Delaware Governor Jack Markell described the state of the state as strong, but added more must be done to adapt in this new digital age and global economy.
“To thrive in this new era — to seize the opportunities of the future — we must expand our workforce, and rethink how we train Delawareans,” said Markell, who laid out his policy priorities for the year in his seventh State of the State address.
New era of jobs
Markell warned by 2025, at least 65 percent of jobs in Delaware will require training beyond high school, however, only 40 percent of the state’s workforce qualifies.
With that in mind, Markell proposed the “Delaware Promise,” a new goal. “By 2025, 65 percent of our workforce will earn a college degree or professional certificate. Everyone will earn at least a high school diploma.” Markell called on state lawmakers, schools, colleges and businesses to join in.
To fulfill that promise, Markell announced a three-part strategy called, “Pathways to Prosperity.” The three-pronged approach includes:
Establishing partnerships with Delaware employers, universities and the K-12 system; partnerships that will afford students the opportunity to graduate with certificates and college credits in key industries like IT, hospitality, finance and health care
Delaware Technical Community College partnering with consulting firm McKinsey to accelerate the training of entry-level health care workers
Launching an IT “coding school” with help from eight major employers to develop an in-house pool of skilled software programmers
Markell said the state will raise starting salaries for teachers and incentivize them to take on leadership responsibilities while remaining in the classroom with even more money. A committee established last year looking at ways to improve the state’s teacher compensation system is expected to make a proposal this spring.
In the coming months, Markell said he will also create a school funding task force “to address inequities for our neediest students,” many of whom attend one of the six named Priority Schools, all located in Wilmington. The schools are part of the Red Clay Consolidated and Christina School Districts.
“We are days away from receiving their plans. If these plans give our students the opportunities they deserve, we will approve them and move forward together,” said Markell, who recognized that poverty and unstable home lives add to the challenges some of these students bring with them to the classroom.
As expected, Markell renewed his push to modernize the state’s roads and bridges.
“Investing in our infrastructure will promote long-term economic activity, while reducing commute times and improving road safety,” he said. “In the short-term, we can put thousands of people to work through construction.”
Last session, state lawmakes rejected his proposal to raise the gas tax a dime to pay for the improvements, prompting Markell to ask legislators this session to “bring me your ideas on how to fund our infrastructure responsibly, and I will work with you to pass and sign legislation.”
Wilmington is Delaware’s problem
Markell said the violent crime in Wilmington is Delaware’s problem. “Wilmington belongs to all of us — and from Delmar to Claymont — the outlook for our state is tied directly to the fate of our biggest city.”
Recently, state lawmakers representing Wilmington have met with the governor urging him to step in and help.
Imploring the General Assembly for its support, Markell talked about establishing a commission to make recommendations on effective crime-fighting approaches. The Wilmington delegation will sponsor a Joint Resolution to establish the commission that would be co-chaired by Public Safety Secretary Lew Schiliro and New Castle County Public Safety Director Joe Bryant, working together with an outside expert.
Delaware Republican Party Chairman Charlie Copeland released a statement critical of Markell’s address on almost every point.
“Jack Markell followed the Obama playbook this afternoon, and used the the State of the State Address to pat himself on the back,” Copeland stated. “For every company that he pointed to as a job creator he failed to point out the ones who have left the state, and he simply ignored the fact that Delaware workers are earning less today then when he took office in 2009.”
On the health of Delaware’s schools, Copeland said, “Public education is not improving in our state, and our children are suffering for it as a result of wasted money and wasted opportunity for improvement.”
Copeland agreed that Delaware’s infrastructure needs help, but said Markell “failed to be honest and tell the citizens that he has robbed the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Fund year after year to cover his budget deficits.”
And lastly, Copeland said the governor’s plan for Wilmington is too little, too late. “Every city resident should be outraged that he waited until this crisis received national attention to decide he could no longer ignore the problem,” referring to Newsweek’s December article that labeled Wilmington, “Murder Town USA.”