Tag Archives: Rep. Kim Williams

The State of Delaware Cut Millions to Education and Now They Want the Districts to Hand Over Additional Funds to Charter Schools

hand-over-cash-allowance-manager1-1030x571

 

On July 14, 2017, the Department of Education sent a letter to the school districts informing them of the changes to the Match Tax for the 2017-2018 school year.  School district budgets are already in place and their boards have approved their tax rate for the upcoming year – they are required to set their tax rated by the 2nd Thursday in July of every year. This year it had to be set and voted on by July 13, 2017.

The state is pushing for the districts to give a portion of the Match Tax to charter schools. School districts have never handed over any portion of the Match Tax but this administration and the last administration seemed to be set on this new funding stream for Delaware charter schools.

The state just slashed millions of dollars in education funds and now this–who is pushing this? Governor Carney? Department of Education?

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Another Budget Year and Charter Schools Are Still Able to Keep Their Leftover Transportation Funds

MoneyGrab

During the Legislative Session budget debate, charter school transportation leftover funds were brought up once again. I just do not understand how we keep doing this year after year, allowing charter schools to keep any leftover transportation funds that they have remaining at the end of the budget cycle. Rep. Kowalko has been fighting this fight for as long as I have been in Dover. Each year in the budget’s epilogue there is language that was added years ago that allows charter schools to keep any leftover funds that they do not spend on bus services for their students. Every year, Rep. Kowalko files an amendment to the budget and every year he pleads with his colleagues on both sides to support his amendment and every year it does not pass. Each year, more and more Democrats support his amendment but no Republicans ever vote yes. Republicans are constantly stating they want the state to be fiscally responsible and I do agree with that. I am not sure how we are being fiscally responsible by allowing this to continue year after year. I just do not understand how we raise people’s taxes and cut education funding and yet the state is not there with their hand out asking for our hard earned money back – it just does not make sense to me, the charter schools did not spend the money so it should be returned to the State.

June 30, 2016, Rep Kowalko’s amendment failed 8 yes and 31 no. This year the vote for Rep. Kowalko’s amendment was 16 yes, 21 no and 4 not voting – I guess someone could say he is making progress.

Just wondering how others feel about this; should charter schools return their leftover transportation funds as we continue to cut public education funding and raise taxes?

I just want to say, Rep. Kowalko goes to Dover and fights for his constituents and Delawareans every day – I wish more elected people would fight like he does, he never gives up. I am so glad he is down there with me, he has guts – more than I can say for others who are down there.

 

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.

Special Education Ratings for DE School Districts and Charter Schools an Unfair Rating System

I just wanted to state how much I hate school ratings and how these ratings are always used to label our schools.

DE DOE recently released Special Education Ratings for all of our school districts and charters, Exceptional Delaware posted about this. Exceptional Delaware listed which school districts and charter schools met the requirements, which ones needed assistance and which ones needed intervention. I am told this is a federal regulation but I do not care if it is a local, state or federal regulation or law – they are just useless.

As everyone knows, many of our schools have enrollment preferences and these enrollment preferences have a tendency to exclude special education students. We are holding all of our schools to the same accountability system but many of our schools admit students differently. Our traditional school district doors are always open – welcoming everyone! Other schools or districts open their doors on a crack and only some are welcomed in.

Charter School of Wilmington received 100%, they scored 6 out of a possible 6 points. The Red Clay School District received 46.51%  –  scored 20 out of 43 points – tell me how this is fair? CSW needed 6 points to score a perfect score and Red Clay needed 43 points to get a perfect score. Charter School of Wilmington has the ability to select their students and has a total enrollment of 971 students compared to the Red Clay School District which has over 17,000 students. How about the feds or state give some type of rating to Charter School of Wilmington on the lack of special education students enrolled in the school since the state’s overall percentage of special education students is 14.9%? If a school does not come close to the state’s overall special education percentages than their overall score is lowered.

The DE Department of Education letter which accompanied the ratings to each school district and charter school starts out by thanking the Charter School of Wilmington for their ongoing dedication and commitment to educating students with disabilities – there are SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS in Charter School of Wilmington compared to the Red Clay School District which has over 2,000 special education students how is that a commitment? Please do not take this as an attack on Charter School of Wilmington, I am just so tired of these unrealistic labels and comparisons that are meaningless that are placed on our school districts and schools.

I was looking through the various letters and I noticed Delaware Military Academy received a 60% scored 6 out of a possible 10 points. DMA has 584 students and 20 special education students and only scored 13.49 percent higher than Red Clay School District who serves over 17,000 students and over 2,000 special education students, I would think the state would be really concerned about that. DMA only needed to score 10 points compared to Red Clay needing 43 points.

