Written on: November 6th, 2013 in Job Creation
As governor, I spend significant time talking to employers about investing in Delaware because jobs continue to be my top priority. Without private investment and job creation, other things we care about – improving education, protecting our environment, enhancing public safety and delivering quality health care – are not possible.
Businesses have many choices as to where they create jobs and economic opportunity. A welcoming attitude from state and local officials matters, and businesses value a strong workforce, quality schools and a good quality of life – all of which Delaware has and is improving on. And businesses want to know that if they play by the rules, they will have a chance to grow. That is where some conversations around the state right now risk costing us jobs.
A company looking to locate or expand in Delaware wants relative certainty that if it complies with laws governing land use, the environment and the marketplace, it will be allowed to invest and succeed.
What elected officials do and say has an impact on these decision makers. When asked at a recent town hall meeting how we can attract more middle-class jobs, I said the first thing we need to do is “stop saying no” when employers want to invest millions of dollars in our state. The exchange came in the context of the Newark data center proposal, but it applies to other contexts as well.
Many were concerned when activists raised unprecedented legal arguments that threatened to shut down some existing operations of the Delaware City Refinery, which employs hundreds of well-paid workers. Another example is when some residents argued against the creation of 700 jobs and a $100 million investment at a closed pickle plant in Millsboro. If projects like these in existing industrial sites meet the zoning and environmental regulations placed on them by the federal, state and local governments, they deserve support.
This is not a partisan issue. It is a Delaware issue when any elected official, including one in my own party, seems to forget that creating good jobs is Job One. That’s why it matters when Rep. John Kowalko suggests that some of his constituents opposed to the data center want jobs, just not these jobs near their neighborhood. But if we want to avoid turning more farms into industrial tracts, it is sites like this, where almost 7 million vehicles were built, that need to continue to be economic catalysts in our communities.
Of course, there are air, water, safety and noise requirements that all manufacturers have to meet. The process to determine whether companies meet them should be rigorous and include public input. It should be based on facts, not rumors. And, in the end, if the project meets the standards we set, it should move forward.
This is the high bar that we set for manufacturers in this state, and there are a number of vacant sites where we want those manufacturers to create jobs. If companies are willing to comply with our laws, generate tax revenue and invest in our communities, we should welcome them.
It is not enough for us to wring our hands about the economy and talk about wanting to create jobs; we need to send the message consistently that Delaware is the right place to build and grow a business. Because if “somewhere else” is where we want to create jobs, that “somewhere else” just might be Maryland or Mexico.
I am the first to say our economy is not where we want it to be and that we need to continue to focus on job growth. That includes supporting small business and entrepreneurship, promoting blue-collar manufacturing jobs, helping employers be globally competitive, building on the strengths of our core industries, and creating an environment where businesses want to grow. But one thing I know for sure is that we will not be successful as a state if we cannot come together and say “yes” when good opportunities arise.
This opinion piece was first published in the News Journal.
Written on: October 11th, 2013 in Education
While Washington policy makers continue to spend most of their time consumed by manufactured budget crises, serious threats to our nation’s future competitiveness go unaddressed. One challenge that demands immediate attention is the gap in education quality based on a family’s wealth—a factor in the nation’s rising income inequality.
While this issue requires a long-term and multifaceted approach, we can take immediate steps to improve opportunities for thousands of low-income students who are not reaching their potential.
A recent study by the Stanford economist Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, found that academically qualified, low-income students are far less likely to apply to or attend the nation’s most selective colleges than their higher-income counterparts are. Only 34 percent of high-achieving high-school seniors in the bottom quarter of family income went to one of the 238 most selective colleges, compared with 78 percent of students from the top quarter. Those who underestimate their qualifications graduate from college far less frequently and lose out on career opportunities—and we as a society lose out on the contributions they could make.
Recognizing the role a college education can play in lifting young people out of poverty, I am distressed that we have students from those backgrounds—many of whom would be first in their family to go to college—who have earned the chance to pursue a degree but don’t realize it and, thus, never reach their full potential. Many times they don’t even apply to college, because they think they can’t afford it and they don’t have anyone telling them it is possible.
The good news is that research shows we can change this trend simply by better informing these students. In Delaware last month we announced that the College Board would send information on college affordability and financial aid, as well as materials to help with choosing colleges, to all seniors whose high-school work demonstrates that they are ready for college.
Additionally, low-income students will receive application-fee waivers, which have traditionally been far too complicated to obtain. And our highest-achieving low-income students will find a letter signed by all of the Ivy League schools, Stanford, and MIT, congratulating them on their achievements, encouraging them to apply, and letting them know that many low- and moderate-income students attend those institutions at no cost.
Our effort has implications for federal education policy. Delaware has shown that programs like the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition can be the catalyst for rebuilding foundational educational systems and developing practices that help students prepare for and gain access to the postsecondary-education opportunities that best suit them.
