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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate sends five family- and education-focused bills to Governor John Carney

June 29, 2023

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Thursday sent five bills to Governor John Carney that collectively will help to improve outcomes for infants and children, strengthen our public schools, and support students when they experience trauma.

“The bills we passed today will provide direct and meaningful benefits to thousands of young families across our state who want to see their children grow up to become healthy, well-educated and caring adults,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“From helping parents welcome home an infant to bolstering our teacher workforce, the Delaware General Assembly has been working hard this year to help make lives a little easier for those families and the futures a little brighter for their children,” she said. “I want to thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for getting these bills across the finish line today and on to Governor John Carney for his signature.”

Sponsored by House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown and Sen. Marie Pinkney in March, House Bill 80 would require Medicaid to cover doula services in Delaware, starting Jan. 1, 2024.

Doulas are trained, non-clinical professionals who provide positive, nurturing environments before, during and after birth. Studies have shown that hiring a doula during pregnancy can reduce infant and maternal mortality and complications.

Under HB 80, all insurance carriers would be required to cover doula services for at least three prenatal visits, three postpartum visits and attendance through labor and birth. The bill also would require the state Division of Medicaid and Medical Assistance to establish a process for doula certification and set reimbursement rates that support a livable, annual income for full-time practicing doulas. 

“Doulas save lives – especially the lives of Black women,” Sen. Pinkney said. “Every parent should be able to afford this lifesaving service and I am grateful to my colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly for voting to provide families affordable access to the kind of care and support they need to help bring everyone through birth and back home safely.”

Sponsored by House Education Committee Chair Rep. Kim Williams and Sen. Sturgeon, House Bill 138 continues the Legislature’s work to address ongoing teacher shortages by creating a Delaware Educator Apprenticeship Program.

Under HB 138, the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware Department of Labor would work together to develop a program that allows colleges and universities in Delaware to partner with a school districts or charter schools and place aspiring teachers in paid positions while they complete their own education and training, effectively lowering the cost of entry for future teachers selected for the program.

The apprenticeship program is only the latest bill to address the ongoing teacher shortage that saw Delaware open the 2022-23 school year with about 300 teacher vacancies. Over the last two years, the Delaware General Assembly has passed legislation to create permanent, full-time substitute teacher positions and pathways for those employees to transition to certified teaching roles, funded Grow Your Own Educator programs and a 9-percent pay raise for all district teachers first proposed by Governor John Carney in January.

Legislation to ease the path for experienced paraprofessionals to become full-time, certified teachers also passed the Senate earlier this month and is awaiting a final vote in the House.

Sponsored by Rep. Sherea’a Moore and Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman earlier this month, House Bill 188 would codify a Delaware Public Education Equity Ombudsperson Program to advocate on behalf of students and families who encounter systemic inequities, discrimination and other forms of mistreatment in the public school system based on their socio-economic status.

HB 188 also would create an Educational Equity Council made up of community members, educators and elected officials to provide input and oversight into the Equity Ombudsperson Program as it works to help school districts resolve disputes, adopt best practices and remove barriers for students of color and other federally protected classes.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Sturgeon in April, House Bill 4 would ensure that students have access to behavioral health support in their schools in the aftermath of a school-connected traumatic event that affects a significant portion of the student body, including the death of a classmate, educator or other public school employee.

Known as Nolan’s Law in honor of Wendy Eastburn-Teal’s son who died by suicide last year, HB 4 would task the Delaware Department of Education with developing guidance, best practices and written resources for schools dealing with traumatic events. DOE also would be responsible for covering the costs of grief counseling offered to students for up to 45 days after a school-connected traumatic event, with an option to renew for an additional 45 days.

Sponsored by Rep. Williams and Sen. Sturgeon in June, House Bill 181 would help strengthen the background checks already required for employers and contractors before they begin working for a child-serving entity. 

Although employees and contractors working for the Delaware Department of Education are required to undergo background checks prior to employment, DOE is the only public child-serving entity that does not currently receive notification when existing employees are criminally charged. HB 81 would close that loophole.

“I am immensely proud of the work our House Education Committee has done to advance policies that will have a positive impact on the lives of countless students, families, educators, and communities across our great state,” Rep. Williams said. “The House bills passed in the Senate today represent our shared commitment to building our educator pipeline, ensuring equitable opportunities for growth and development, and creating an education system that supports students at every age, ability, and location.”