‘Leave it all on the field’: Delaware Gov. John Carney says he’s focused on leaving the state better than when he found it

Carney called on lawmakers to pass some of his priorities in his last year in office to set up the next governor for success.

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An upclose photo of Gov. John Carney

FILE - Delaware Gov. John Carney speaks at the Major Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center in New Castle, Del., Jan. 19, 2021. Carney touted job growth and increased school funding as being among the highlights of his two terms as Delaware’s governor in his final State of the State address Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

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Delaware Governor John Carney reflected on the state’s accomplishments during his two terms in office during his final State of the State speech in Dover Tuesday afternoon.

He pointed to achievements like creating 30,000 new jobs, passing paid family leave, raising teacher salaries and combating the effects of climate change.

“As many of you know, I spent a lot of time on the football field,” he said. “I know, it was a long time ago, but one thing I learned is that the best teams leave it all on the field.”

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Del. Gov. John Carney speaks from the podium.
Delaware’s Governor John Carney takes the podium and delivers the State of the State address. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The governor urged lawmakers to pass legislation to set a spending benchmark and control health care cost inflation. About $2 billion of Delaware’s budget is made up of health care spending and the state spends $1 million on Medicare.

Carney also touted his moves on education, despite some advocates saying that lawmakers need to make a larger investment after a blockbuster report last year showing Delaware was underfunding high-needs students by $500 million to $1 billion.

House Speaker Valerie Longhurst said she was excited by Carney’s support of her legislation to add more mental health support in high schools.

“I’ve been fighting for mental health for the last five years,” she said. “We put it in elementary schools. We put it at middle schools, and now the fact that he put it in the state budget this year for high schools is huge.”

Carney also pointed to Opportunity Funding, a program that provides additional funding for low-income students and English learners, as one of his most significant accomplishments. If the legislature passes the governor’s recommended budget this June, the funding to date will total $63 million.

However, the governor also acknowledged that less than 40% of children statewide were reading proficiently at third grade.

“Imagine if your child went to a school with that kind of result,” he said. “None of us would tolerate that, but too many children across our state are faced with this reality.”

“We failed our children,” said Republican House Minority Leader Mike Ramone in response to Carney’s comments.

Ramone believes Delaware students deserve more student choice and improved access to quality education. Despite his support for Carney’s legislative proposals, like higher salaries and more money for early childhood education, Ramone said one party has been in charge for 32 years, often just applying band-aid fixes. He said it’s time to go beyond temporary solutions and completely change how education is funded.

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“We’re not creating productive environments to give the children who are socially, economically challenged an opportunity to get to a good educational facility,” he said. “Rip the Band-Aids off, reconfigure the way we fund education, reconfigure the way we support our teachers and our educational facilities, and re-address the tools that we can use with technology. We want to put [students] into society where they can be the most successful person. They could be that’s our job, and we are failing desperately.”

Later this week, lawmakers could vote on legislation that would require people wanting to buy a firearm to complete a training course and require people to have a permit to buy a gun.

Protests against Israel’s war in Gaza continually interrupted Carney’s speech soon after he began. Several protesters were escorted out of the building by Capitol Police.

After Carney resumed speaking, he was interrupted several more times. For those watching on the livestream feed, the volume of the audio seemed to lower with subsequent protests. Both the governor’s office and House officials say they did not mute the livestream.

Bipartisan members of the General Assembly said they believe in the First Amendment right to speak, but some took issue with the protesters interrupting the governor’s speech.

“Everyone has the ability to have freedom of speech in our state. I just think there’s an appropriate place, an appropriate time,” Ramone said. “I just thought that was very disrespectful of the governor, very disrespectful of the House and the Senate, and I would hope that they would, you know, use their energy in a much more productive way.”

Longhurst said protest is how things change in the world.

“I believe in freedom of speech and I think we’re welcoming — this General Assembly,” she said. “This is the people’s house and everybody has the freedom of speech and the governor had to get the State of the State done and that’s what we’re down here for.”

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