Delaware State of the State Address 2000
By Stateline Staff
DOVER, Delaware - Jan. 27 - Following is the text of Gov. Tom Carper's 2000 State of the State Address:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to report to you today that the state of our state in many respects has never been better as we enter this new Century. While plenty of challenges lie ahead, we are richly blessed and have much to celebrate. I congratulate each of you and the people of Delaware today for what we've accomplished by doing what we do best -- work together.
It is my privilege this afternoon to deliver to this General Assembly and to the people of Delaware both my final State of the State address and the first such message by a Delaware governor in the 21st Century.
Let's begin today by looking back in time. Delaware is a much different place today than it was when the 20th Century began 100 years ago. Those who sat in our seats at that time would likely be amazed at how our state has changed, and largely for the better. Then, as now, our citizens were concerned about their quality of life, and how to make the quality of their children's lives even better than their own.
Fewer than 200,000 people called Delaware home in 1900. We had fewer chickens then, too. While some people worked in manufacturing plants in northern Delaware, our economy -- from Talleyville to Selbyville -- was largely agrarian. There were no auto plants here. There were almost no autos. But there were dirt roads -- plenty of them. I'm told Representative Charlie West was sitting right over there urging his colleagues to do something about it, too.
No woman presided over the Delaware State Senate in 1900 as Lieutenant Governor Minner does today. In fact, no women served in the General Assembly. You may recall, women could not even vote in 1900. There were no minorities sitting in the General Assembly either, or as judges. A half-Century would pass before Louis Redding would become the first African-American admitted to the Delaware Bar.
They had a new state constitution in 1900, too. It was barely 3-years-old. It provided the foundation on which a 20th Century Delaware would be built to emerge 100 years later as a model state for this nation in many respects. Delaware also has been blessed with generation after generation of exceptional leaders in government, in business and labor, in medicine, in education, in law, in our churches and throughout our communities. Leaders who were committed to leaving Delaware a better place than they found it. And boy, did they!
One of those leaders is with us here today, and I would like to pause for a moment and ask you to join me in saluting him. Elbert N. Carvel, a successful Sussex County businessman, was elected Lt. Governor of Delaware in 1944, a time when the Lt. Governor of our state was paid $12 a day for the first 60 days that the legislature was in session, and after that, nothing. I bet the sessions were shorter then, don't you?
Four years later, he was elected governor, served one term, was defeated by Caleb Boggs, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and then -- as the original Comeback Kid -- returned in 1960 to become the first Democrat in state history to be elected to a second term as governor, where he served with distinction until 1965. The shadow he cast extends to this day and beyond.
Next month, on February 9, Governor Carvel celebrates his 90th birthday. There's an old saying that in politics your friends come and go, but your enemies accumulate. I don't know that Bert Carvel had any enemies, but if he did, he has outlived every one. At the rate you're going, Governor, you'll outlive the rest of us, too. Welcome back to Legislative Hall! You are an inspiration to us all!
Governor Carvel, along with many of us, knows that things didn't always go well in the last Century. Twenty-three years ago when I sat as a newly-elected state treasurer, right over there where Jack Markell sits today, our state's prospects were not so bright. That day, Pete duPont, who went on to become an excellent governor, declared our state bankrupt. We weren't, but we clearly faced some daunting challenges. A few days after his speech, our credit rating was lowered to the worst among all 50 states, and we were closed out of our nation's credit markets.
At the time, our unemployment rate was nearly 9 percent --- almost triple what it is now. Our top marginal personal income tax rate was 19.8 percent -- the highest in the nation.
The only thing in our unemployment insurance trust fund was an IOU. It said we owed the federal government nearly $40 million. Our state employee pension plans faced enormous, unfunded liabilities.
And then to top it all off, a big story in the Wall Street Journal prominently quoted Irv Shapiro, then CEO of the DuPont Co., saying that he'd never recommend Delaware as a good place to do business.
Someone said at the time that the only way to go was up. And you know, that's exactly what we have done.
Today, our financial controls are described as a model for this nation. We balance our budgets routinely. We spend no more than 98 percent of our available revenue each year. Our Rainy Day Fund has grown to nearly $120 million. And our credit rating is the highest it's been in state history!
One especially smart thing we've done is use large portions of our budget surpluses to build major construction projects using surplus cash instead of borrowing money as we might have done in the past. In fact, the General Assembly has appropriated nearly $1 billion since 1994 for pay-as-you-go financing of capital projects or to defease existing debt.