First, we need to fund basic special education for kindergarten through 3rd grades, we all know the schools could use the resources. Secondly, we need to get out of the business of labeling and rating our schools – we keep testing and assessing and we always come up with the same results, we know what needs to be done.

Let’s get back to educating our students and move away from testing, evaluating and labeling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Sunset Joint Committee Reviews Delaware State Board of Education

The Sunset Committee reviewed the State Board of Education, they met on February 1, 2017. You can see all the documents that the State Board of Education submitted to the Sunset committee members, I have highlighted a few of the documents below. I sat in during the review, here are a few things that I took away from the review. I found former Rep. Scott’s comments supporting the State Board of Education interesting, I believe former Rep. Scott  was the enabler with respect to the State Board of Education when he chaired the House Education committee. I was also surprised by Dr. Allen’s letter of support, the State Board of Education would not allow Dr. Allen or Dr. Rich to speak at certain times during the WEIC presentations.

  • School districts do not feel that the State Board of Education is an ally.
  • They do not hold meetings in the evening; teachers, community members, parents, and legislators cannot make their meetings.
  • They do not allow for public comment for all items on the agenda.
  • They are not accountable to anyone.
  • Their meetings are too long.
  • They do not take a formal vote when they oppose or support legislation, the executive director attends House/Senate Education Meetings and gives comments.
  • Sunset Committee requested a list of State Board of Education members and the committees/task forces etc. that they have served on.
  • Charters go to the State Board of Education first instead of the local boards.
  • One person who came out and offered a positive comment with respect to the State Board of Education was former State Representative Darryl Scott.
  • A few charter school leaders were there as well.
  • No school districts were present or to my knowledge sent in any comments about the State Board of Education.
  • Dr. Tony Allen sent in a letter of support as well.

State Board of Education Questionnaire

State Board of Education FOIA Complaints

State Board of Education – Executive Directors Job Description

1 to 5 Star Ratings Are Being Pushed by Some Members of the State’s ESSA Advisory Committee

star

I was a member of the ESSA Advisory Committee and our last ESSA meeting was last week. I read the entire updated draft ESSA Plan, 90 + pages, and there are a few things that are very troubling – one being the state would like to move forward with the continued labeling of our public schools with a 1 to 5 star rating – similar to a hotel rating. There were members of the ESSA Advisory Committee who support the 1 to 5 star rating but there were members who opposed it. 

There are schools in Delaware that are allowed to select their students based on grades, attendance, behavior, a test, an interview, or a state assessment. There are schools in Delaware that have low percentages of ELL, Spec Ed and Low Income students compared to other schools in our state. How can we compare our schools when some schools can admit students based on academics? How can we compare schools when certain public schools are “Counseling out” students with disabilities  – other schools enrollment practices limits access to certain student populations? How can we compare schools when certain schools can say to a family this school is not the right fit for your child? How can we compare schools when some schools are testing in March compared to those schools that test in April or May? Our bigger schools will have to test earlier so they can test all the students to meet the 95% participation rate so they are not penalized and the smaller schools can afford more classroom time because the size of their school.

Recently, I wrote to the Department of Education, asking why Family Foundation Charter School was approved for a name change. DOE’s response was: Family Foundations Academy stated its rational for the name change was, “There have been many changes in the last two years for Family Foundations.  These changes have included new leadership, new curriculum and a new focus for our future.  With all of these changes we have been focusing on the impact we wish to have in New Castle County as well as the city of New Castle. We are deeply committed to seeing the children of New Castle actualize into adults that make a deep and positive impact on our future.   We want our name to reflect our focus on our community.

Family Foundations Charter School has had plenty of bad press during the last few years. Two of their former leaders were accused of misspending school funds and Federal prosecutors have charged one of the former leaders with theft. According to a Delaware Online article from January 2015, one leader made $73,956.02 in purchases with the cards, while the other leader spent a total of $20,673.85. I have provided a link to the Delaware Auditor’s Office audit on Family Foundation.  The Department of Education and the State Board of Education supported Family Foundations name change but is pushing for the 1 to 5 Star rating – so there is a different set of standards in place when it comes to some of our public schools. The state approved two/three name changes for Moyer Academy Charter School which eventually closed. Changing the name of a charter school attempts to conceal the issues, which in the end hurts the students and community. These schools should to keep their names so we can make sure they are actually improving and that they are transparent. How can our State Board of Education hold some of our public schools to a higher standard than others?