Delaware Legislature’s Impressive First Half
The Delaware Legislature recently wrapped up the first half of the 147th General Assembly. It was a significant year for education, one of the most successful legislative sessions for education in the past several years here in Delaware.
For the first time, Delaware created standards for teacher training programs at higher education institutions. For a system with nearly 9,000 teachers, this law sets high entry requirements, requiring at least ten weeks of a high quality student teaching experience and establishing rigorous exit exams to include a content-readiness assessment and a performance assessment. Additionally, higher education institutions will be required to track and report data on the effectiveness of their graduates during and after their program. We believe this legislation will be a model for other states also looking to set higher standards for teacher training programs.
Delaware’s charter school law was significantly updated for the first time in 18 years. This legislation improves the authorization process, establishing clear expectations for charter schools based upon an outlined charter performance framework, and addresses funding concerns for charter schools. Expanding on this last point, to date, charter schools have had no access to funds aside from basic operational dollars. This bill, in conjunction with a Joint Finance Committee appropriation, established the Charter School Performance Fund with a first year investment of $2 million. These funds will be awarded on a competitive basis to those that have a proven track record of success based on criteria established by the Delaware Department of Education.
The Delaware School Choice Program, which began in the 1996-1997 school year, was also in need of critical revisions, and a new choice law was passed to streamline the process. The bill creates an online portal with information for families about alternate public school options and the choice process. In addition, it provides equal access statewide to school choice and also establishes the Enrollment Preferences Task Force to review the current landscape of enrollment preferences and practices.
HJR 13 allows for the continuation of the work of the Gifted and Talented Task Force for further study of gifted and talented programs. The resolution directs the Department of Education to collaborate with stakeholders to create regulations surrounding the development, implementation, and evaluation of local education agency plans to provide educational services to gifted and talented students, and regulations to identify gifted and talented students as recommended in the Gifted and Talented Task Force Report of 2013. Acting on the previous work of the task force, SB 27 authorizes the Department of Education (pending available funds) to offer competitive two year start-up grants to schools for the development of new gifted and talented programs. The Joint Finance Committee allocated $300,000 to provide the funding for these grants.
To address the safety of students who pose significant behavioral problems, SB 100 adopts standards deterring use of seclusion and restraint in schools and identifying best practices in Delaware schools. HB 24 implements recommendations from the state Truancy Task Force. With this bill, school attendance requirements apply to high school seniors, the school must refer a truancy case for prosecution after the 20th day of unexcused absence, and earlier intervention by the Court, including a mechanism to address the needs of truant students past grade 5. Additionally, HR 10 creates a task force to study Delaware’s laws, regulations and school district policies relating to truancy, arrests, school suspensions and expulsions, and alternative placements.
There is much to be excited about for this progress; yet, there is still much work to be done so that Delaware has one of the finest systems of public education in the world.