These actions will save Delawareans tens of million of dollars in future interest payments. The budget I'll send to you next week would maintain that approach by recommending far less borrowing for major construction projects than is currently allowed by law. Adhering to this policy will provide even more savings to taxpayers down the road and bring our per capita indebtedness - still among the highest of any state - to a more acceptable level within the next few years.
KEEPING OUR ECONOMY STRONG
Turning to our economy, the dawn of the 21st Century finds Delaware's economy so strong that just about anyone who wants and needs a job can find one. Our welfare rolls have been reduced by half. We haven't pushed welfare recipients off a cliff either. What we have done is turn the old system on its head so that people who go to work are actually better off - our approach has won Delaware national acclaim and can be a source of pride to every legislator who voted for it.
Our economy is more diverse than at any time in state history, too. We still raise plenty of corn, soybeans and chickens - 260 million of them last year, in fact. Now, we also build more cars per capita than any other state, and some 60 percent of the credit cards in America are issued by banks with operations in Delaware.
Over 300,000 companies worldwide are incorporated in Delaware, too, helping to spawn a vibrant legal services community. Major science companies like DuPont, Hercules, and W.L. Gore have their headquarters and research facilities here. And millions of tourists visit us each year to enjoy our beaches, parks, historic sites, tax-free shopping and much more.
Our economy is evolving, though, as we begin the 21st Century. New corporate citizens with names like AstraZeneca, Andersen Consulting, Astropower, CSC, Computer Aid Inc., Cytometrics, and Intervet now dot our landscape, offering jobs with excellent wages and benefits. If we maintain our business-friendly environment, more will come and grow here. To make that happen, I'll propose this year $5 million in additional funding for our new biotechnology center in Delaware and another $0.5 million to expand our promising information technology initiative. Later this spring, I'll unveil legislation that's needed to ensure that Delaware remains an attractive home for financial institutions following the enactment of last year's Financial Services Modernization Act by Congress.
Our business climate has improved in no small way because of the good work of the General Assembly in reducing taxes. On the heels of significant tax cuts from the duPont and Castle administrations, we have cut taxes for another seven straight years -- personal or business, and sometimes both. No longer nearly 20 percent, our top marginal personal income tax rate fell on January 1 to 5.95 percent. Ladies and gentlemen, that's the lowest it's been in over four decades.
We've eliminated the marriage penalty altogether along with the gift and the inheritance taxes. The state income tax bill for the average Delaware family of four earning $40,000 a year has been cut in half since 1993, and families living in poverty no longer pay any state income taxes at all. We've cut school property taxes in half for most Delawareans 65-and-over. We've increased the standard deduction by 150 percent and raised the pension exclusion four-fold. And the gross receipts tax -- the bane of many Delaware businesses -- has been eliminated outright for a third of our businesses and significantly reduced for every other one.
And our taxes aren't just lower, ladies and gentlemen, they're also among the fairest in America today. I feel good about that, and you should, too.
STRENGTHENING DELAWARE FAMILIES
Lower taxes are putting more money back into the pockets of Delaware's families. So has the growth in Delaware's median family income, which is among the highest in the nation over the past three years. It's not just the more affluent who have benefited here either. We also raised the minimum wage in Delaware last year, helping to lift hundreds of working families out of poverty. The incidence of hunger and child poverty in Delaware are among the lowest in America.
To improve the healthcare needs of our citizens, we turned Medicaid into a managed care program in 1996, enabling us to cover all Delawareans who live in poverty. Last year, we extended healthcare coverage for children under 19 in families with incomes up to 200 percent of poverty - roughly $34,000 per year for a family of four. Now, for less than a $1 a day, 13,000 previously uninsured youngsters can have decent healthcare coverage - many for the first time in their lives.
Add to this a dozen Nemours pediatric health clinics, school nurses assigned to every public school, a wellness center for every high school that wants one, and what do you have? You have the best healthcare coverage for children in state history and a model that's admired throughout America!
Older Delawareans are getting help, too, thanks to funds from the national tobacco settlement and the passage of last year's "Pill Bill" by this General Assembly. Starting earlier this month, thousands of additional qualified seniors and disabled residents are now eligible to secure prescription drug assistance.
