COMMENTARY: Markell HB 50 veto … Opt-out or cop-out?

It has been over a week since we received Gov. Markell’s message that he had vetoed House Bill 50 (the parental opt-out-rights bill). We feel it is our obligation, as responsible lawmakers, to thoroughly review and consider all aspects of Gov. Markell’s stated reasons for vetoing this legislation.

Unfortunately, we found little if any reasonable logic to the governor’s action and explanation. Quite frankly, there were a few questionable inaccuracies in the statement that lead us to believe that Gov. Markell’s action was premeditated with little thought given to the overwhelming support from parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, and the General Assembly for HB 50.

Rep. John Kowalko

Rep. John Kowalko

We made every effort to grasp the argument that the administration was trying to make, but the indefatigable truth remains that he had no logical reason to reject the wishes of the parents and lawmakers, and instead chose to diminish the seriousness of the “opt-out” movement with a series of unsubstantiated arguments.

The third paragraph of the governor’s veto statement suggests that educators and school leaders opposed the legislation when, in fact, the reality is that HB 50 and parental opt-out rights are supported, unequivocally, by the Delaware State Education Association and its membership and the Delaware Parent-Teacher Association and its membership.

There were also three of the largest and poorest school districts in the state — Christina, Red Clay, and Capital — who voted for and passed resolutions supporting parental opt-out rights. Also noticeable in its deliberate exaggeration is the governor’s contention that the civil-rights “community” opposed the legislation, while refusing to acknowledge that a larger portion of that community did not oppose “opt-out” legislation.

Particularly offensive was the language in the fourth paragraph that stated, “if struggling students are disproportionately encouraged to opt out as has happened elsewhere, we may not be able to identify the children who need intervention to be successful.” Unfortunately, this type of hyperbole paints a false picture of the situation in many ways.

There is no proof available or offered that a “disproportionate encouragement of students to opt out has happened elsewhere.” There is no evidence whatsoever that the test that will be used in Delaware does or will identify children who need intervention. Most importantly, HB 50 does not and cannot be used to encourage or discourage participation in the assessment test.

The fifth paragraph posits the unsubstantiated and unproven assertion that “students with disabilities and students

Sen. David G. Lawson

Sen. David G. Lawson

of color have benefited the most from the adoption of statewide testing requirements.” There is no valid data that would suggest this to be an accurate statement of fact. Out of respect for the office of the governor, we will temper our comments regarding the deliberate misrepresentation of reality in that sentence and its intention to instill fear and doubt in the minority and disabled communities.

Gov. Markell, in his veto statement, also suggests that HB 50 was a construct of those who feel that children are over-tested. This completely misses the point that the legislation is exclusively about parental and child rights to not participate in this specific, unproven, time-consuming distraction called the “Smarter Balanced Assessment,” which hinders their ability to learn expediently and prevents appropriately identifying their shortcomings and needs to succeed.

The fact that this administration chooses to engage in the politics of distraction that could result in useful and proven tests being shunned to the detriment of students and educators speaks volumes against the governor’s decision to veto HB 50.

In conclusion, after having thoroughly examined the governor’s stated positions on parental opt-out rights and because of the enormous public support expressed for HB 50 by educators (DSEA), parents and families (PTA), school administrators (Capital, Christina, and Red Clay resolutions), and the huge majority of General Assembly members who supported HB 50, we have decided that it is our sworn responsibility to our constituents and all Delawareans to bring HB 50 to the floor in January for a veto override vote.

Editor’s note: John A. Kowalko of Newark, a Democrat, represents House District 25, which includes much of Newark and unincorporated areas to the immediate south. David G. Lawson of Marydel, a Republican, represents Senate District 15, including Cheswold, Felton, Hartly, Kenton and Viola, and surrounding unincorporated areas, including the Delaware portion of Marydel and areas on the southern edges of Clayton and Smyrna.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.