Tag Archives: Rep. John Kowalko

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.

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Preemptive pledging of a delegate vote will result in voter disenfranchisement

Nothing is more threatening to a representative democracy than discouraging voters or disenfranchising them. The newest incarnation of voter suppression and denial of access to the ballot box has surfaced in one of the most unlikely places. It is created within the Democratic Party by party rules and under the guise of the privileged “super-delegate” appointment. Clearly a creation of homage to a bygone era of aristocratic recognition within the party powerful it allowed those at the top of the pyramid of power, often beholden to the status quo of party politics, to be given access to the party convention and front row seats from which to preen. This mimicking of the English style of a “House of Lords” and a “House of Commons” would seem harmless enough until the “super-delegates” presumed that their appointment precluded any vote of the party faithful yet to come.

Although legally placed as a democratic party rule it is no less offensive than abrogating the party memberships’ vote or simply putting a match to the ballot box when these “super-delegates” preempt the primary election and pledge their allegiance and delegate vote to one candidate or the other before the votes have been cast and counted.

Let me make it perfectly clear that my challenge to this system is not based, in any way, on the individuals who are seeking the nomination. I do not care, in the least, about which candidate or candidates will be named or chosen for this benefit. It is the fact that preemptive pledging of a delegate vote will result in voter disenfranchisement, discourage voters from going to the polls, (viewed as an exercise in futility thereby suppressing the vote), and render the ballots yet to be cast as meaningless.  It is an almost arrogant presumption on the part of those appointed “super-delegates” to think that they have the right and/or privilege to force their personal choice (or that of the party apparatus that they feel allegiance to) upon the voters of record before their votes are recorded.

They can still enjoy the honor and recognition of their positions within the party but they should have absolutely no right to pledge their delegate vote anywhere other than to the majority dictate of the people who actually vote.

Rep. John Kowalko – 25th District

Newark Charter School will only accept five year olds into their kindergarten program

Over the weekend, Rep. John Kowalko emailed me concerning a family whose choice application was pulled from the lottery because their daughter did not turn five during a specific time frame. They were told that they would not be allowed to apply to kindergarten for the 2016-2017 school year. Newark Charter School’s board recently voted to change their admission’s policy pertaining to students who apply to Newark Charter School for kindergarten. Prior to the board’s vote, children had to be five years old at the time of admission. Below is Newark Charter School’s new policy:

All Kindergarten applicants must turn five years of age in the period from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016 to apply for KN in the 2016-2017 lottery

I am not sure what Newark Charter School’s reasoning is for changing their policy. There are many reasons why a family may decide to hold their child back a year from starting kindergarten. Many children have late summer birthdays, a disability, or some children just need that additional year.

This family’s child has a physical disability which impacts her fine motor skills and limits the use of her hands and arms. During a parent/teacher conference last spring, the pre-school recommended that the child be retained for an additional year. The family reached out to their feeder school and the feeder school had no objection.

The family reached out to Newark Charter School and it is my understanding the Board of Directors and the Department of Education stated that Newark Charter School followed all proper procedures.

Over the weekend, I wrote to Secretary Godowsky about this family and my concerns over Newark Charter School’s new policy only allowing students who turn five to be entered into the lottery.  I asked Secretary Godowsky if Newark Charter School’s new admission’s policy had been approved by their authorizer?  I did some researching of Title 14 and found some language that I thought would be helpful to the family –Title 14 – Chapter 27 allowed a family to delay kindergarten one year if the child had been evaulated.

Title 14 – Chapter 27 – School Attendance allows for a family to request a one year delay if the child has been evaluated. The family had their child evaluated the year before, so I assumed this part of the code would apply to them. I pointed this out to all parties involved.

The child was entered into last night’s lottery, she is on the waiting list. I am not sure who made the decision to add her name to the lottery and I am not sure why they made the decision — I am just glad the student was entered.  I still have an issue about Newark Charter School’s current policy. Why was the change made? Is it legal? If it is legal, is Newark Charter School obligated to point out the section of Delaware Code to applicants that there is an exception to their policy? I am still trying to get my questions answered.

