State of the State Address focuses on the global economy

Gov. Markell. State of Delaware photo
Gov. Markell. State of Delaware photo

The following is the text of the annual address from Gov. Jack Markell:

Lt. Governor Denn, members of the 147th General Assembly, other elected officials, members of the Judiciary, members of the Cabinet, our state employees, Carla, the people of Delaware. To our new legislative leaders, President Pro Tem Blevins and Speaker Schwartzkopf, congratulations. Thank you for inviting me to address you today.

Forty years ago, Korea was widely considered to be a third world country, having barely begun to rebuild from war Recently, a Korean poultry company purchased Allen Foods in Sussex County and saved hundreds of jobs.

This is the world we now live in.

Evraz of Russia owns the steel plant in Claymont. German-based Fraunhofer plans to expand its research and development in Newark. Companies from many other countries are important employers throughout our state.

This is the world we now live in.

Around the country, companies are producing more than ever, but as a result of productivity gains, they sometimes do so with fewer people.

This is the world we now live in.

There are 3 billion people in the world today looking for jobs, but only 1.2 billion jobs available.

This too is the world we now live in. 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.

But it is also a world with new and formidable challenges – to attract and retain employers that have more options than ever; to educate our children to higher standards of job readiness; to invest in the future as we care for an aging population.

These challenges demand an understanding of the world as it is and a vision of what it can become. They require us to do as Delawareans have done throughout our history, including many I spoke of in my Inaugural Address – not to choose what is easiest for us today, but to create a better world for our children tomorrow.

It is difficult to watch the debates in Washington and be confident that we are up to the task. Progress falls prey to political posturing. Problems get kicked down the road. Delaware is not Washington. We will meet the challenges of the world we now live in because of the enduring qualities that make us unique. 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.

Winning the Global Competition for Talent

This new world begins in Delaware’s schools.

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 advanced coursework.  More parents are choosing Delaware’s public schools. For this, we have great Delaware educators to thank.

We have built a strong foundation to improve our kids’ education. Two years ago, the General Assembly made the single largest investment in early childhood education in our state’s history.  As a result, we are on track to increase from 20 to 80 the percentage of high need children in child care 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.

We made the difficult choice to raise our academic standards for the world our children will live in. Teachers across the state are transitioning to the Common Core Standards, a set of uniform, higher standards that will better prepare our students for the global economy. As we move to these higher standards, fewer of our students will meet them initially. It is not an easy change, but it is one we must make, and our students will rise to the challenge.

Thanks to another investment made by this body, 10,000 Delaware students will participate in a world language immersion program over the next decade.  340 students started the program this year. For example, at McIlvane Early Learning Center in Magnolia, 100 kindergartners spend half their school day learning science, social studies and math in Chinese. One of the Chinese teachers there, Li Jing Jing, had a goal for her students to be able to count to 100 by the end of the school year. Her students achieved that goal by November. By the fourth grade, these students will achieve language proficiency. They will take the AP test in ninth grade. And they will be ready for those 1.2 billion jobs when that day comes. I can’t wait to see how far these kids go and I’m excited to see more schools offering this opportunity. Li Jing Jing is here with us today. Let’s thank her and her fellow world language teachers for the great work they are doing to prepare Delaware students for the world we now live in.

It takes great teachers to keep up with these young learners. Research confirms what parents know – nothing contributes to student learning as much as a quality teacher. We have many excellent teachers in Delaware. Here are three ways we can get more.

First, new teachers need to be ready to make a difference on their first day in the classroom. I recently heard a teacher’s account of his conversation with a student. The student said she wanted to be a nurse, but she’d probably become a teacher instead, because she didn’t have the grades for nursing, as though she didn’t need excellent preparation to be a teacher. This is a perception we need to dispel. Teaching is a demanding profession, and our admissions requirements for teacher preparation programs should reflect this. Secretary Murphy will be working with our universities to strengthen the standards for entry into the teaching profession.

Just as lawyers take a bar exam before they begin practicing law, we also need a rigorous exit assessment for our preparation programs, which includes demonstration of content knowledge as well as teaching skills.

These steps will help ensure that today’s college graduates are ready to make an impact for generations of Delaware students.

Second, we need to keep great teachers in Delaware classrooms. Forty percent of new teachers in Delaware leave teaching within four years. Every year, I have lunch with our state’s Teacher of the Year nominees, and every year, I hear the same question: Why is the only opportunity for teachers to gain additional prestige and pay to leave the classroom for administration?  It shouldn’t be. Our best teachers should be able to stay on the front lines of learning. Our 2013 Teacher of the Year, John Sell, is a great example. John is not just a teacher of high school students – he is a teacher of teachers. At Sussex Tech, he leads a professional learning community, served on the teacher leadership committee, and informally mentors new teachers. As his principal says, “John is a multiplier.” Please join me in thanking John Sell, who is here with us today.