For example, our Race to the Top grant has allowed us to invest in new data programs to better understand the status of all of our students, with the aim of reaching everyone with the resources that match their needs. In addition, we pay for every junior to take the SAT during the school day. Those test scores can be matched with other attributes, like low-income qualifications, to help us focus resources on our neediest students.
Our innovations, supported by Race to the Top, will also allow us to engage in follow-up efforts as part of our new college-access project, including reminder e-mails and postcards for our college-ready students. In addition, two-thirds of our high schools will hold College Application Month events in November, during which volunteers will offer one-on-one assistance with filling out college applications and financial-aid forms.
While it has cost about $25-million per year to get all of this up and running, we can sustain these efforts for a fraction of that cost. When Washington focuses on boosting the most promising state reforms with start-up money, we have the ability to create efforts like this, which can be maintained over the long run and are replicable across the country.
Our nation has a moral obligation, and an economic imperative, to provide every student with the opportunity to get the education he or she deserves. Low-income students are particularly vulnerable to missing out on such opportunities, but we can take an important step forward by giving them the resources they need to make the most of their abilities.
This blog was originally published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Written on: October 7th, 2013 in Education
The success of our education system depends more than anything else on great teachers.
They are the ones dedicated to understanding each student’s individual needs, who know that one is a visual learner and another learns better in group settings. They take time after the school day ends to provide extra support and before the next day begins to ensure their pupils will enter a welcoming environment.
They are educators like Delaware Teacher of the Year Jon Sell, who voluntarily took on additional leadership responsibilities to help his peers overcome challenges. They are also like Delaware elementary social studies instructor Jill Szymanski, who was recently named National History Teacher of the Year for creating lessons, such as her year-long “Civil War Museum” project, which bring the past to life while developing students’ critical literacy skills.
Recognizing that teacher quality is the most important school-related factor in a student’s academic success, the challenge for policymakers is to ensure educators have the resources and opportunities they need to be at their best in the classroom.
That starts with listening to our teachers. In Delaware, we have begun conducting a statewide teaching and learning conditions survey to more fully understand their views.
And, we are working to ensure they have access to up-to-date technology. Preparing students for 21st century colleges and careers requires increasing our investments in computers and mobile devices, as well as in assistance for teachers to help them get the most out of these tools.
In addition, our state has established “professional learning communities” to provide interactive opportunities for educators to learn from each other. All teachers meet with a small group of their peers for 90 minutes each week to discuss student data and talk about which instructional practices are resulting in the most improvement for our young people.
We can also do more to ensure prospective teachers receive the best possible training. I’m proud of legislation we passed this year to require quality student teaching experiences and incorporate research-based reading and math instruction methods, all of which are lacking at the majority of teacher preparation programs. Furthermore, we’re setting minimum admission standards for these programs because we cannot accept that less than one quarter of our teachers graduate in the top third of their college classes.
To attract more of the top students to the profession, we must show we appreciate our teachers. That means, even in challenging fiscal environments, investing in them with quality materials for their classrooms and a compensation system that reflects our values.
We have made some important progress in Delaware that I look forward to sharing at the Education Nation panel on teacher quality, but we have more work to do. I’m eager to hear other recommendations. Given the importance of the subject, it should be a lively discussion. However, I’m sure we will all agree on one point: it takes great teachers to ensure our students can make the most of their abilities.
This blog post was originally published on Education Nation.
Written on: September 27th, 2013 in Education
In working to improve educational opportunities for our young people, we must recognize that different students learn best in different ways. Teachers need flexibility in their classrooms to find the best ways to reach individual students. However, some universal truths should be at the core of our efforts to prepare the next generation for future success. One of these fundamental principles is that healthy children learn better and have a greater chance to reach their potential.
That sounds simple enough, but the reality is that while childhood obesity increases, many of our youth have don’t have enough opportunities to be physically active. Youth ages eight to 18 average 6.5 hours per day with electronic media while children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation.
With these trends in mind, I look forward to welcoming leaders from the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils (NFGFC) to Delaware today to cut the ribbon on new state-of-the-art fitness centers at three schools in our state. The schools received the centers from NFGFC, funded by NFGFC’s sponsors, for demonstrating new and innovative ways to promote student physical activity and wellness.
It’s exciting to see sparkling facilities in our schools and these events also offer an important opportunity to highlight the invaluable benefits of physical activity in our young people’s development.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that regular physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer, while strengthening psychological health by decreasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
Meanwhile, recent studies have shown the direct benefits of better fitness in the classroom. It improves a students’ ability to learn and can significantly boost their academic achievement.
These facilities can’t help but generate enthusiasm about ways to make our youth fitter and healthier, furthering the mission of NFGFC Chairman Jake Steinfeld, who has made it his life’s work to fight childhood obesity.
We’re taking the opportunity presented by Jake’s visit to emphasize that our mission to engage students in physical and outdoor activities goes beyond gym class.
In Delaware, we take seriously a point stressed by Harold Kohl III, chair of an Institute of Medicine Committee that recently released findings recommending increased physical activity for students: “This is a whole-of-school approach. It’s not just physical education. It’s everything that occurs during school as well as around the school day.”