ATTENDING A PUBLIC SCHOOL SHOULD NOT BE THIS DIFFICULT. If the family did not reach out to Rep. Kowalko, their child would have not been entered into the lottery.

(c) The following provisions shall be applicable to the administration of subsection (a) of this section in regard to compulsory attendance in the kindergarten for a child age 5 years:

 (1) If a child is a resident of the State at the time of that child’s eligibility for admission to the kindergarten at age 5, the parents, guardian or legal custodian of that child may request that school authorities evaluate the child’s readiness for attendance and may request a delay of 1 year in that attendance. However, admission to first grade will be authorized only after schoolauthorities evaluate the child’s readiness for attendance.
 

SAT to replace Smarter in 11th grade in Delaware, less testing is a good thing but are there unintended consequences?

Is this a great move or not, I really do not know because there has been no discussion and I have many questions that have not been answered. We do not know the unintended consequences that will come from this announcement. While I support removing all testing from a junior’s plate, I am not sure I am comfortable using SAT as a way to measure student success, teacher success, a school success or a district’s success. How will we measure growth? Also, who is going to continue to pay for this when the State of Delaware decides they can no longer afford to pay for this. This initiative was originally funded through the Race to the Top grant.

Last year, the Governor announced that Delaware colleges agreed to use the Smarter Balance Assessment as a way to measure college readiness as Delaware students entered college. Students would be able to opt out of remedial courses if they were to score at a certain level on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what happened to that great idea?

I feel like we just keep jumping from one idea to another, never really looking into the pros and the cons. This is not the best way to run government.

This, in my opinion, is just another way for the Governor to stop House Bill 50, the bill he vetoed, from being overridden.

Below is the press release from the Governor’s Office.

 

The SAT will replace the Smarter Assessment as the state test for high school juniors beginning this spring.

The change comes at the request of legislators and as the state continues to look for ways to reduce testing, particularly for 11th graders who already were taking both exams as part of Delaware’s state-funded School Day SAT program.

The College Board, the nonprofit that administers the college entrance exam, is launching a redesigned SAT this spring that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, the academic expectations for what Delaware students should know and be able to do at the completion of each grade level. The changes to the SAT also include a move away from obscure “SAT vocabulary words” to the use of relevant vocabulary words in context, an in-depth focus on essential areas of math and the elimination of the guessing penalty.

“Our students deserve an exam that helps them gauge their college and career readiness, and our teachers deserve an exam that provides them with the information they need to guide their instruction. This is one example of how we are reducing the testing burden on our students and teachers,” Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky said. “This is a smart solution that ensures our educators, students and families get the information they need while mitigating the over-testing concern many share.

The state will continue to administer the Smarter Assessment in grades 3 to 8.

Delaware has been administering a school-day SAT to all public school juniors at no cost to students since 2011. Godowsky said making the transition to use the SAT as the accountability test this year is based on the feedback of elected leaders, educators and families. Last week, 10 legislators sent a letter to Gov. Jack Markell asking to replace the 11th grade Smarter exam with the SAT.

“Our community was clear that this was in the best interest of our high school juniors and the sooner we could make the switch the better,” Godowsky said. “This decision is in response to that feedback.”

Gov. Jack Markell, who launched a statewide assessment inventory process last spring, said, “We believe that the concerns about the testing burden on our juniors are well founded.  We also agree that this move is a smart, commonsense way to reduce the testing burden significantly without sacrificing our ability to understand whether we are serving our students well and whether they are making the progress they need to be successful.  I have asked Secretary Godowsky to immediately designate the SAT as our 11th grade assessment and take all necessary steps to implement the change so that, beginning this year, juniors will no longer take Smarter Balanced.  The department will seek federal approval for this change in our state assessment as quickly as possible and otherwise ensure that the transition goes smoothly in schools across the state.”

