Decoding Gov. Markell's Final State of the State Address

In his final State of the State address (titled “Expecting More”) as leader of the First State, Governor Jack Markell devoted significant airtime to public education. Touching on everything from career training, to early learning, to teacher prep, Gov. Markell made it clear that the path to a better Delaware cuts directly through its classrooms.

The Rodel policy team tuned in throughout the address and compiled some expanded thoughts on a few of the governor’s most noteworthy moments.


Teacher Compensation

What Was Said“Several years ago, we made progress together when, with the support of DSEA, we raised the bar for entering the teaching profession. But when I signed Senate Bill 51, I made a promise—that higher expectations would come with a better compensation system.

That’s why my budget will include funding to raise starting salaries to be more competitive with our neighbors. And we will pilot opportunities for educators to earn more for taking on leadership responsibilities, without leaving the classroom for administrative positions. I will also propose stipends for educators who aren’t receiving compensation for their National Board Certification.”

What it Means: Raising starting salaries for teachers would certainly allow Delaware to be more competitive with its neighbors when it comes to attracting talent into the classroom. Studies show that Delaware salaries in the first five years of teaching are around $3,800 lower than the median across 19 neighboring districts.

Meanwhile, National Board Certification is a voluntary certification for pre-K-12 educators that identifies teaching excellence through a performance-based, peer-reviewed assessment. Developed for teachers, by teachers, National Board Certification is widely perceived to be a rigorous professional certification of professional learning that ultimately impacts student learning.

In Delaware, teachers used to be able to earn a 12-percent base salary increase for completing National Board Certification. However, this salary increase is contingent upon funding from the state legislature and has gone un-funded for several years. Teachers advocating for additional compensation for National Board Certification maintain that it acknowledges the achievement of highly effective teachers and compensates them for the thousands of dollars spent undergoing the prestigious certification.

In Delaware, five percent of teachers are certified, which is significantly higher than the national average of three percent. After this salary increase was discontinued, the number of teachers achieving certification declined.

Wilmington

What Was Said“Some of our highest need students are in Wilmington and are dealing not only with poverty, but the trauma of violence many of them see every day. Last year, with leadership from members of the City delegation and the support of Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques—we created the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, chaired by Tony Allen.

While many questions remain about the specifics of the Commission’s plans, broad consensus exists on this point: In a state whose courts set the precedent for Brown vs. Board of Education more than 60 years ago, but yet never acted to make any real change until told to do so by the federal courts, the time has come to take bold action on behalf of the children of Wilmington.

Forty years is long enough to have school district boundaries that divide neighbors and dilute the ability of the City community to engage in education. District leaders, teachers, parents, students, and advocates all support change.

If a plan comes to you that is clear and responsible, and does not place an extra burden on the residents of Red Clay or any other district, let’s make the most of this opportunity to transform education in Wilmington for generations to come.

What it Means: As the governor said, questions still remainabout the specifics of WEIC’s plan for serving students of Wilmington. On the morning of the State of the State, the State Board of Education declined to approve WEIC’s redistricting plan, requesting a revised plan for consideration.

The plan seeks to alter the governance structures and funding for the city in order to improve education for the more than 11,500 Wilmington students in public schools, 70 percent of whom are low-income. Currently, the city’s students are divided among four traditional school districts, one vo-tech district, and more than a dozen charter schools.

Early Childhood Funding

What Was Said“I ask the General Assembly to support my budget request to give more low-income children access to high-quality early learning programs, well-educated teachers, and a healthy start.

We all know that education is the great equalizer – providing the ladder from poverty to opportunity, separating the citizen from the inmate, distinguishing the vibrant thriving communities from those that seem to be forever in decline.”

What it Means: Over the past few years, the enrollment of high-need children in high-quality early education programs has jumped from five percent to 59 percent, and that rate will continue to grow. Additional funds would continue to support the technical assistance and grants to early learning programs and professionals to help them increase their qualifications and quality standards.

Funds would also support mental health consultants working with teachers and parents—a partnership that’s been found to have a 99-percent success rate of decreasing incidents of behavioral issues and expulsion.

And it makes sense to keep funding initiatives that work. Take, for instance, the hundreds of community members who are involved in Delaware Readiness Teams that continue to make a difference on our youngest learners and their families. Readiness teams take on initiatives such as increased enrollment of programs in the Stars quality rating system, resources for parents on kindergarten readiness and registration, support to districts for early kindergarten registration, book-mobiles and drives, community gardens, and shared professional development among early learning providers and elementary school teachers.

Building the quality of early learning experiences is important to raise the basic provisions for early learning, which is an essential baseline before we build a true high-quality system where teachers have higher educational qualifications and voluntary pre-k.

Career Pathways

What Was Said“This fall, thanks to our Pathways to Prosperity initiative, we will keep our promise to more than 5,000 students in 29 high schools. Only two years ago, this was just one program for a couple dozen students. Now, we’ve launched ten pathways, from manufacturing to computer networking to health care and culinary arts.

Many students in that program have the opportunity to work directly at Delaware employers. Today I’m announcing that our business partners have agreed to double the number from 500 to 1,000 students.

We’re also putting a special focus on our growing IT sector. Through our computer science pathway and other high level courses, we’ve increased the number of high school students studying computer programming from about 80 to 560 in just the last two years. Our goal is 1,000 students by September.

And I’m pleased to unveil new pathways, including one to serve our robust agriculture and food production industries.”

What it Means: The growth of the Pathways initiative is impressive, and the promise of 5,000 students enrolled next year is a huge success for students, and for the future of Delaware’s economy.

Each pathway has a defined course sequence, opportunities for students to earn college credit and an industry recognized credential, support for school administrators and counselors, and course specific professional learning opportunities for teachers.

In the 2016-17 school year, 10 state-model pathways in demand-driven areas will be underway, including: finance, allied health, culinary and hospitality management, CISCO networking, computer science, manufacturing logistics, manufacturing production, manufacturing engineering, biomedical science, and engineering.

The governor also called for increasing the number of students studying computer programming. Labor statistics show that from 2012-2022 Delaware is expected to see a 16-percent increase in employment in computer programming and software development.

Scholarships

What Was Said“One way we already lead the nation in keeping our promise is through our SEED and Inspire scholarships. Because of the forward-thinking leadership of Senator McDowell and others who began these efforts a decade ago, nearly 20,000 Delawareans have received full scholarships toward degrees at Delaware Tech, UD, and Delaware State.

But we can do better. Some students who need these scholarships the most can’t access them, despite meeting academic requirements, because current rules mandate that they attend school full-time and without interruption. But where does that leave the aspiring students who are caring for young children or elderly parents, or are working to support their families?

Alisson Murillo Navas enrolled at Delaware Tech this fall to pursue biological sciences. She had to hold down a part-time job to make ends meet. Despite earning good grades, she lost her scholarship because her job commitments left her one credit short. Students like Alisson shouldn’t lose out on the brighter futures they want for themselves and their loved ones. So I ask the General Assembly to make these scholarships more universal by expanding their benefits to part-time students and those who must take a break from their studies.”

What it Means: Expanding Delaware scholarship programs to include part-time students and students who take a break between semesters of study could impact hundreds of students like Alisson Murillo Navas, who currently face challenges earning a degree due to work or family commitments. The more opportunities, the better.

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