A law establishing a statewide program that provides advocates to students and families facing educational inequity drew discussion in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 188, sponsored by Rep. Sherae’a Moore, D-Middletown, codifies the Equity Ombudsman program, which provides non-lawyer advocates to assist families.
“In 2018 there was litigation against the state … brought by the NAACP and other entities that was settled in 2020,” said Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington. “One of the components of that settlement was the creation of an ombudsman program intended to make sure that [families] were receiving equitable treatment in all of the ways that we have encountered challenges in our public education system.”
The bill creates an Educational Equity Council, which would oversee the program and would provide broad review, analysis, recommendations and strategic guidance.
Advocates in the program help individual students and families resolve disputes or complaints concerning discipline, inequitable access to school programs, and different or unfair treatment.
For example, if a student believes he was wrongfully suspended, an advocate would help work out a resolution with school officials.
They are not the same as lawyers, and take a backseat to lawyers.
Devon Hynson, an official in the ombudsman program, pointed out that the program is often for families who have no other resources, and perhaps cannot afford a lawyer.
He said most cases deal with disciplinary disputes.
“Since about April of last year, we’ve done 153 cases,” he said. “We’ve done 50 suspension appeals with an 80% success rate.”
“The ombudsman program is historic and has never been done before,” he said. “So I really appreciate the opportunity to pilot it, and I appreciate you guys supporting it and coming out and saying this is something that we need to help build equity in the school system.”
Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, did not publicly say whether he would vote for the bill to be released by committee or not.
He did, however, say he speaks on behalf of the districts, parents and teachers who he says would be talking if they were brave enough.
“Because it takes an element of, I don’t know if it’s fear or not, but I have to be cautious because I’ll be labeled something I’m not,” he said. “90% to 95% of the students are harmed when we don’t deal with the 5% of consistent bad actors in schools and their ability to be able to return to the environment, unimpeded.”
Buckson, who’s spent decades in education, said he hears the struggles teachers and parents go through everyday with the lack of discipline in Delaware schools.
“I’m pleased to hear that we’re going statewide, but I’m not pleased to hear if we’re going to grow a problem and not address a problem,” he said. “We have got to get accountability back in discipline. We are not holding students accountable, and I am telling you that our teachers are screaming, and our test scores are demonstrating that exact outcome.”
Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said she shared similar concerns. She is a retired teacher and longtime educator.
She acknowledged that accountability and discipline must be established in schools to ease the burdens of teachers.
“My hope is that through interventions, the students rather than needing to be segregated… can be reintegrated into their classrooms in a least restrictive environment, but with the supports they need both in the class and outside the class in terms of mentorship and counseling,” she said.
Senate committees do not hold public votes. Rather, the outcome of the bill will be known hours later on the bill tracker found on the General Assembly website.
If released by committee, HB 188 will head to the Senate floor for a final vote before landing on Gov. John Carney’s desk for signature.
- Senate Bill 187, sponsored by Sturgeon, is designed to help Delaware schools recruit qualified and educated candidates into the teaching profession, especially those with diverse educational backgrounds and prior experience.
The bill ensures that educators who earned graduate degrees prior to becoming educators receive credit on the salary schedule for those degrees regardless of the specific subject area of those degrees.
Once an individual is employed as an educator, in order to receive credit for any graduate degrees earned after that time, their degree must be in the subject area in which the educator is employed.
If released, SB 187 will head to the Senate floor for discussion.
- Senate Bill 188, also sponsored by Sturgeon, enacts the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact. The Council of State Governments partnered with the Department of Defense and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification to support the mobility of licensed teachers through the development of this new interstate compact.
Essentially, teachers’ licensure and certification would be transferable to any state in the compact. This is another way the legislature hopes to attract teachers to the state.
The compact will go into effect when 10 states agree to take part,” Education Week reported in March. “So far, two—Colorado and Utah—have signed on.”
If released, SB 188 will be heard on the Senate floor.
Low proficiency scores
- House Bill 192, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, addresses schools with low proficiency scores.
Shupe is the chief executive officer of Delaware LIVE News.
If passed, the superintendent, school leader or equivalent chief school officer who oversees a school or a charter school where students have single-digit proficiency in English language arts or mathematics, or both, would need to collaborate with the Department of Education and school administration to create a short-term plan to raise performance so that the school no longer has single-digit proficiency.
There are about 20 schools across the state with single-digit proficiency, and even more hovering around that 10% mark.
If released, HB 192 will be sent to the full Senate for vote before landing on Carney’s desk if it passes through.
- House Bill 229, sponsored by Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, D-Wilmington, removes the required window for submission of a final plan from the Redding Consortium to the State Board of Education.
The Redding Consortium for Educational Equity was founded in 2019 to recommend policies and practices to the governor and legislators to improve education equity and outcomes in Wilmington and northern New Castle County.
It defines educational equity as “safe, secure, and student-focused learning environments where every student is intentionally provided access to the support, resources, and opportunities they need to reach their full academic and social potential, in and out of the classroom.”
HB 229 requires that the state board act on any plan submitted by the consortium within three months.
It also allows for the consortium to submit an interim plan prior to the completion of its full plan.
If released, HB 229 will be discussed by the full Senate, and will land on Carney’s desk if it passes through.
Raises for physical therapists
- House Bill 231, sponsored by Rep. William Bush, D-Dover, establishes that all school-based physical therapists will receive the 6% educator raise included in Carney’s budget for next fiscal year.
If released, HB 231 will have to pass the Senate floor before being signed into law by the governor.
Licenses for JROTC instructors
- House Bill 163, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and chair of the House Education Committee, authorizes the Department of Education to issue an initial or continuing license to a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor who has been certified by the United States Department of Defense.
The goal of the bill is to help the state get more JROTC instructors.
JROTC is a federal program that prepares high school students for leadership roles while making them aware of their rights, responsibilities and privileges as American citizens. Many go on to join the National Guard or to college on a ROTC scholarship that includes a stint in the military after graduation.
If released, HB 163 will be heard by the Senate, and will land on Carney’s desk if passed.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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