Teachers like John should be formally recognized as Teacher Leaders – role models in their schools who have demonstrated their abilities, are ready to help other teachers, and earn more for putting their experience to work in the classroom. I ask that the General Assembly work with me to formally create this role, with the prestige and compensation it deserves.

Third, we should strengthen our compensation system to better attract great teachers where we need them. 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. First year teachers deciding where to teach can make thousands more in Pocomoke, Kennett Square, and Salem than in Bridgeville, Felton, or Bear.

If we’re to have the best education system in the country, we can’t continue to have the lowest starting and average teacher salaries in our region. We can change this without substantial new resources by reexamining our pay structure, which hasn’t been substantively changed in decades. I ask that the General Assembly work with me to re-examine that pay structure so we can incentivize teaching in high-need schools and critical subjects, raise starting teacher pay, and reward teacher leadership.

Just as we need high-quality career choices for our teachers, we need high-quality school choices for our families.  The application process for choice and charter schools has become too burdensome and complicated. I talk to parents with children in multiple schools and they look forward to school choice and charter applications with the same enthusiasm that they have for tax season. Multiple applications. Numerous deadlines. Different requirements. I propose that we create a best-in-class information system on Delaware’s schools that provides a clear picture of the different strengths in each school. I also propose that we give parents the option of a common application to make it easier to apply to multiple schools.

Learning, of course, does not end in high school. The skill demands of today’s jobs are rapidly evolving. The days of one employer, one career are over for most workers. It is not uncommon today for workers to hold ten different jobs before the age of 45. Lifetime learning is no longer an aspiration. It is a necessity.

Not long ago, the focus of our workforce system was placing unemployed workers back into similar jobs. The challenge today is far greater. Placing unemployed workers back into similar jobs today often means consigning them to continued insecurity in a field with diminishing prospects. Today, workers throughout their careers – employed and unemployed – have to upgrade their skills to remain competitive.

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. That’s what our Department of Labor now does thanks to partnerships with Delaware Tech and others. We should build on this work by developing a Delaware Skills Bank – an inventory of essential tasks for in-demand occupations in our state – and use it to ensure that our training programs provide our workers with the right opportunities. 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.

Creating a Nurturing Environment for Employers

Readying a workforce for the world we now live in is a key part of making Delaware an attractive place to do business. So is providing a nurturing environment for new entrepreneurs. Let’s start at the beginning. Businesses that start here are more likely to stay here. New companies create 3 million 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. We have the people. We have the ideas. We have the capital. The challenge is to get the people, the ideas, and the capital together as we build The Start-Up State.

Inspired by successful models across the country, local entrepreneurs have created Start It Up Delaware. This public-private partnership will serve as a hub for entrepreneurial activity with support from Delaware’s financial, accounting, legal, and real estate communities. It will build relationships with the University of Delaware, Delaware State and Delaware Tech, among other institutions of higher education. DEDO Director Levin is working closely with Start It Up Delaware to bring these entrepreneurs together and help them thrive.

For manufacturers and other businesses, we know the reliability and cost of energy is key. We need to expand our energy portfolio, reduce costs and improve air quality. Secretary O’Mara, working with the leadership of our major energy companies, has developed a three-part strategy to do just that.

First, we import too much of our electricity from dirty and expensive sources.  Over the last four years, we have reduced emissions more than any other state, while also reducing energy bills and health impacts by hundreds of millions of dollars. But we need more local generation.  That is why we support numerous utility-scale clean and efficient natural gas plants and cost-effective clean energy projects – Calpine’s new Dover plant, the conversion of NRG’s Energy Center, the Municipal Electric Corporation’s new Smyrna plant, and numerous solar, biogas and fuel cell projects.

Second, we need to expand natural gas infrastructure across our state. Too many in Delaware are paying too much for energy because they are too 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.
Third, as Senator Harris McDowell often says, the cheapest energy remains the energy we don’t use. We have made progress on improving energy efficiency working with the Delaware Electric Co-op, but we can do more to help save money by making efficiency Delaware’s “first fuel.” This year, let’s pass legislation to encourage our utilities to prioritize energy efficiency when it is cheaper than buying electricity from the grid.

These steps to encourage entrepreneurship and keep Delaware energy competitive go hand-in-hand with our efforts to improve our schools, strengthen our workforce, 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. These efforts have paid off in recent years, and they continue to pay off. Senator Bob Venables and Representative Dan Short have been strong advocates for economic growth in western Sussex County. Bob and Dan, I am pleased to announce today that ILC Dover will bring 115 new jobs and a production line of protecting packaging materials from Mexico to a new plant near Seaford later this year.