How much more money Delaware ultimately receives from the tobacco settlement depends on many things beyond our control. I look forward to working with our Health Fund advisory committee and this legislature in deciding what the Fund can help us to accomplish in the future. I hope we can agree, though, in a state that's 15th in the nation in tobacco consumption and second in cancer mortality, to spend a portion of those funds to discourage kids from smoking and to help smokers quit. We should also consider using the funds to expand healthcare access to uninsured Delawareans and, perhaps even equipping our emergency responders with automatic external defibrillators. Those medical devices alone could save hundreds of lives each year in Delaware, and we ought to buy them.
In any event, healthcare will continue to loom as a major issue both here and in America. As you may know, the percentage of people without healthcare coverage in most states is going up. In Delaware, however, it's coming down.
If we're smart and we work together, we can keep it coming down. The people of Delaware are counting on us to do just that. In the 1990s, we expanded healthcare coverage and overhauled welfare in Delaware. This year, we're embarking on a new effort - reforming public housing. Like welfare, public housing was never meant to be a lifetime entitlement when it was introduced decades ago. But that's what happened over time. America has changed welfare as we once knew it. Now, our country is looking to Delaware to help change public housing as we know it. Not by being punitive or heartless, but by time-limiting benefits while truly helping families in public housing to become self-sufficient and find their own places to live or even better - to own. That upward mobility also would allow hundreds of Delaware families -- still lingering on waiting lists -- to secure the temporary housing assistance they need, not years from now, but today.
Delaware was selected last year by HUD to show how public housing could return to its original intent: A safe place for families to live temporarily until they are able to get on their feet. Here again, Delaware can provide leadership for our nation, and I am encouraged that we will.
The creativity of our State Housing Authority, coupled with a robust economy and the tremendous support of our financial institutions and the General Assembly, has enabled thousands of Delaware families to buy homes in the past decade. As a result, the rate of homeownership in Delaware is well above the national average. In addition, nearly 2,000 new rental housing units for low-income families have been built in partnerships with the private sector, and $15 million has been earmarked by you to fix up deteriorating neighborhoods as part of our 21st Century Fund. These are just some of the reasons why the Delaware State Housing Authority has been selected by HUD as a high performing housing authority, not just for last year or the year before, but for nine years in a row. And in six of those years, the Delaware State Housing Authority received a perfect score! Who's helped make that possible? Among others, Susan Frank and her team at the State Housing Authority. Susan!
Having a decent place in which to live is basic to a family's quality of life. So is living in a community that is safe and free from crime. No issues are of greater importance to Delawareans than crime and the safety of our neighborhoods. Over the past seven years, Delaware has taken bold steps to keep violent criminals off our streets, to prevent future crimes, and to spare future victims.
Our work has paid off, too.
For the second straight year, our State Police have reported that crime dropped 7 percent in their jurisdictions statewide. From Delmar to Claymont, the tide in the battle against crime has turned. At long last, the good guys are winning, and the bad guys are finally on the run.
As you know, we're pretty good at throwing the book at people who break our laws. The percentage of time that criminals serve of their sentences here is among the highest in America. In a state of 750,000 people, more than 6,000 of them are incarcerated today, and another 20,000 people are on probation. For every 30 people who live in our state, one is either in prison or on probation.
While it's important for those who pose a threat to our safety be dealt with sternly, we must also remember that over 95 percent of those in Delaware's prisons will be released someday.
Thanks to the support of the General Assembly, we are building a prison system that demands discipline and commitment from offenders, while giving those who want to turn their lives around that opportunity. Now, every Delaware inmate serving a sentence of a year or more enters our rigorous, nationally-acclaimed substance abuse treatment initiatives - the KEY and Crest programs. Those who complete these tough initiatives are 40 percent less likely to commit another crime. Three years ago, we opened the state's first boot camp. For those who make it through, the recidivism rate drops by a third. Last year, more inmates earned high school degrees than any other year in state history. And Prison Industries puts hundreds of inmates to work inside our prisons every day.
One of the reasons former inmates return to crime upon release is that they don't find work. Last month, we launched an initiative called Prison-to-Work where probation offices throughout Delaware are transformed into satellites of our Department of Labor's innovative resource centers. Now, probationers reporting to probation officers are electronically linked on-the-spot to potential employers and other employment resources, making it easier to find jobs and stay out of trouble.
Crime is also going down because we have hired more cops, trained and equipped them better, and created a more diverse State Police workforce. We also police smarter. "Operation Safe Streets" is a good example of that.
