In his sixth State of the State address Governor Jack Markell said he wants to help Delawareans tap into their potential.
The governor laid out a long-list of state initiatives he’d like to begin in the New Year.
According to Markell, the state is stronger today than it was a year ago and the state should keep momentum going by investing in programs that support higher education, workforce training, infrastructure projects and making the state safer.
Education and Job Training
Markell highlighted the partnership the state recently secured with College Board, which helps high-performing, low-income high school students, apply for college.
To further college accessibility, Markell proposed a scholarship program so high-performing, low-income students can take college-credit classes their senior year.
“We know that students who are challenged in high school with college-level material often rise to the occasion,” said Markell. “Studies show that when these students get a taste of college academics, they are twice as likely to enroll and persist to a second year in college.”
While not every job requires a college degree, more and more jobs are looking for employees who have skilled training.
“Before the end of the decade, 60 percent of our jobs will require training beyond high school. And yet only 20 percent of our kids graduate from high school ready for college or a career,” explained Markell.
This fall, Markell said the state will roll out a two-year manufacturing technologies program for high school juniors and seniors.
“The program will focus on mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering – and will lead to nationally recognized manufacturing certificates,” said Markell.
Additionally, several local manufacturing companies have agreed to work with the Delaware Manufacturing Association and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help provide “real world opportunities” through summer jobs.
As the University of Dealware STAR campus continues to build at the former Chrysler site, the governor proposed a $2 million match grant program to leverage federal funds to create “the jobs of tomorrow” such as cyber security.
“One of the most promising areas for research that will have an impact on our economy is cybersecurity,” said Markell. “From the financial information held by Delaware’s many banks to the technologies being developed by area science companies, our economy is only as secure as the networks that hold our personal data and intellectual property.”
To continue momentum in that sector the governor announced the launch the Delaware Cyber Initiative, partnership between Delaware’s three major colleges, Delaware State University, University of Delaware and Delaware Tech, and the private sector.
“It will feature a collaborative learning and research network dedicated to cyber innovation,” said Markell.
While higher education remains a top priority, Markell noted that more K-12 teachers need flexibility in their classrooms and proposed giving school leaders the freedom to use some of their state resources to create their own school plans.
“State government sets rigid funding formulas that determine how many assistant principals, reading instructors, and administrative assistants a school will have,” said Markell. “In fact, we have one of the most rigid funding systems in the country. This leaves little room for school leaders – those who know our students best – to innovate, create a vision, and pursue it.”
Markell also noted that attracting and retaining quality educators is something the state needs to work on.
“Our best teachers deserve a path to receive additional compensation for pursuing leadership opportunities while remaining in the classroom,” said Markell. “We also must recognize that our starting salaries are not competitive with our neighbors.”
While he didn’t propose any salary increases, Markell said he’s hopeful legislation will be introduced this session.
Creating Jobs through Infrastructure Projects:
Delaware’s unemployment rate has been showing a steady decrease and Markell said he wants to continue creating a strong middle-class.
The governor also proposed a five-year, $1.1 billion infrastructure investment to improve Delaware’s transportation system and put people back to work.
“Infrastructure investments create high-paying, middle-class jobs today and they lay the foundation for future prosperity,” said Markell. “It’s time to stop complaining about the sorry shape of our Transportation Trust Fund and fix the underlying issues.”
He also supported the proposed minimum wage increase which has been highly debated among the General Assembly.
The governor also asked for reform for the way people with a criminal background are treated in the workforce.
“Too many of the inmates we release end up going back to prison,” said Markell. “One of the best predictors of whether a person will commit another crime is whether they have a job. If we know employing ex-offenders helps make our communities safer, why are we putting so many hurdles in the way of job opportunities for ex- offenders?”
He proposed eliminating the arbitrary loss of driver’s license for those with previous drug offences and “banning the box” that requires job applicants to disclose if they’ve been previously convicted of a crime.
Bettering the Community
The staggering amount of crime and violence in Wilmington has put the city at the top of the governor’s list of places to revitalize.
Markell proposed using $7 million to create a handful of Downtown Development Districts which are “a small number of designated areas in our cities that will qualify for development incentives and a host of other benefits in housing and transportation,” said Markell.
He said it needs to start in Wilmington since it’s the state’s business and cultural hub.
Along with cleaning up neighborhoods, the governor said the state must work harder on keeping weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. He proposed a new division within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security that will focus on gun-trafficking.
The governor also talked about the pollution in Delaware’s waterways and said he plans to roll-out the “Clean Water for Delaware’s Future Initiative” next month.
Next up for the governor will be addressing the state’s FY2015 budget next week.