Improving our Quality of Life

In the world we now live in, employers survive only when they hire the most talented workers. And talented employees want to work in places they are proud to call home.

Delaware is blessed with beautiful beaches, parks, scenic farmland, a vibrant arts community, and a rich cultural and historical heritage. Preserving and improving that quality of life is vital.

In the years to come, Delawareans will be able to walk and bike to work because of the investments we are making today. Delaware is now in the top ten of bike friendly states, up from 31st four years ago. Our First State Trails and Pathways Initiative is connecting neighborhoods, parks, and downtowns throughout our state. The Pomeroy Trail connects Newark to White Clay Creek State Park. We’re linking Lewes, Rehoboth and eventually Georgetown with a series of interconnected trails. We’re enhancing and expanding recreational access to the Nanticoke River and Broad Creek.

We’re connecting Delaware City to Chesapeake City and extending the Milford Riverwalk. In Dover, we are expanding the Capitol City Trail along the St. Jones River. The Delaware Bayshore Initiative is protecting the Thousand Acre Marsh and expanding the Ted Harvey Wildlife Area. Projects like these improve our quality of life and make our state a magnet for talented workers.

Communities attract business investment by being vibrant with recreation and culture, and also by being safe.

The Delaware State Police and their colleagues from Wilmington and New Castle County are working with Attorney General Biden to reduce violent crime in the City of Wilmington.  Those efforts include intelligence gathering, targeted investigations, and an emphasis on ensuring that our most violent offenders are off the street.  Last year, I authorized six new state troopers from the Violent Crime Fund to focus on the violent gangs and drug-trafficking groups that commit the majority of homicides in Delaware. This year, I propose funding for six additional troopers with the same focus.

But troopers and police are not the only first responders who keep our communities safe. As we saw in the horrible events in Connecticut recently, sometimes teachers find themselves on the front line of a tragedy. We pray that evil like that does not come to our communities. But if it does, we need to be prepared. Last year, this body, working with Secretary Schiliro, passed the Omnibus School Safety Act, which requires preparation of state-of-the-art school safety plans for every Delaware public school within 5 years. A laudable goal, but we can do better. I ask the General Assembly to work with me so that every Delaware school has an up-to-date school safety plan within two years.

Even with excellent school safety plans in place, we know that ready access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines by persons who should not have them leads to tragedy. Earlier this week, I joined Lieutenant Governor Denn and Attorney General Biden to propose new legislation to help get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. I ask you to join Representative Val Longhurst and Senator Margaret Rose Henry in finishing the job and pass reasonable gun safety legislation that respects Second Amendment rights and makes our streets safer.

But more police, new crime fighting strategies, and gun safety, as important as they are, are not the whole answer. I will never forget going to Tenth and Pine Streets in Wilmington days after a 16-year-old was murdered there. It was 10 p.m., and the streets were empty. But when I got out of my car to pay tribute to the makeshift memorial on that corner, dozens of people came out to talk. To thank me for being there. To tell me they were tired of the violence. To tell me that all they wanted to do was raise their children in peace. One ten-year-old boy came up to me and said, “Governor, I don’t have anything to do around here. I have no place to go other than the street.” That boy’s story is the story of too many of our young people. And in a more perfect world, it wouldn’t be government’s role to address it. His family, his neighbors and his community center would have the resources to look after him. But too often in the world we now live in, they don’t.

We know what after-school and summer programs do for kids: research has demonstrated that they improve academic performance, reduce drop-out rates, reduce depression, improve self-control and self-esteem, and prevent risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use and juvenile crime.

For these reasons, I will propose that we provide more opportunities for after-school and summer activities that get kids off the streets and give them exposure to the arts, nature, and physical activity – opportunities that many Delaware kids take for granted. And consistent with the CDC’s recommendations in response to the tragic suicides of twelve of our young people last year, the staff running these activities will all receive training in suicide prevention.

Suicides among our youth are the most tragic child mental health problem in our state, and, thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Denn and others, we have taken serious steps to address them. Last year, we worked together to fund new training for front line school personnel in Kent and Sussex Counties to recognize early signs of trauma in children, and we worked together with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to offer the highest-quality training to all of our high schools in detection and prevention of depression in teenagers. Our Health Care Commission targeted funds to encourage mental health professionals to practice in southern Delaware, where we have a shortage. And we closed gaps in our state’s support network for child victims of trauma; now each child victim has a case manager who helps guide that child’s family through the different services that these most vulnerable children need.

But there is still more to do, both to address youth suicides and the many other mental health issues that professionals are seeing in children. It starts in our schools, where our kids spend so much of their day. 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. I ask the General Assembly to address this need. I propose a ten-fold increase in the number of trained, front line mental health personnel in our middle schools.

