Markell's State of the State focuses on education, jobs

By Chris Carl/Amy Cherry 5:15pm, January 17, 2013 - Updated 10:27pm, January 17, 2013
Watch Gov. Markell's hope for Delaware's education system.
Governor Markell is calling on lawmakers and residents to create a "Delaware better than anything that came before it."

Markell delivered his 2013 State of the State address to a joint session of the State House and Senate Thursday afternoon in Dover.

He proposed more resources to fight violent crime, including six new state troopers, more help for start-up businesses, and an increase in mental health resources for middle school students.

"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 is a huge gap in our care for adolescents. I asked the General Assembly to join me in addressing this. I propose a ten-fold increase in the number of trained front line mental health personnel in our middle school."

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Markell wants more after-school and summer programs for kids.

"...To give them exposure to the arts and nature and physical activity, opportunities that many Delaware kids can take for granted. And consistent with the CDC's recommendations and in response to the tragic suicides of twelve of our young people last year, the staff running these activities will all receive training for suicide prevention," Markell says.

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Markell said he's never been more excited about the work being done in Delaware's schools, and he thanked the state's teachers for increasing test scores and graduation rates. He called on lawmakers to re-examine the pay structure for Delaware educators to make sure their salaries are competitive with schools in other states.

"...Which has not yet been substantially changed in decades. So I'm asking the General Assembly to work with to reexamine that pay structure so we can incentives teachings in high need schools and in critical subjects to raise starting teacher pay and reward teacher leadership," says Markell.

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His calls to reform the teacher compensation pay scale were heard loudly on both sides of the aisle, since first-year teachers in neighboring states make thousands more than they would in Delaware.

Senate President Pro Tempore Patti Blevins (D-Elsmere) thinks its a great idea.

"Because we talk about creating jobs, we also have to talk about creating a strong workforce, and it's our teachers that do that," says Blevins.

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Republican Senator Greg Lavelle could get behind it too, but he says it's not just about rewarding good teachers. What was missing from Markell's plan, he says, is how we get rid of the bad apples.

"What do we do to remove teachers, who are not doing their jobs? It takes two years to fire a teacher, who otherwise, everyone can agree today, shouldn't be teaching," says Lavelle, "The current system protects them."

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Rep. Deb Heffernan (D-Bellefonte, Claymont, Edgemoor) is pleased by Markell's overall focus on education.

"I hope that education is not the biggest battle because that's where I think we need the most money to support our teaching and our students because that's what really going to get companies to move to Delaware," says Heffernan.

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No standing ovation from lawmakers when Governor Markell suggested he wanted to see an extension of $200 million worth of recession-era tax hikes.

"Cause it was what 'unaffordable tax cuts?' I wasn't aware that anyone was suggesting that taxes be cut, it was really a restoration and a commitment to the sunsets," says Lavelle.

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Blevins says there's number of tax increases that are ready to sunset.

"The personal income tax, the gross receipts tax, the corporate income tax - I think we're going to have to look carefully at those," suggests Blevins.

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More on the expiring tax hikes is expected in next week's budget address.

Markell also referenced Hurricane Sandy in his State of the State, calling it "a wake-up call." He says the state needs to be working to sure up vulnerable areas - knowing that not everything can be saved.

"The need for this infrastructure exceeds the resources available and we need to have a frank conversation about how to prioritize and fiance these projects so that we can protect what we can so we can make realistic choices about what we can not."

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And going off-script, Markell announced new jobs that are coming to Sussex County, courtesy of ILC Dover.

"I'm pleased to announce today that ILC Dover will be bringing a 115 new jobs and a new production line of packaging materials from Mexico to a new plant near Seaford later this year."

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House Minority Leader Dan Short (R-Seaford) was very pleased to hear about the new jobs in his district

"This is a big deal for Seaford, 115 jobs, which I don't know if you caught it or not, they're not jobs that are brought from another area where people were already employed; these are jobs that are coming back into the continental U.S.," Short says.

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Though Short says he wishes the Governor would address equalization of school funding up and down the state.

"On the western side of the county, it's about $10,500-$10,800 per student, and on the eastern side of the county it's almost as high as $15,500, so why?" asks Short, who calls the issue a matter of survival for some public schools.

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Markell also hinted he would support legislation to legalize gay marriage in Delaware if it were to come up this legislative session.

WDEL's Amy Cherry spoke with state Senators from both sides of the aisle.

WDEL's Amy Cherry spoke with members of the Del. House of Representatives to get their reaction to Markell's State of the State.

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