Tenth Amendment Center Blog

Delaware Governor Vetoes Common Core Opt-Out Bill

DOVER, Del. (July 20, 2015) – Last week, a Delaware “Common Core opt-out bill” was vetoed by Gov. Jack Markell. Since the bill passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses, insiders suggest that an override is possible when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Introduced by Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark) in March along with eight bipartisan cosponsors, House Bill 50 (HB50) would give parents the right to opt their children out of Common Core’s “Smarter Balanced” tests, and require schools to give advanced notice to parents and students about these rights before tests are administered.

After some debate and approval of different versions in the House and Senate, the bill passed in the House on June 23 by a 31-5 vote. It then passed in the Senate on June 25 by a 15-6 vote. However, Gov. Markell went against the will of the legislature and vetoed the bill on July 15.

“[HB50] 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 – all without adequately addressing the issues that motivated many to support the legislation,” Gov. Markell said in his veto letter.

In spite of Gov. Markell’s veto, the fight for educational choice is not yet over. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kowalko, is pushing for the legislature to override his veto and make the measure into law regardless of the Governor’s decision.

Rep. Kowalko told Delaware Online that Gov. Markell “is just flying in the face of what parents want in the state of Delaware and what they deserve and what they should get.” and that he “will certainly challenge this when we get back.”

“I hope we have the votes,” Rep. Kowalko said to Delaware Online. “I think those people who voted for the bill were very sincere. They supported this because parental rights were being demanded and should be given to them.”

The bill was passed by the legislature amidst the backdrop of a growing backlash against Common Core in the state of Delaware and nationwide. Parents in many school districts around the state have opted their children out of the ‘Smarter Balanced’ tests in recent months. A similar bill was signed into law in Oregon last month.

Threats to revoke federal money were mentioned as part of the reasoning behind Gov. Markell’s decision to veto the legislation. However, in other states, the feds have not followed with through those threats. According to a Delaware Online report, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy stated that the feds could revoke as much as $90 million if HB50 became law. The federal government has warned other states considering new opt-out legislation this year — including Illinois, Colorado and Oklahoma — but has not yet withheld any money.

Under the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law, 95 percent of students in all groups must be tested or schools will be penalized.

As the opt-out movement grows, federal officials have ramped up pressure on states to ensure that at least 95 percent of students take the tests — a benchmark that they say states are legally obligated to hit.

“This is clearly an abuse of federal power and when the U.S. Department of Education attempt to coerce a state to vote down a bill that strengthens parental rights then Congress needs to provide a stern rebuke by removing that power,” said Shane Vander Hart of Truth in American Education.

Although this ‘abuse in federal power’ may have worked to scare Gov. Markell into compliance, the House and the Senate will have one more opportunity to save HB50 and the additional choices and rights it will give to Delaware parents.

“We need the General Assembly to stand by the parents, their constituents, and do the right thing and override what the governor did,” the Delaware PTA’s Vice President for Advocacy Yvonne Johnson said to Delaware Online.

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