Legislative Wrap-Up: Positive Steps Forward
The second half of the 147th General Assembly concluded last week. Throughout the session, a number of education initiatives were led by the Markell Administration and the Delaware Department of Education, which will have a positive impact on educators, students, and the system as a whole.
Delaware began progress toward better supporting our educators. SB 254 creates the Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers. The Committee will propose, by November 2014, a system that would establish career pathways for educators, including higher starting salaries, acknowledgement of educators serving high need students, and leadership opportunities that allow educators to remain in classrooms. The work of this committee will be a crucial step toward better valuing Delaware’s many skilled educators. Additionally, SB 168 updates Delaware Code to allow school districts and charter schools to apply for a waiver to implement an alternative evaluation system (DPAS II) for all teachers, including those on an initial license. This legislation supports the development of a more innovative evaluation processes to support educator growth and rigor.
In addition, there were a number of bills introduced to improve the system for our students. As the state continues to transition to Common Core State Standards, and schools adopt curriculum which support these standards, legislation was passed to codify the transition to the Smart Balanced Assessment system (Smarter), which is aligned with Common Core. The summative assessment will be given in the spring of each year to students in grades 3 through 8 and high school, and formative and interim assessments are available to districts to use at their discretion throughout the year. While students will be assessed by Smarter in the 2014-15 academic year, the results will not be used for teacher evaluation purposes during the first year.
To support the transition from high school to college, $1.5 million was allocated to support and expand initiatives run by the Department of Education to include College Application Month, SAT and PSAT exams for students, advanced placement courses and dual enrollment.
To address improvements to our overall system this year we took our first steps toward addressing Delaware’s school funding system, which is currently one of the most restrictive in the country. Through the budget, a working group was formed to develop a pilot program for district funding flexibility. The group will determine criteria for inclusion of up to five districts in the pilot and will establish parameters for the pilot program.
There were a number of other education issues addressed, including:
- Charter schools: SB 209 requires that the meaning and process for consideration of impact in the charter school application review process be defined by the State Board of Education by October 2015. While a charter school application won’t be denied based on its identified impact, conditions could be placed on the school as a result. Charter school supports will also be provided through the Charter Performance Fund, established in 2013. Award recipients will be announced in the coming weeks.
- Supporting students with special needs: A new position has been created within the Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive review of special education services within our public schools and engage stakeholders to create and implement a strategy for serving students with special needs. Additionally, SB 229 created a process by which students with significant cognitive disabilities could opt out of the state’s assessment system and opt into an alternative portfolio option. This option gives the student, parents and the IEP support team options for assessing students and ensuring students are receiving meaningful instruction. Task forces were created to review the Individualized Education Plan process and the ongoing needs of Delawareans who are on the autism spectrum.
- School retention and social promotion: This issue will be addressed through a Task Force to study and provide alternative solutions.
Overall, we are excited about the progress Delaware has made within the last two years, and we look forward to continuing to work to make Delaware one of the finest systems of public education in the world.