is an admission test for students 2nd through 8th grades.  A parent needs three teacher recommendations.  There is a list of priorities, one being you must attend church on a regular basis and ENVELOPE USE AS DEFINED BY THE PASTOR.  

How are policies like this going to help break the cycle of poverty?  Folks living in poverty cannot afford a $250 non-refundable registration fee, $25 application fee or financially supporting any church every week? How are they going to pay for the balance of the tuition that is owed after using their voucher?

It is very interesting when you look through the qualifying student requirements for school-funded voucher programs, because most states require that a student has an IEP, certain disability or specific income level tied into the federal poverty level.  THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART – In Delaware, most students who have an IEP or disability, and leave a private or charter schools, do so because the school does not provide the necessary special education services or the school tells a family that they cannot provide these services for the child – this school is not a good fit.

We have people creating policy that really have no idea as to what is really going on in our public schools, because if they did, they would understand that they are not helping disadvantage students.

Dual Certified Spec Ed Teachers, Good Thing or Not?

I am extremely concerned with the direction our districts are going with respects to dual certified special education teachers. We have elementary schools which are serving ELL, Spec Ed and general education students and many of these students are also low income students. What seems to be the norm, correct me if I am wrong, if you are a dual certified special education teacher you have additional responsibilities than a teacher who is not dual certified. I am not saying that general education teachers who are not dual certified are not working as hard as a dual certified teacher; what I am saying is dual cert. teachers have more responsibilities that require an action with documentation such as IEP meetings, IEP paper work, implementing the IEP etc. The school districts and the State are getting two teachers in one at the same pay scale.

I was in Dover recently for the JFC meeting when JFC members were asking DOE questions about DOE salary scale. It was interesting to hear the Department of Education and their reasoning behind the salaries. They spoke about the need to be competitive in order to attract the best people. They spoke about people doing multiple jobs under one title and there was a need to pay them more.

We have teachers performing multiple jobs as well under one title and not receiving one penny more. We really need to rethink how we are educating our children here in Delaware and what is expected from our staff who are responsible for making this happen. The necessary resources that are needed in our classrooms are not there. We are demanding our teachers to do more and more with less and less. The teachers I know, want  to make a difference but cannot do that because of what is expected of them and what is lacking in their classrooms.

 

What Happened to Kindergarten?

kids

I have been meeting with teachers with Mike Matthews and what I have learned, there are no more play times for our children during their day. Yes, every grade in elementary school has recess but kindergarten students are being pushed and pushed and pushed. They do not have extra recess. They do not dress up or play house. They do not allow for make believe. Our kindergarten children are in school all day without a nap or any down time.

Both of my children (both had an IEP entering kindergarten) went to kindergarten for 2 1/2 hours a day and learned their letters and numbers, even mastered a little bit of reading but most of all they learned to love school. They learned to use their minds to pretend and to have dreams and they made friends. We made cupcakes, we had class parties, and we had fun all in 2 1/2 hours. We have taken all that away from them. We are creating a generation of children who will grow up being stressed or disliking school.

I thought kindergarten was suppose to be fun, letting children explore. I am so thankful that my children did not have to go to school for the entire day, they are five years old and have nine to ten hour days, think about it. They are sitting behind tables working all day long with no fun. Children learn at that age by exploring, creating and watching other children. When is this craziness going to stop?

Delaware Met Will Remain Open; Highlights of Meeting

I attended the Delaware Met Special meeting tonight with Rep. Kowalko. Here are a few things that I wrote down during the meeting.

  • During September the school has had climate issues.
  • Ms. Hunter the school’s leader is out on leave and the interim leader is Sean Gallager
  • Board member Nash Childs could not be there due to medical issues.
  • 218 students are enrolled – well below their necessary enrollment number 264 students
    • 60 of the students are students with IEPs – how many are basic, complex and intensive?
    • There may still be undocumented students who need an IEP.
  • Staff
    • 10 full time teachers
    • 2 Special Education teachers
    • recently hired 2 para
    • 1 Specialist – who does PE, Driver’s Ed, etc.
    • Principal
    • Counselor
    • Student Support person
    • They recently hired 3 full-time mentors
  • Line of Credit is available for unexpected short-term cost
  • Innovative Schools reported that the school is good to go financially
  • Going to block scheduling
  • Project Based Learning
  • Big Picture Model
  • Thursday Back to School Night
  • Once a month survey out to parents.
  • Students will received a survey every quarter.
  • Staff will receive a survey as well, did not mention how often.
  • It was mentioned that a personal connection was made with each family with a robo call and teachers were suppose to be contacting families, no one could report how many teachers actually spoke to a family member.