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Vo-tech bill ready for committee action

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Transparent lottery system proposed

A bill that would remove strict academic criteria for students applying to vo-tech schools and offer a transparent admission system is ready for legislative action this upcoming session, and the bill's author is looking for all the support he can get.

"I obviously don't have the sponsors on the bill to indicate it would sail through passage, so I have work to do to build consen-sus among my colleagues to support its passage. I'm looking for issues to address to try to make it a reality," said Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover.

Scott introduced the bill June 22 with the support of Senate Education Chairman Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, representatives Michael Barbieri and Teresa Schooley, both Newark Democrats, and S. Quinton Johnson, D-Middletown.

The bill states, "The sole criteria for admission to vocational-technical schools shall be residency in the district and eligibility to attend public school. In the event that the number of students wishing to attend a vocational-technical school exceeds the school's capacity, admission shall be determined by lottery."

Coming at the tail end of the last legislative session, the bill was assigned to the House Education Committee and awaits action there until at least Jan. when the next legislative session begins.

"There was a mixed reception," Scott said. "There are some who understand the issue and seem to be supportive and there are those who say 'Hey, good luck,' but in a sense that I'm not going to have much luck pushing it forward. It really was a mixed bag."

Scott said he wrote the bill to address an admission system in the downstate vo-tech schools based on grade point ninimums. At Sussex Tech, students must have a 70 average, while students accepted at Polytech must be passing core subject; as determined by the sending district.

A big chunk of the support he needs lies in Sussex County. It was here that five Sussex County school districts signed a resolution supporting the return of Sussex Tech to its traditional vocational-technical roots.

Cape Henlopen, Seaford, Mil-ford, Indian River and Delmar school districts contend Sussex Tech has abandoned its vo-tech focus for college prep.

Instead of reaching out to students who plan to go directly into the workforce upon graduation, the five traditional school districts said Sussex Tech is courting college-bound students - students, they say, who should attend their traditional home school districts.

"Sussex Technical School District now advertises itself to be a premier college preparatory school ...[it] has established admissions criteria that are contrary to the nature of a school designed to provide vocational and technical education, including minimum grades, minimum state test scores and absence of disciplinary or attendance problems," the resolution states.

The numbers of special education students and English language learners are much lower in the vo-tech school districts and strict discipline and attendance policies ensure that any violations are removed, Scott said.

"So the question is, 'Are the programs in the building as accessible as they should be to our entire student population? "Scott said.

"There are questions, especially in Sussex County on how some of these kids are accepted to the school and how the school, in some people's minds, reaches out and grabs kids as well as teachers," said Rep. Pete Schwarzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. "We've talked about it. It's something that the other school districts are upset about."

Sen. George Bunting, D-Bethany Beach, acknowledged that the vo-tech debate has merit.

"There's a lot of pressure right now to do something," he said. "They need to look at the inequity of the 70 GPA."

When legislators agreed to spend more money per student at the vo-tech schools, he said, they did so under the belief that the schools would be accepting a higher percentage of special needs students.

Strict grade point average requirements, however, have weeded out many of the special needs population. Student population demographics for the 2010-11 school year at the down-state vo-tech schools compared to the attendance districts reflect the disparity.

The number of students at, Cape Henlopen High School classified as special education is 17.8 percent compared to 9.1 percent at Sussex Tech and 8.7 percent at Polytech, according to Department of Education statistics. English language learners make up 4.2 percent of Cape's student population, .2 percent at Sussex Tech and .1 percent at Polytech.

Both Schwartzkopf and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-George-town, said the bill has plenty of room for improvement in its current five-line format.

Briggs King, who sits on the House Education Committee, said she wants to make sure there is a legacy provision included in the bill exempting sib-lings from a lottery.

She also wants to make sure there are provisions assuring special education students receive placement in the vo-tech schools.

"If it's a pure lottery system, my concern is some students who might have special needs and might benefit greatly from some of the technical and trade areas might not get their slot either," Briggs King said. "I wouldn't want to correct one problem at the expense of another."

Scott admits there are some logistics that need to be worked out and welcomes the debate when the legislative session reconvenes.

For example, he said, if the bulk of the students drawn in the lottery opt for an automotive technology tract, it would leave positions open in other trade vocations.

"If we've got greater demand for the services than are available, then how do we fairly and equitably allocate those or give people a chance at competing for them? And today I feel they're applying what I believe are artificial standards before that selection process takes place," said Scott.

Copyright 2012 Cape Gazette, Lewes, Delaware. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 3, 2012

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