Investing in a skilled workforce, education and quality of life key to “leading in the world we now live in”
DOVER – Governor Jack Markell’s first State of the State address of his second term reinforced themes in his 2013 Inaugural Address earlier this week: we must not choose what is easiest for today, but focus on creating a better world for our children tomorrow. In his speech in the Senate Chamber, Markell offered new proposals that would create a nurturing environment for employers to start and grow their business, strengthen Delaware’s schools and continue to enhance the quality of life for all Delawareans.
“Our obligation to our children is to prepare the way for their world – a Delaware better than anything that came before it,” Governor Markell said. “If we are as good as the people we serve and lead, we will make wise choices today that will benefit generations of Delawareans for years to come.”
The Governor began his remarks by citing examples of how the global economy has evolved – and subsequently impacted Delaware, including: a Korean poultry company that purchased Allen Foods in Sussex County; Evraz of Russia, which now owns the steel plant in Claymont; and German-based Fraunhofer planning to expand its research and development in Newark.
“The world we now live in is more global, more productive, more competitive. It is a new world of unprecedented opportunities to create new partnerships, to sell to new customers, to innovate and collaborate in ways previously unimaginable.”
The Governor announced that ILC Dover will bring 115 new jobs and a production line of protective packaging materials from Mexico to a new plant near Seaford later this year.
He briefly touched on the political posturing that has marked debate in Washington, D.C. and other governing bodies, but has been largely absent in Delaware, where citizens and their legislators have pulled together across the state and across partisan lines to keep the state moving forward. The Governor thanked the legislature for their work to set the state up for success.
“Delaware is not Washington. We are a state of neighbors. We know how to move forward together. So let us shape Delaware for the world we now live in, and the world our children will live in tomorrow.”
Schools: Winning the Global Competition for Talent
Building on the achievements and enhancements to Delaware’s schools during his first term, Governor Markell made clear he is committed to ensuring our children are prepared to compete for jobs in a global economy. He acknowledged both educators and lawmakers for their role in the progress made to date.
“I have never been more excited about the great work being done in our schools. In the last year, thousands of students moved from below or average to higher levels of achievement. Graduation rates have improved steadily. More high school students are taking advance coursework. More parents are choosing Delaware’s public schools over other education options. For this, we have great Delaware educators to thank.”
The General Assembly has made significant investments to improve our kids’ education, including the single largest investment in early childhood education in our state’s history. As a result, Delaware is on track to increase from 20 to 80 the percentage of low-income children enrolled in quality-rated early learning programs.
“These are children who otherwise would have arrived at kindergarten well behind their peers. Now, thanks to you, they will arrive ready to learn. For them and for Delaware, that is a game changer.”
An investment by the General Assembly will enable 10,000 students to participate in a world language immersion program over the next decade. This year, 340 elementary school students started the program across the state.
“By the 4th grade, these students will achieve language proficiency. They will take the AP test in 9th grade and be ready to compete in a global job market when that day comes. I can’t wait to see how far these kids go and I’m excited to more schools offering this opportunity.”
In addition to preparing students for the competitive job market, the Governor said “nothing contributes to student learning as much as a quality teacher, “ and we need to ensure we have a pool of talented, committed teachers. The Governor outlined three ways we can continue acquiring high quality educators and retain those already in our public schools, including: working with our universities to strengthen the standards for entry into the teaching profession and develop a rigorous exit assessment for our preparation programs; formally creating a role for “teacher leaders” who serve as role models in their schools, with the prestige and compensation it deserves; and reevaluating our teacher pay structure to incentivize teaching in high-need schools and critical subjects, raise the starting teacher pay and reward teacher leadership.
“Our highest-poverty schools in Delaware have almost twice the teacher turnover of our lowest-poverty schools. University students studying science, technology, engineering and math have lucrative opportunities that make it more difficult to recruit them into the classroom. If we’re going to have the best education system in the country, we can’t continue to have the lowest staring and average teacher salaries in our region.”
