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Gov. Markell vetoes student testing opt-out bill

Delaware Public Media

Gov. Jack Markell says “no” to the student testing opt-out bill passed last month by the General Assembly.

Thursday, Markell vetoed House Bill 50 that would allow parents to opt their children out of any state or district mandate school test.

In a letter sent to lawmakers explaining his veto, Markell said the measure would not help prepare students for success, but instead “undermine the only objective tool we have to understand whether our children are learning and our schools are improving.”

Markell also repeated his previously stated concerns about the legislation and its possible impact.

"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 – all without adequately addressing the issues that motivated many to support the legislation" said Markell in his letter.

State Board of Education president Teri Quinn Gray says the governor made the right call.


“We're delighted for the governor as well as for the state to have the courage to do what we think is the absolutely right thing, to encourage all 135,000 of our students to take on the rigorous challenge of higher standards from a standards perspective, curriculum that's rigorous and accountability in testing that allows us to understand if our students are learning.”

While vetoing the opt-out bill, Markell attempted to address one of the issues raised by some opt-out supporters, the amount of testing done.  He signed a joint resolution passed by lawmakers that supports his plan to conduct an inventory of all required state assessments, and support for school districts to examine their local assessments.

“I have heard the concerns of some parents and teachers that our students are experiencing too much testing," said Markell's letter. "I agree, and that is why I have signed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which will bring together teachers, parents, civil rights leaders, and legislators to help us review our required assessments and eliminate those

Gray agrees with that approach.

“I'm sure that will give us a feel for what really is the burden of testing both on students, and teachers,” said Gray.

In announcing the veto, Markell’s office also offered statements of support from groups including the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, the Latin American Community Center, and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce 

The main sponsor of the opt-out bill promises to push for an override of the veto when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

State Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South) says that, while he is not surprised by the veto, he could not be more disappointed by it.

Kowalko takes issue with the rationale Markell offered for his decision – calling it “disingenuous and inflammatory imaginings” that misrepresents the reality and truth of the situation.

He disagrees with Markell’s argument that opt-out could hurt low-income and minority students along with students with disabilities – and challenges the notion struggling students may be encouraged to opt-out,  making it more difficult to identify students and schools that need help.

He adds Markell is wrong that educators and school leaders back his veto.

“I don’t know where the governor has been, what sand he’s had his head buried in, but the educators, DSEA, has overwhelmingly supported this legislation.  There are three school boards that proposed and  passed resolutions to opt-out.  PTA has overwhelmingly supported the opt-out legislation, " said Kowalko. "For him to make a statement like that goes beyond disingenuous.”

The measure’s prime Senate sponsor, Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), says Markell’s veto flies in the face of public opinion, as well as the sentiment in both the state House and Senate.

“The people spoke and they wanted it.  Both houses passed it overwhelmingly and the governor wants to just throw a roadblock in it?  I don’t understand that," said Lawson. "I read [Markell's] letter and I find his comments just confusing to say the least."

Lawson says if Markell is concerned about better preparing students, more testing is not the answer.  He adds that Markell’s plan to take an inventory of tests only came about because of pressure created by the opt-out bill.

The opt-out bill passed the House 31-5 and the Senate in a 15-6 vote – both margins strong enough to override a veto.  Kowalko says he believes those who voted for the bill supported it strongly enough to stay with it and vote to override Markell’s veto. Lawson is a little less optimistic, worrying that arm-twisting in an election year could erode that support by January.

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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