Last year, as part of our effort to combat childhood obesity, we launched a Children in Nature initiative with the goal of having “No Child Left Inside” and offering more opportunities for young people in our state to enjoy Delaware’s outdoors. By implementing experiential education and promoting environmental literacy, our schools can tap abundant opportunities to use the natural world in providing a well-rounded curriculum. We’re encouraging them to create opportunities to reconnect children with nature, such as using outdoor classrooms and incorporating nature-based activities into their lessons.
School-related activities should be accompanied by after-school opportunities. Earlier this week, we named the recipients of the first round of our new $2.2 million in after-school program funding from this year’s budget. We held the announcement at South Dover Elementary School, where third and fourth graders in participating in “Girls on the Run” take part in self-esteem building exercises while training for a 5K. This program epitomizes our goal to give youth a safe setting to enjoy the arts, nature and physical activity.
We must continue to do everything we can to provide our young people with the highest quality educational curriculum to prepare them for bright futures in college and careers. However, we’re also mindful that the best lesson plans won’t be as effective for students who aren’t healthy.
This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.
Written on: September 20th, 2013 in Helping Our Neighbors
We have not done nearly enough to give Americans control over their financial destinies. It’s time to start educating Americans about personal finance.
Many of today’s economic proposals from cities, states, and the White House focus on growing the middle class, and for good reason. But we are not paying enough attention to one of the major barriers to joining the middle class: personal finance know-how.
Helping people understand their finances is absolutely essential in today’s economy. In an era when wages are pressured by global competition and technological change, having a command of personal finance basics can make all the difference to America’s working families. All Americans need to feel comfortable planning for retirement, managing their rent payments, and keeping up with their student loans.
We have not done nearly enough to give Americans control over their financial destinies. Indeed, half of all Americans say they could not pull together $2,000 in 30 days to fix a car or pay an unanticipated medical bill, according to a previous study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. When faced with such events, millions fall into the clutches of predatory financial institutions, trapped by exorbitant rates charged by payday lenders or unscrupulous creditors. Too many families find themselves locked in a debt cycle they were never taught to avoid. Emotional stress, depression, and divorce too often follow. The most recent Census Bureau data shows that half of all U.S. households earn less than $52,000 a year. These families often face unexpected expenses that can quickly turn into crises.
In a national Harris Interactive survey released this week, nearly a third of U.S. adults admit their lack of knowledge has led to poor financial decisions and more than 40% acknowledge they’ve missed out on good financial opportunities as a result.
How do we address these problems? We need to provide financial education and support. The private and public sector — businesses, governments, educators and non-profits — must work together to achieve this goal.
To be sure, knowing how to put together a personal budget or how a credit score works won’t raise a person’s income. But it can make a paycheck go further and show families how to avoid decisions that cause long-term harm. While some of today’s financial stressors will persist until the economy improves, a better grasp of the financial basics can make a huge difference to millions right now.
In Delaware, we have partnered with United Way of Delaware since 2011 to offer citizens of our state access to personal financial coaching. That program, “Stand By Me,” provides information about non-predatory financial products, as well as help with financial issues related to post-secondary education, including financial aid and student loan debt.
Staff is trained to be objective, non-judgmental, and confidential. Our businesses offer financial coaching onsite as an employee benefit and our community college offers it to their students. We’re testing a new curriculum for K-12 students as well. Our coaches are not simply number crunchers — they help people plan and provide moral support to carry out their goals.
Of the almost 3,000 Delawareans who have worked with a coach since 2011, 82% reviewed their credit for the first time, 53% worked on household budgets, and added savings to their budget, 42% took action to improve their credit. But ours is just one promising approach and we need more help from every corner, including the private sector.
In Delaware, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo have supported the “Stand By Me” personal financial empowerment program. And beyond Delaware, Bank of America is focused on making complex financial concepts easy to understand for people of all ages and recently joined with K-12 education innovator Khan Academy to create free web-based financial lessons accessible to everyone at bettermoneyhabits.com. Khan Academy has become the face of K-12 online education in America, teaching more than six million students every month.
While many financial institutions and other companies have taken action to educate their customers about financial literacy, government and business leaders must do more. Delaware is home to many of this country’s leading financial institutions, and I’ll be reaching out to leaders of these companies to bring their best ideas to the table.
I look forward to enlisting state, local, and federal level officials and private sector leaders. Together, we must empower Americans to be effective stewards of their own economic destinies.
Government and business leaders must stop thinking of financial literacy as courses and brochures and start thinking about it as an essential service for the success of their employees and constituents. Delaware’s “Stand By Me” partnership has shown that this investment can be affordable through public-private partnerships and collaboration. Costs can be shared. And just as society saves money when people receive health services that prevent them from getting sick in the first place, it will be less expensive if we help individuals and families avoid personal financial crises.
This blog was originally published in Fortune Magazine.