The General Assembly’s Kids Caucus presented its yearly legislative platform March 25.

The General Assembly’s Kids Caucus presented its yearly legislative platform March 25, highlighting reform in the areas of public education and child health and safety.

Comprised of senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle, the Kids Caucus was formed in 2005 to solicit feedback and generate legislation advancing issues related to children.

Caucus leader Rep. Teresa Schooley, D-Newark, said this session’s agenda represents a continuation of the group’s efforts, which last year resulted in the passage of bills to extend health insurance to more disadvantaged children, provide screening for childhood disabilities and protect children who are exposed to domestic violence.

One of the caucus’ top bills this year would require school districts to adhere to a higher standard when designing education plans for students with disabilities.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. S. Quinton Johnson IV, D-Middletown, said House Bill 345 would abandon Delaware’s current standard for such plans, which is based on a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that states schools need not provide disabled students with Cadillac educational services, only those akin to a “serviceable Chevrolet.”

“To me disabled children are like all children and should have access to the same world-class education,” he said. “It’s our moral obligation to provide this education to all children.”

Johnson also has introduced a bill that would allow high schools to offer foreign language credits for courses in American Sign Language, a measure he said will ensure more students can go on to careers serving and assisting the disabled.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, also touted aneducation bill that would permit children in foster care to be eligible for SEED Program scholarships, which are awarded to graduating high school seniors who choose to enroll in associate degree programs at state institutions.

The bill would extend eligibility to foster children who do not immediately move from high school to college, or who have GEDs.

“When kids age out of foster care, they’re on their own and it’s very difficult for them to get an education,” Blevins said.

The caucus also touted issues that don’t necessarily require legislation to advance.

Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley, said he’ll be spearheading an effort to increase physical fitness in schools, while Sen. Catherine Cloutier, R-Heatherbrooke, said she will oversee an initiative aimed at combating child abuse.

Caucus members said they realize budget constraints are tight, and they’ve made an effort to focus on proposals that can be undertaken without additional funds.

However, Schooley said several initiatives have had to be placed on the back burner until the state’s financial situation improves, namely further expansions of the state’s Healthy Children public insurance program.