Under Delaware’s former state test, the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), 9th and 10th graders were tested. When the state moved to Smarter in Spring 2015, 11th grade became the singular testing year for high school. But many said that proved overwhelming for juniors, who also take Advanced Placement exams, the SAT, SAT subject tests, the ACT and other tests during their 11th grade year.

New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Vicki Gehrt, president of the Delaware Chief School Officers Association, said superintendents in the state are in support of substituting the SAT in lieu of the Smarter Assessment as the required assessment for high school students.  This shift both gives teachers more time to provide necessary instruction and eases the load on our high school students with respect to the annual assessments they already must take.

State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray said students and families value the SAT.

“The redesigned SAT provides important information students, parents and educators want and need to understand students’ college, career and civic readiness. For that reason, it is already valued by parents and students.  In addition, by using this test as the high school assessment for English language arts and math, we will reduce the amount of required testing and costs to the state,” Gray said.

Last spring, the General Assembly passed and Governor Markell signed into law Senate Joint Resolution 2, requiring an inventory and review of all assessments currently administered at the state, district and school level “with the goal of decreasing the testing burden on students and teachers and increasing time available for teaching.”

This work continues. Districts and charter schools, which were eligible for supporting state grants, submitted their assessment inventories, recommendations, and impact information to the state at the end of December. The department has convened an assessment inventory committee with representatives from the House and Senate education committees, Delaware State Education Association, state superintendents, civil rights community and parents to make recommendations. The state’s final report must be published by June 2016.

Sen. David Sokola, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. Earl Jaques, chair of the House Education Committee, lauded today’s announcement.

“This is the kind of change legislators were seeking when we approved SJR 2 to create a task force to fully review our student testing,” Sokola said. “This is a good first step toward removing burdens on our students and increasing instruction time for teachers, while also providing them with the important metrics needed to gauge student progress.”

Jaques agreed, “This decision eliminates duplicative testing and reduces over-testing while helping to ease student stress and parental concerns.”

The department has posted information and will continue updating its website with information, including resources for districts/charters and the public, regularly. Educators or families with questions may email assessment@doe.k12.de.us or call (302) 857-3391.

As students prepare for the spring SAT, they also have some extra help this year. A partnership with Khan Academy and the College Board offerspersonalized SAT preparation based on students’ PSAT results. Delaware also provides the PSAT free to all public school 10th graders.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006

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.

Race to the Top and How the State Continues to Fund the Expired Grant

Once again Delaware’s Governor has chosen to add to the ever burgeoning Department of education bureaucracy in Dover. In this instance there has been a particular concerning manipulation of the General Assembly’s intentions and authority. When the Governor’s budget was originally presented it included $7.5 million to continue Race to the Top (RTTT) initiatives funded by expiring federal funding. In that $7.5 million was a proposal to create and fund ten positions created under RTTT and place the funding burden on Delaware’s taxpayers. I, and others, had consistently and persistently warned that it would be unacceptable for the taxpayers to assume the costs of continuing the failed policies of the federal education reform movement known as RTTT. When the full $7.5 million was challenged and halved, I and other GA members were assured that the remaining $3.75 million added to the budget would not be used to fund those positions and that essentially those temporary employees would not be continuing once the RTTT federal funding expired. In what has become a commonplace practice under this Administration there has been a deliberate effort to manipulate and circumvent the intentions and will of the General Assembly. This Governor has stated time and again that his efforts to shrink government involved freezing vacant positions and the funding for those positions as part of his austerity plan to balance the budget. It therefore becomes even more striking that the Governor and DOE have continued their expansion of the Department of Ed bureaucracy, which has grown over 10% in recent years, with the addition of these ten positions to the budget despite assurances that these jobs would not be funded except by RTTT monies. I only discovered this secretive maneuver by happenstance when I requested a full and specific accounting of the use of the budget approved $3.75 million from the Controller General’s office. The email chain that follows shows the specifics of that budget addition and is accompanied by the rather shocking revelation that the ten temporary RTTT positions were being added to the DOE bureaucracy funded by Delaware taxpayer money.
 Representative John Kowalko (25th District)