Additional proposals by the Governor Markell focused on the school choice process in Delaware, including creating a best-in-class information system on Delaware’s schools, which provides a clear picture of the different strengths in each school; and a common choice application that would remove the need to research and apply to multiple schools; as well as the development of a “Delaware Skills Bank,” an inventory of essential tasks for in-demand occupations in our state that would be used to ensure our training programs are providing workers with the right opportunities.
“In the world we now live in, we need a workforce system that delivers the training that workers need to qualify for the jobs employers are seeking to fill. Once workers have completed the training they need to fill in-demand jobs, we should make sure that employers know it, by providing these workers with a Career Readiness Certificate that employers respect and trust.”
Jobs: Creating a Nurturing Environment for Employers
While preparing a competitive, well-trained workforce is essential to economic growth, the Governor also underlined the importance of attracting employers to hire them.
“We need to make the case for Delaware on its merits – our schools, workforce, infrastructure, cost of doing business and quality of life,” Governor Markell said.
Acknowledging that reliability and cost of energy is key for manufacturers and small business, the Governor discussed current efforts – and proposed new ideas – to expand Delaware’s energy portfolio, reduce costs and improve air quality. Over the last four years, Delaware reduced emissions more than any other state, while also reducing energy bills and health impacts by hundreds of millions of dollars. But, Governor Markell acknowledged Delaware needs more local generation, which is why the State supports numerous utility-scale clean and efficient natural gas plants and cost-effective clean energy projects, including Calpine’s new Dover plant, the conversion of NRG’s Energy Center, the Municipal Electric Corporations new Smyrna plant, and numerous solar, biogas and fuel cell projects.
He also proposed passing legislation to encourage our utilities to prioritize cost-effective energy efficiency when it is cheaper than buying electricity from the grid and expanding the natural gas infrastructure across our state.
“Too many in Delaware are paying too much for energy because they are far from a pipeline to bring them affordable natural gas. The energy savings from fuel switching are substantial and can cover the costs of new infrastructure. To help businesses and residents save money, we are working with both Delmarva and Chesapeake to make it easier for businesses to switch to cheaper and cleaner energy.”
While the cost of energy and reliability efforts focus primarily on current employers and businesses looking to expand into Delaware, the Governor also discussed ways in which the State is attracting start-up companies and entrepreneurs. New companies create 3 million new American jobs a year and Delaware, which was recently rated the second best state in the country for a knowledge and innovation economy, could be a leader in the creation and growth of early-stage companies. Start It Up Delaware is a public-private partnership that will serve as a hub for entrepreneurial activity with support from Delaware’s financial, accounting, legal and real estate communities and will build relationships with the institute of higher education. The Delaware Economic Development Office is working closely with Start It Up Delaware.
“These steps to encourage entrepreneurship and keep Delaware energy competitive go hand-in-hand with our efforts to improve our schools and enhance our quality of life. They are all part of our larger effort to make Delaware globally competitive as a place to do business and create jobs.”
Quality of Life: Ensuring Our Communities are Safe and Supported
Recognizing the importance of providing both employers and their workforce with a place they are proud to call home, the Governor highlighted recent efforts to preserve and enhance the quality of life for those who live, work and visit in Delaware. Those included the First State Trails and Pathways Initiative, connecting neighborhoods, parks and downtowns throughout our state; as well as the Delaware Bayshore Initiative, protecting Thousand Acre Marsh and expanding the Ted Harvey Wildlife Area. He also touted Delaware is now in the top ten of bike friendly states, up from 31st place four years ago.
“Delaware is blessed with beautiful beaches, parks, scenic farmland, a vibrant arts community and a rich culture and historical heritage. Projects like these improve our quality of life and make our state a magnet for talented workers.”
In addition to culture and recreation, the Governor spoke about the importance of ensuring our communities are safe. He discussed the work being done by the Delaware State Police and their colleagues from Wilmington and New Castle County, who are working with Attorney General Biden to reduce crime in the City of Wilmington. Supporting their efforts, the Governor last year authorized six new state troopers from the Violent Crime Fund to focus on the violent gangs and drug trafficking groups. Today, he proposed funding for six additional troopers with the same focus.
