First off, a very big thank you to Delaware Senator Brian Pettyjohn for inviting me as one of his guests for Governor Markell’s State of the State Address today. I really wasn’t sure why he invited me. I’m not even in his district! But I just talked to him. He asked me what I thought. I told him it seemed like more broad strokes than really delving into any specific issues. I thanked him for inviting me and let him know how much I appreciated it. He said it is their way of saying thank you to people out there who are making a difference. I don’t always feel that way, especially in the face of lost battles, but even when I seem down and out I always have that hope deep inside me.
When I entered the House Chamber and sat down, some familiar faces looked over at me. Almost like, “Huh, what is he doing there?” After some staring contests, State Rep. and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf brought the House to order. Markell’s wife Carla and his son Michael came in, followed by the Judiciary, elected officials, and his Cabinet. Two State Reps and two Senators were picked to escort the Governor in. It was cool to see the rookie David Bentz announce the Governor’s State of the State.
As Governor Markell walked in the room, I was in the back corner, next to where the Sergeant-In-Arms sits. Markell was shaking hands with some folks, and for a split second he glanced my way and raised an eyebrow. You can read the full speech here but I do want to touch on a few parts. When it comes to Governor Markell, I am very hard on him with his education policies. I don’t believe they are the right policies and I don’t believe they serve all the students of Delaware in the best way. With that being said, I can say he is a very passionate speaker. When he said it has been the greatest honor of his life to serve as Governor of Delaware, I believe him. When he talked about what a tremendous loss it was when Delaware lost Beau Biden, every single person in that room felt that loss. When he honored our veterans, a police officer from Newark who saved three lives in one night the day before Christmas, and many citizens who have gained employment through some of the initiatives he helped to create, we clapped.
Instead of blasting the Governor over the nitty gritty, I’m going to give his speech some broad strokes.
Looking back, it’s easy to think we were always on this path. But seven years ago, we had no guarantees about the progress we would make, and certainly no guarantees that we would lead the region in job growth, lead all states in graduation growth rates, and transform opportunities for so many Delawareans. We could only have accomplished all of this by committing to do more than just reversing the tide of the recession – more than just hoping for a return to the past.
Way before I was blogging, the recession hit my family in a major way. I was doing commercial collections for a company in Dover. Up until about a year after the Great Recession hit, business was booming in that industry. But once the bottom hit, my job became more and more difficult until I had to make a choice. It was almost two years after that bottom hit that I left the company, while also working the job I am currently at. Working seven days a week was hard, but I had to do what needed to be done. My wife also went through some employment woes during those years. After I left the commercial collections industry and continued at my current job, I delved into substitute teaching at a charter school in Dover. My son went there, so it helped to see how he was doing everyday. Eventually, I became a paraprofessional during the final days of the charter’s high school. It was rewarding helping struggling students who were special needs. It was shortly after that when I discovered my son had very unique special needs, and his journey became my journey.
The biggest challenge we face is the sharply accelerating cost of health care.
Tell me about it! My insurance goes up every single year while the costs in the industry go up even higher. Far too much of my income goes towards medical insurance. I pray the cuts you are proposing do not affect the many families who have to rely on state-paid medical costs for their children with disabilities. Without that, many families would be hopelessly lost.
Over the past several years, our students, families, teachers, and staff have set and reached loftier goals in almost every possible way. And the more we have asked, the more they have achieved, like record high graduation rates – improving faster than any other state – and some of the nation’s best test scores in the early grades.
It is so hard for me to get into this aspect without touching on my opposition to Markell’s education policies. All I can say is stating that the graduation rates are higher and all college-ready students applying to college are getting in is not the most genuine thing to say. Because lost in that proclamation is all those who are not college-ready. Considering the vast majority of the country got an F on standardized test scores this year, that isn’t really saying much of anything except that the tests are really bad.
We reached all of these goals because of the incredible impact Delaware educators have every day – collaborating on effective lesson plans, providing help after school, believing in their students. Let’s thank them.
