Tag Archives: Rep. Kowalko

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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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.

 

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!

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.

State Board updated their agenda for their meeting on Thursday adding DE Met, Will DE Met be placed on formal review?

The State Board of Education has updated their agenda for their meeting on October 15th. They added Formal Review of a Charter School for Action. Lets hope they are placing DE Met on formal review. Click here to view the October 15th State Board of Education Agenda 

I have written to the DOE on 6 separate occasions about my concerns for the students at Delaware Met. I and Rep. Kowalko attended their Special Board meeting on September 28, we had many questions after attending that meeting. I also was contacted by a DE MET parent who had requested on numerous occasions to have her child released from the one year charter agreement. The parent did not feel that her son was learning and that the school was not ready to open. The school had to close down for three days for unknown reasons. DE Met finally released the student stating that the parent requested the student’s release on September 30th after dismissal, knowing full well that they would be keeping funding for that student. I have a copy of the letter that DE Met gave to the parent and it was dated September 29, 2015 not September 30, 2015. The games that are played in order to keep the funding. Again, the only ones who suffer are the students. 

Here is State Board’s summary:

The DOE Charter School Office is seeking to submit  the charter of The Delaware Met to formal review to determine whether the school is violating the terms of its charter and whether to order remedial measures under the Delaware Code.

The issues for formal review include, but are not limited to, concerns about the school’s compliance with its charter, financial viability, policies regarding student conduct and discipline, and appropriate strategies to accommodate the needs of at-risk students and those needing special education services.

In accordance with the requirements of 14 Del. C. . § 511(c), the Department is seeking the assent of the Acting Secretary and the State Board of Education to the formal review of The Delaware Met.

Delaware Department of Education playing a shell game – Delaware State News | Delaware State News

As a legislator, this is so frustrating, seeing how the positions were funded using vacant positions. How many vacant positions did the Department of Education have to use to fund these positions: 8, 10, 15, 24, 30 – no one knows.

Last spring, the Delaware Department of Education asked for $7.5 million to, among other things, continue funding 10 Race to the Top positions. The Joint Finance Committee was quite clear on the subject when we told DOE, “No.” We gave them $3.75 million as direct pass-through money to go to programs in schools and very […]

Source: Delaware Department of Education playing a shell game – Delaware State News | Delaware State News

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.