Talking about efforts last year by the General Assembly and Safety and Homeland Security to pass the Omnibus School Safety Act, which requires preparation of state-of-the-art school safety plans for every Delaware public school within five years, the Governor acknowledged that “we can do better.” He asked legislators to work with him so every Delaware school has an up-to-date school safety plan within two years.
“As we saw in the horrible events in Connecticut recently, sometimes teachers find themselves on the front line of a tragedy. We pray evil like that does not come to our communities. But if it does, we need to be prepared.”
Building on efforts to keep our communities safe, the Governor touched on new legislation he proposed earlier this week with Lt. Governor Denn and Attorney General Biden to help get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and asked legislators to pass reasonable gun safety legislation that respects Second Amendment rights and makes Delaware streets safer.
Knowing more police, new crime fighting strategies and gun safety are not the whole answer, the Governor offered a series of proposals aimed at ensuring our children are fully supported within their communities and exposed to positive opportunities. Specifically, he proposed more opportunities for after-school and summer activities that get kids off the streets and give them exposure to arts, nature, and physical activity.
Addressing the issue of suicide among our youth as “the most tragic child mental health problem in our state,” the Governor acknowledged the leadership of Lt. Governor Denn and others to address it. Their efforts helped provide funding for front line school personnel in Kent and Sussex Counties to recognize early signs of trauma in children; assist Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in offering the highest-quality training to all of our high schools in detection and prevention of depression in teenagers; and support the Delaware Health Care Commission, which targeted funds to encourage mental health professionals to practice in southern Delaware, where we have a shortage. Gaps in our state’s support network for child victims of trauma were also addressed.
But, the Governor acknowledged there is still more to do – both to address youth suicides and the many other mental health issues that professionals are seeing in children. He proposed a ten-fold increase in the number of trained, front-line mental health personnel in our middle schools.
“We have the ability to provide some mental health services in Delaware high schools, and we have family crisis therapists in some elementary schools, but we have almost no mental health resources in our middle schools. Only three of our state’s middle schools have full-time professionals responsible for the mental health needs of students at that critical age. That’s a huge gap in our care for adolescents.”
The Governor also encouraged investments in long-distance mental health services provided through technology like Skype, to allow pediatricians and family doctors to do telephone consultations with expert child psychiatrists.
“Telemedicine like this can help get kids services without waiting for weeks for appointments. Simple investments like these can make a real difference in a child’s life. I ask you for your support.”
Looking beyond immediate needs of ensuring the safety of our communities and well-being of our children, the Governor turned his focus to long-term choices that need to be made. Specifically, he referenced strengthening dikes and dams, conserving wetlands, improving draining or nourishing beaches as options that should be considered to ensure that Delaware is better prepared for extreme storms and rising sea levels.
“The need for this infrastructure exceeds the resources available. We need to have a frank conversation about how to prioritize and finance projects, so that we protect what we can and make realistic choices about what we cannot. I look forward to the recommendations of the working group analyzing these challenges and to engaging with you about the long-term choices we must make for the benefit of our state.”
Other long-term choices Delaware must make, the Governor shared, involve the cost of health care. Acknowledging that Delaware has the nation’s leading health technology infrastructure, Governor Markell encouraged legislators to build on the State’s technological innovation.
“We have a foundation that can help improve quality and reduce costs. Let’s build on that by developing new payment models that reward great outcomes, encourage healthy behaviors and reduce costs.”
The Governor concluded his remarks vowing to continue to find savings without compromising public safety or negatively impacting the State’s most vulnerable citizens, and reinforcing the obligation the State has to its children and their future.
“None of the issues I’ve mentioned is easy. To make sound decisions, we need to look beyond the next day’s newspaper or the next election and focus on the decisions that we make now to create a better tomorrow. In doing so, we will give those future Delawareans reason to greet a changed world with open arms, sure in the knowledge that we did for them what was done before for us, that we prepared the way for their success, that we passed onto them a Delaware whose brightest days were still to come.”
The FULL TEXT of Governor Markell’s 2013 State of the State is available online.
Footage from the 2013 State of the State is on YouTube.
Photos from State of the State are on Flickr.