Legislators hope to override the veto in January
Gov. Jack Markell vetoed House Bill 50 on July 16, which would have allowed parents to opt their kids out of the Smarter Balance Assessment Test. His decision has prompted proponents of the bill such as Sen. David Lawson to regroup.
Lawson, who was the main sponsor, said it will be presented again in January to see if it can get the necessary votes to override Markell’s veto. If this happens, the bill will become law.
According to Rep. John Kowalko, a strong supporter and HB 50 sponsor, a three-fifths majority vote in both the House and the Senate is needed to override the veto. He hopes that his fellow legislators will follow suit and vote in a similar fashion and pass the bill as they did the first time around.
“The strategy is going to be to reassure these legislators who voted for the opt-out are kept informed of the legitimacy of that bill,” he said. “I hope they understand that they’ve already put in motion the bill passage by large majority and they’ll stick to their guns that this is the right thing to do.”
The bill passed the House 36 to 3 the first time and 35 to 1 the second. It passed 14 to 7 and 15 to 6 the second time in the Senate.
“They don’t need any convincing from me,” Kowalko said. “They voted for it in the first place”
Lawson, meanwhile, said the governor’s decision to veto the bill is a sign that he isn’t taking the opinion of the public seriously.
“That decision shows disregard for the term public servant,” Lawson said. “The public and the parents wanted the bill. They have the right, the obligation and the responsibility to protect their children.”
In a statement released to the House, Markell defended the move. “HB 50 would undermine the only objective tool we have to understand whether our children are learning and our schools are improving,” he said. “It has the potential to marginalize our highest need students, threaten tens of millions of dollars of federal funding, and undermine our state’s economic competitiveness.”
Lawson, however, objects to the governor’s reasoning.
“Funding has never been reduced because of opting out. There is no history of that,” he said. “And we test our kids so many times that if we can’t measure where they are by now we are really failing.”
In addition to vetoing HB 50, Markell simultaneously signed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which aims to inventory and reduce the amount of state testing overall as a conciliatory measure.
“I have heard the concerns of some parents and teachers that our students are experiencing too much testing,” he said.
Education Policy Advisor Lindsay O’Mara said this assessment would be conducted by a range of members of the community who would determine which tests stay and which are cut. The Department of Education will assess those given by the state, while districts will have control over local tests.
O’Mara said eliminating certain tests in response to residents’ concerns is an idea that’s preferable to House Bill 50.
“We absolutely prioritize students having time in the classroom to learn,” she said. “The state’s goal in conducting these assessment inventories and supporting the districts is to reduce and eliminate some of the testing currently required of our students.”
The Department of Education distributed grants totaling $322,863.20 to help with the assessment process. According to O’Mara, some of the money will be used to hire outside help.
However, Kowalko is convinced the inventory is a form of political distraction.
“This task force is a completely bogus action to try and blunt the will of the people to be able to opt their children out of the Smarter Balance assessment,” he said.
While Markell vetoed to the bill to make sure students and teachers are tested, Lawson believes he might cause even more people to opt out.
“I think it’s going to backfire,” he said. “I think it’s going to cause more tension and more people to opt out because of his disregard for their wishes.”
Delaware State Board of Education President Teri Quinn Gray commended Markell for vetoing a bill she said doesn’t help students reach their full potential.
“I applaud the Governor for his courage, fortitude and strong commitment to all 135,000 of Delaware’s public school students,” she said. “Though I can sympathize with those who fear that we are over-stressing and over-testing our students, HB 50 is not now, and never was, the appropriate vehicle for addressing those issues.”
Lawson, however, says the public is mostly in support of the bill and is confident the override will pass the House and the Senate when they reconvene in January.
“The public will stand up if you step on their toes,” he said.