Bill to expand SEED scholarship to students with violent felonies stalls in Delaware House Committee

By Joseph Edelen
Posted 4/19/24

DOVER — An attempt to allow the last remaining group of Delawareans barred from utilizing the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Program for higher education was nixed during …

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Bill to expand SEED scholarship to students with violent felonies stalls in Delaware House Committee


DOVER — An attempt to allow the last remaining group of Delawareans barred from utilizing the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Program for higher education was nixed during Wednesday’s House Education Committee meeting.

House Bill 290, sponsored by Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow, would allow students who have been convicted of a violent felony to qualify for the SEED scholarship that is currently offered by Delaware Technical Community College and the University of Delaware.

The attempt followed the 2021 enactment of Senate Bill 12, which made Delawareans with felonies eligible to receive SEED funds so long as their conviction was not related to a violent felony under state code.

“Individuals with violent felonies on their records have already served their sentences and paid their debt to society; they should not be subjected to an additional sentence making it more difficult for them to achieve a higher education and improve their lives,” Rep. Morrison told members of the House Education Committee. “These individuals are the very individuals who could most benefit from a higher education.”

Further explaining the impetus of the bill, Rep. Morrison said that barring students with violent felonies from receiving these funds disproportionately impacts Black Delawareans.

Approximately 23.8% of state residents are Black, according to the most recent U.S. Census, while more than 74% of minors charged with violent felonies are also Black, per 2022 statistics from the Statistical Analysis Center.

During debate on the bill, Democratic and Republican committee members pushed back on the idea due to the type of crimes listed under Delaware statute that outlines violent felonies, as well as allowing these individuals to sit in classrooms with law-abiding students or be on the same campuses as high schoolers participating in dual enrollment courses.

But Rep. Morrison explained that this could already be the case, as DelTech does not currently require background checks during their admissions process.

“We do not do background checks on individuals for admission,” said Brian Shirey, general counsel for DelTech. “There are some programs, however, where background checks are required. For example, if you’re going into nursing, if you’re going into education, some of those individuals who work in allied health and long-term care, those individuals have to have a background check and pass a background check before they can get into that program.”

Republican lawmakers on the committee, as well as Democrats like Rep. Ed Osienski, of Newark, and Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, of Wilmington, stated they could not support the measure.

As debate continued on the bill’s purpose, Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, noted that violent crime is at its lowest point since 1991, the legislation would impact a small window of people, and that he felt the legislation addresses a discrepancy under state law related to violent crime.

“There are still crimes that are listed in the violent felony section of the Delaware Code that are not drug crimes that still make someone ineligible for SEED, that have nothing whatsoever to do with violence,” he said.

Building off that point, Rep. Morrison listed a number of these crimes that he personally felt fit that description, like racketeering, extortion, drug dealing and certain categorizations of rape.

“We do update laws all the time based on what is good for people, and this is a piece of legislation that is good for people in terms of avoiding contact with the criminal justice system; that’s so much easier said than done,” Rep. Morrison said.

“When we talk about the whole keep their noses clean argument … that smacks of racism and classism. It is so much easier to tell some kids to keep their noses clean than others.”

His point received pushback from lawmakers like Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, who said the logic was “trying to disguise or wash over” what violent crime is.

“Saying that selling drugs is not a violent crime, what about the opioid epidemic that we’re going through, where in Delaware alone, we had 537 overdoses in one year … selling drugs is not a violent crime?” he said.

“I think we need to be careful when we push out these definitions. To say that rape is not violent or trying to coat over it by saying that there’s other types of rape and trying to cover over that by saying that’s not a piece of the violent crime, we have to have lost our mind.”

Lawmakers continued the discussion prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, where Mr. Shirey stated that DelTech was in opposition to the proposal. He cited the SEED scholarship program’s incentive to encourage high schoolers to seek higher education and avoid run ins with the criminal justice system.

Following public comment, a motion to table the legislation was unsuccessful. There was then an attempt to put the bill up for a vote, but it did not receive a second by committee members to move to a roll call.

Lawmakers then opted to not take action on the bill, retaining its assignment to the House Education Committee for further consideration.

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