Del. lawmakers angry over continued Race to the Top funding

DOVER — State lawmakers are unhappy about the Department of Education’s decision to continue funding eight high-paying positions after the Legislature cut the revenue source.

Ten positions funded through Race to the Top money were set to expire July 1, and the Legislature’s budget-writing committee opted to halve the sum of $7.5 million recommended by Gov. Jack Markell for Race to the Top. The $3.75 million the Joint Finance Committee allocated was expressly prohibited from being used to fund the positions.

JFC members, and lawmakers as a whole, are skeptical of Race to the Top, and many have criticized the Delaware Department of Education. A number of legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, view the department as heavy-handed and ineffective.

The proposed $7.5 million was called “bureaucratic blah blah blah” by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, and a “poor investment” by Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, in a May budget hearing.

Karen Peterson

Sen. Karen Peterson

Without the funding, the 10 positions in the Department of Education would either expire or be paid for through current vacancies in the agency. However, Sen. Peterson said Tuesday she thought it was clear JFC — and the legislature as a whole — was opposed to the positions being kept at all.

Two positions in the Assessment, Accountability, Performance and Evaluation Branch were not kept. The remaining eight positions — four in the aforementioned unit and four in the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Branch — each pay at least $85,020. The salaries together total $907,000.

The executive branch provided only a short statement from education chief of staff Shana Young.

“While it does not have the authority to create new positions, the Department of Education, like all state agencies, has the authority to reclassify vacant positions,” Ms. Young said. “So, in the case of these eight positions, they were reclassified into existing vacancies in the department.”

Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, has been a vocal critic of Gov. Markell and the state’s education policy. He learned Monday eight of the 10 positions were retained through General Fund dollars separate from the $3.75 million set aside for Race to the Top initiative.

“What I see here is a certain amount of, I don’t know if it’s hypocrisy or manipulative messaging,” he said.

Rep. Sean Matthews, D-Talleyville, an eighth-grade special education teacher, was angered to learn the news.

“DoE is reckless and out of control,” he said.

Race to the Top has not been successful and is not wanted by teachers, he said, and taxpayers should not continue to pay for these “failed programs.”

Sen. Peterson said while she has not spoken to the executive branch about the funding, JFC members will definitely

Rep. John Kowalko

Rep. John Kowalko

discuss it when they get together next month.

In a statement, Rep. Kowalko criticized what he called a “secretive maneuver.”

“I, and others, had consistently and persistently warned that it would be unacceptable for the taxpayers to assume the costs of continuing the failed policies of the federal education reform movement known as RTTT,” he said.

“When the full $7.5 million was challenged and halved, I and other GA members were assured that the remaining $3.75 million added to the budget would not be used to fund those positions and that essentially those temporary employees would not be continuing once the RTTT federal funding expired. In what has become a commonplace practice under this administration there has been a deliberate effort to manipulate and circumvent the intentions and will of the General Assembly.”

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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