And we did, quite loudly I might add.
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.
There are a lot of rungs on that ladder Governor Markell. The community holds up the ladder. If the community is in disarray, such as very violent crimes all around you, rampant drug use, and homelessness for many children, education is only going to do so much. There is a whole middle class between your vibrant thriving communities and those forever in decline. I’m not going to say education has never lifted anyone from poverty. But there are far too many trapped in this cycle. Education does not, can not, and will not solve all the issues. I know you think that, along with many others that were in that room today. But it just isn’t true. I’ve found it is easy for those with power and wealth to think these thoughts, but the reality on the ground is vastly different than the aspirations you have for everyone.
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.
This does not leave me with a good feeling. He is basically saying if the redistricting plan doesn’t pass, they are still going to take action on the matter. If I were the Governor, I would have given a shout-out to who those city legislators were. While Sokola and Jaques may have gotten the legislation rolling, other legislators were the ones demanding change. Reps like Potter, Bolden, Keeley, and Senators like Rose-Henry. I know I’ve missed quite a few, but they are the true legislator inspirations for what became WEIC.
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.
Any other district is the entire state. Any plan that costs money is going to put an extra burden on the residents of Delaware. It’s called paying taxes. Our taxes would go towards this initiative. And while it may not seem like anything to the average citizen, with Delaware facing a budget deficit, that means something somewhere else is going to be reduced or cut. Are you telling us that we have not seen this final plan?
The recognition of the discriminatory sins of prior generations also presents an opportunity to reflect on whether we have learned history’s lessons – whether we are living up to our core values of opportunity and equality for all people.
I’m just going to say four words, and hope that everyone understands: Charter School of Wilmington. It’s not a choice if there isn’t equality. It is elitism and segregation. As well, what students with disabilities go through in Delaware with no basic special education funding in Kindergarten to 3rd grade is a national embarrassment. If you truly want us to learn the lessons of the past, then stop allowing charters to further segregation. Please stop demanding students with disabilities perform the same as their peers, and make them have to work harder to get to these dream levels. That isn’t equality. That is pompousness and arrogance.
The National Guard and our state suffered a heartbreaking loss this past year with the death of Beau Biden. Every day, the accomplishments of Beau’s service touch people in our state – from the military members with whom he served to the vulnerable children for whom he fought tirelessly as our Attorney General. We will help ensure we never forget his incredible legacy when, this spring, we officially name the Major Joseph R. (Beau) Biden III Armed Forces Reserve Center.
Much has changed in Delaware since the first time I delivered the State of the State, but from my first day in office one constant has been the determination with which Delawareans seize the opportunities available to them.
This job and serving with all of you continues to be the honor of my life. It has only strengthened my faith in the good that we can do together. It has only reinforced how important our work is to the security and prosperity of future generations. I look forward to all we can still accomplish.
I know I’ve changed a lot since you first delivered the State of the State. I wasn’t involved then, and I probably couldn’t tell you the names of two of our state reps and senators. I didn’t know much about you at all Governor Markell. I truly wish you meant that when you say “the good that we can do together”, because from my vantage point that work has consisted of gathering up the selected ones and having them make all the decisions. Your every day parents have been shut out of most of the crucial education decisions going on.
I saw a different side to Governor Markell today. I saw the Governor, in action, doing what he does best: public speaking. He is a Corporate Democrat, and like any good business person, he knows how to sell the products. He can be very persuasive, and for those who aren’t hip to what may be going on behind the scenes, it can be very easy to get sucked in. I definitely saw his leadership qualities today. But if you are losing the will of the people, it isn’t just that room you need to be talking to. It’s the entire state. And websites showing your speech don’t count. You may be a lame duck with only a year left, but I don’t believe for one second that is slowing you down. And you know I’m right Governor. You are putting a rush on all the things you weren’t able to implement or accomplish in your first seven years. It’s okay to let go now.