This investment will help ensure our kids get the services they deserve. Over the long term, it will also help Delaware build a better private network of child mental health providers. We don’t have enough mental health providers right now. So let’s allow pediatricians and family doctors to do telephone consultations with expert child psychiatrists. Let’s also invest in long-distance mental health services provided through technology like Skype. 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.

At a time when the Delaware National Guard is as busy as they have been in decades defending our country oversees, they are doing their part as well here at home to help make a difference in young people’s lives. Under General Vavala’s leadership, the Delaware National Guard proposes to partner with Maryland in their Youth ChalleNGe program. This is a residential program for a couple dozen Delaware high school drop-outs. Through education and mentoring from Guard members, the program targets young people who can get back on a path to a degree and a rewarding life and career. And because Maryland has all of the necessary facilities and because the Department of Defense picks up 75 percent of the cost, this is a very cost-effective way to serve these young people. Thank you, General, for your leadership.

Hurricane Sandy and Sea Level Rise

All of you know what an important role the Guard played in our response to Hurricane Sandy. Hundreds of members of the Guard joined with other emergency response personnel to prepare for and respond to the storm. One of those is Specialist Paul Romer from Seaford, who previously served with the 1049th Transportation Company in Afghanistan. During the storm, he helped Delaware residents and then traveled to New York City to help with recovery efforts there. Please join me in thanking Specialist Romer and all of the members of the Guard who gave of themselves so selflessly to assist their fellow citizens and our neighbors in nearby states.

Hurricane Sandy is a wake-up call. Because we are a low-lying state, extreme storms and sea level rise pose a threat to us. A more direct hit could have cost us lives, billions of dollars in investment, thousands of homes, and thousands of jobs. Key parts of our tourism, agriculture and manufacturing industries sit yards from the ocean, the bay, and other waterways.

Given our vulnerabilities, our duty is to ensure that Delaware is better prepared, as I have often discussed with Senator Gary Simpson and Representative Harvey Kenton. A dollar invested wisely today can prevent hundreds of dollars of damage tomorrow, whether by strengthening dikes and dams, conserving wetlands, improving drainage, or nourishing beaches.

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.

Innovative Health Care

Other long-term choices we must make involve the cost of health care. Thanks to the General Assembly, we have the nation’s leading health technology infrastructure, a foundation that can help improve quality and reduce costs. We are seeing innovative and promising approaches to care throughout the state – at our hospitals, in a partnership between the Medical Society and Highmark Delaware, and in initiatives led by the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance. Let’s build on our technological innovation by developing new payment models that reward great outcomes, encourage healthy behaviors, and reduce costs.

Investing in Growth

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.

The key question for us is: How do we grow our economy so that those who come after us do better?

We grow our economy by investing in our kids’ education, in a skilled workforce, and in the quality of life that makes our communities magnets for talented people.

Though these investments are more essential than ever, making them is more difficult. We no longer finance investments by divvying up surpluses each year. Rather, we figure out each year where we can save to free up resources to invest.

We have done that for four years. This is the first administration in modern history – Republican or Democratic – to have fewer executive branch employees than when we started. We cut energy costs. We sold off fleet cars, integrated IT, and cut prescription costs. We are saving almost half a billion dollars through health and pension reform.

We will continue to find savings wherever they may be, but there are things that we won’t do, if it means compromising public safety or turning our backs on our most vulnerable citizens. And while we want to keep taxes low – and Delaware’s are attractive – we should not shortchange our children and their future to pay for unaffordable tax cuts today.


The world we now live in is different than anything our parents knew – it’s more competitive, more global, and more connected. But it was made possible by their choices and sacrifices. Our obligation to our children is to prepare the way for their world – a Delaware better than anything that came before it. We must leave:

A Delaware in which every child has a great teacher, in which every student graduates career- or college-ready.

A Delaware in which our workforce, our quality of life, and our responsiveness drive entrepreneurship, growth, and employment.

A Delaware in which our streets are safe and inviting, and in which those so often forgotten among us, adults and youth with mental illness, receive the services and the support they deserve.

A Delaware that protects the rights of all its citizens, no matter whom they love.

A Delaware that responsibly protects its natural resources and that understands the risks and opportunities of climate change and sea-level rise.

We can create this Delaware, but it will require us to put that future and those who will inhabit it ahead of ourselves.

In that spirit, Carla and I declared this inaugural week a week of service. Volunteers across our state are donating food, giving blood, helping our community centers, and improving our parks. We focus on service this week knowing that, every day of the year, Delawareans give of themselves to make life better for all. Some do so as volunteers. Others as public servants or citizen soldiers. Many, just as neighbors.

These are the examples our citizens set. And they simply ask that, every day we are privileged to serve them, we act in a manner that makes us worthy of being called their representatives.

If we meet that test, 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. 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.

Thank you.

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