Opt out supporters use rally to reach legislators before they vote on overriding Gov. Markell's veto of HB50

The debate over Gov. Jack Markell’s veto of House Bill 50 has reached the steps of the General Assembly. On Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. the Delaware PTA will host an Opt Out rally in front of Legislative Hall.

The rally, which is taking place two days after the General Assembly reconvenes, was organized to gather support for HB 50—a bill that makes it easier for parents to opt their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment test.

Delaware PTA President Terri Hodges, who is a staunch supporter of opting out, said the rally is a chance for residents to communicate their concerns to legislators.

“We’ll be seeing legislators as they come into the building,” she said. “It will be an opportunity for people to speak with their representatives or their senators. We’ll even have legislators joining us for the rally.”

According to Hodges, Sen. Dave Lawson, Rep. Kim Williams, Rep. Paul Baumbach, Rep. Debbie Hudson, Rep. Sean Matthews and Rep. John Kowalko are expected.

The chance to potentially bring legislators over to the side of the opt out movement is an important function of the rally.

“It’s a great opportunity not only for networking but for sharing stories and getting their voices heard and just being able to approach the legislators,” Hodges said.

A two-thirds majority vote, or at least 25 votes in both the House and Senate, will override Markell’s veto. Hodges said a good turnout at the rally could possibly sway the decision. 

“We’re just trying to show support so we’re definitely looking for numbers,” she said. “Everyone is connected in some way. Whether they have a child in school or grandchild, niece, or nephew, we’ve all got a connection to public schools.”

Leading up to the rally Hodges and the PTA have been promoting it through email, social media and media outlets. The rally was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 14, but Hodges said they changed it to accommodate the legislators’ schedule.

Although she’s optimistic about the number of people who’ll attend, she’s worried that certain target groups probably won’t make it.

“We’re expecting a pretty decent turnout based on the feedback we’ve been getting,” she said. “But I am concerned about [the time] because that is a work day and a lot of families work and teachers are teaching and they are a huge part of it.”

Kowalko, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said he’s hoping for a good turnout.

“I’m hoping that they’ll be a lot of people there—parents and teachers alike—expressing their opinions that the veto should be overridden,” he said. “I think that the bigger the presence the more effective it‘ll be. 

“I’m also hoping that all of those people that are going to be there for the opt out have already written a letter or an email to their representatives to support parental rights because that’s what this rally is all about.”

Recently, Kowalko released a letter to his colleagues about his intentions to bring HB50 to the floor Jan. 14. Last session it passed both the chambers. Kowalko said he wants them to follow suit the second time around.

“This is a good policy and they voted it before because it was a good bill,” he said. “I’m confident they will appreciate the fact that once you support a good bill it doesn’t change because one person, such as this governor, decides that they will not accept your approval of this bill.”

Markell’s administration doesn’t agree with a veto override. In a move to lessen the number of tests he approved replacing the Smarter Balanced Test with the SAT for high school juniors.  The decision announced Jan. 6 was the result of legislators and parents complaining that high school juniors were taking too many tests.

While Hodges said she wants the message on opting out to reach everyone, she’s paying even more attention to legislators who are straddling the fence.

“What we’re really hoping is that everyone is taking notes, especially the ones who aren’t sure how they’re going to vote,” she said. Every single representative in the House is up for reelection this year and that is something they should really think about because everyone is watching how they vote.”