Almost in the same breath, the Delaware State Education Association dumped Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.) and ran into the arms of New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, Castle’s Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in November.

Almost in the same breath, the Delaware State Education Association dumped Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.) and ran into the arms of New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, Castle’s Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in November.

DSEA President Diane Donohue officially endorsed Coons during a press conference held Friday, May 14 in front of the historic and august P.S. duPont High School campus in the city.

“We need someone that we do not need to move to our position,” Donohue said, referring to Coons. “He is already there, walking beside us. Perhaps we have surprised some with our recommendation. Some will say, ‘Chris Coons has ideas and energy, but does he have a chance?’

“We are educators. It is our business to believe in ideas and energy and give chance a hand up,” she said.

The state teachers union had previously endorsed Castle at least three times during his previous reelection campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives. But times change, Donohue said.

Castle’s opposition to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), which the union identified as saving 300,00 education jobs, and his opposition to federal health care reform did not sit well with the interview committee and the DSEA Board, Donohue said.

Among other things, Castle would also not commit to the Keep Our Educators Working Act, explaining that he needed to study the bill first. Meanwhile, Coons pledged his support for the act, Donohue said.

Coons said he was thrilled to have the support of an organization that represents 11,000 teachers and support staff “entrusted with raising our children, laying a pathway for their future.”

DSEA’s decision came after “a searching interview,” Coons said.

“We are all working hard to overcome the worst recession in decades and, as Diane mentioned, I am someone who has stood up for, fought for and will continue to invest in public employees,” he said. “I am pleased they have chosen me because of my ideas, my energy, my willingness to go to Washington and fight for our children and our future.”

In addition to the aforementioned issues , the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (known under President Bush as No Child Left Behind) is being rewritten, and Coons “is on our side,” Donohue said. Lastly, Castle did not impress the interview team when he did not want to get into an extensive discussion about the federal Race to the Top funding. Delaware finished No. 1 state among states in this fiercely competitive federal competition for educational improvement paid for by stimulus funding.

Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens called the latter claim “ludicrous,” citing the congressman’s extensive and critical role in securing the $100 million scheduled to be allocated to Delaware over four years. Castle wrote several letters and personally spoke to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in order to help secure the stimulus funding for the Diamond State.

In a letter addressed to Donohue, Castle elaborated on his support for education in the past both as governor of Delaware and as its lone congressman. Among other things, he pointed to his work to ensure children age 5 and under receive high quality, early education, reduced the high school dropout rate by one-third and worked with the University of Delaware to establish a program aimed at providing principals across the country the skills they need to effectively lead and manage school change.

“In Congress, as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, I am pleased to be working on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act beginning this year,” Castle wrote.

In preparation for this reauthorization, Castle said he is participating in Committee on Education and Labor hearings and is in discussions with Duncan and House and Senate Colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He also intends to hold similar forums in Delaware over the next few months.

“This type of bipartisanship and working together on solutions is critical to reauthorization, and as a Congressional leader on the topic, it is nice to be able to point to my own home state as an example, as well as to come to you for guidance,” he wrote.

Campaign manager Mike Quaranta said Castle's leadership in moving education forward “is unwavering and consistent without the endorsement of the DSEA.”

“As Congress begins to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Mike Castle … will continue to seek the input of DSEA, and advocate on behalf of Delaware students, educators, and parents," he said.

Castle is among  the Diamond State political heavyweights, an exclusive group that includes Vice President Joe Biden and senior U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Coons is a formidable opponent who served one term as president of New Castle County Council before winning election to the county’s top post in 2004 and reelection in 2008.

The April 30 Rasmussen poll of Delaware voters shows Castle leading Coons 55 percent to 32 percent. But Coons called DSEA’s endorsement “a turning point.”

It will not be easy to get Delaware and America out of the recession and focused on making education as strong as possible, Coons said. But he is committed to working with DSEA to accomplish these tasks, he said.

In the short term, Coons said keeping educators in the classroom and support staff working is critical. Legislation is under way to sustain federal stimulus funding that will prevent the inevitable layoffs of thousands that will occur across the United States once that lifeline is cut off.

In the long term, school reform must be pursued through federal initiatives implemented by the Obama-Biden administration, such as Race to the Top, in a way that includes the input of educators in the classroom, he said.

Given the friction that has historically existed between teachers unions and charter schools – which draw students away from traditional public schools - the Community News asked what Coons would say to charter schools parents sensitive to that hostility. He said charter schools are one of many options to move forward in education, but as public schools they are just as accountable.

“As Race to the Top has recognized, charter schools can and should play a role in the future of public education,” Coons said. “But they have to meet safety standards, … curricular standards and they have to be able to provide a high quality education for our kids.

“Where charter schools aren’t making progress and aren’t being successful as schools or school models, Race to the Top and the latest actions by our governor and by DSEA, I believe, strongly suggest that we need to hold them accountable and either restructure them or close them. But in other cases, charters have demonstrated they can be a great way for students, teachers and parents to provide a strong alternative to more traditionally structured public schools.”

Both Coons and Castle are graduates of Tower Hill School, and both live with their families in Wilmington.

Coons went on to graduate from Amherst College with a B.A. in chemistry and political science, earned a law degree from Yale Law School and a master's in ethics from Yale Divinity School.

Castle went on to graduate from Hamilton College and Georgetown University Law School.