Thirty months ago, teams that included Wilmington police officers and the state's probation and parole officers began patrolling Wilmington streets late into the night. They did so to ensure that probationers who had previously committed violent felonies were abiding by the terms of their probation. While one shooting is too many, shootings in the City of Wilmington have dropped by half since we started "Operation Safe Streets." And with that success under our belts, we have now expanded that initiative statewide.
In early February, we'll introduce a brand new weapon in our crime-fighting arsenal. It's called Real-Time Crime Reporting. This new technology will allow us to know by noon each day what crimes were reported throughout Delaware the day before and where they were committed. We'll have the ability to share that important information electronically and visually with police departments all over this state. That knowledge will enable us to deploy our police assets far more effectively and to hold law enforcement more accountable for reducing crime, something we previously could not do.
We're taking back our streets. We're winning the battle against crime that's an accomplishment we should all be proud of!
Whether it's fighting crime, or easing traffic congestion, the year 2000 will see many new initiatives by state government that use technology to better serve our citizens. Today nearly 45 percent of Delawareans have access to the Internet in their homes - - one of the highest rates in the nation. We have already wired every public school classroom in this state to the Internet and every public library has Internet access, as well. In fact, today's State of the State address is being broadcast live across the Internet - a first in state history. And now, the explosion of e-commerce across this country is ready to come to our state government.
The First State is already leading the way in several areas. Delaware provides its students with the most access to computers of any state. This year, we'll have a new pupil accounting system that will, amongst other capabilities, allow teachers to share effective lesson plans with each other to better prepare our students to meet Delaware's academic standards.
Using the latest technology, businesses can download documents to incorporate in the First State - without ever visiting the Division of Incorporations or picking up the telephone. We are also one of only seven states in the nation where citizens can file their tax returns over the Internet. Delawareans can now point, click, and file their state taxes in around 20 minutes through an interactive website that even checks our math. No more filling out cumbersome paper tax return forms and dashing to the post office on April 30.
I don't know that any of us will ever relish paying taxes - even lower ones -- but last November, Delaware's Division of Revenue was singled out when it earned the Merit Award for quality. That was the highest honor bestowed on any Delaware business, non-profit, or government agency in the Delaware Quality Award competition of 1999. Not one of the highest awards. The highest! I want to recognize Director Bill Remington and a delegation of his division employees for a job very well done.
We're just getting started in this new world of e-government, too. Later this year, I want our citizens to be able to visit a Division of Motor Vehicle website at their convenience -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- to renew their driver's license, register a vehicle -- even to apply for a vanity license plate -- all without leaving the comfort of their homes.
I want every Delawarean to be able to go to the Department of Election's website to find out where to vote, get personalized directions on how to get there, and see who will be on the ballot when they do.
I want Delawareans to be able to go to our Natural Resources' website to get a fishing license, a hunting license and other permits -- any time of the day or night. These are just some of the ways we can make it easier for our citizens to get government services when they need them.
Before we're done, I want Delaware to lead this nation in harnessing technology to enable this government to provide our customers with service that's second to none in America. And, ladies and gentlemen, we can do that!
To provide the legal framework for e-government in Delaware, I'll ask you to pass legislation that allows the use of digital signatures in facilitating these electronic transactions. That's an important step for Delaware, and I urge its quick passage. Later this month, I will announce the creation of an e-government steering committee, which will be led by our State Treasurer - - who's no stranger to technology. Their job will be to help us kick this initiative into high gear.
This year will see an increasing reliance on technology to enable people to get around in our state, too. We've learned in Delaware -- as other states and communities have learned -- that hard as we might try, building our way out of traffic congestion with more roads alone doesn't work. So we've got to work smarter, and we are.
Through DELDOT's website, motorists in New Castle County can now see real time traffic conditions before they leave home or work. Technology also enables DELDOT's new 24-hour-a-day Traffic Management Center to adjust the timing of traffic lights along the busiest roads in northern Delaware. Later this year, we'll expand those capabilities to Dover, Bethany, Fenwick, and Georgetown. By November, EZ Pass will help motorists move more conveniently from the Delaware-Maryland line, across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, through New Jersey, into New York City, up to Boston and back again. All without stopping to pay a single cash toll. That's not all that's coming, either.
In a few weeks, DELDOT's round-the-clock radio traffic information station hits the airways.
And later this spring, a new commuter train station will open at Churchman's Crossing. It will allow passengers disembarking from southeastern Pennsylvania, Claymont, Wilmington, and Newark to take an easy shuttle ride to the nearby Del Tech campus, major employment sites, Christiana Care hospital and tax-free shopping malls, while leaving their cars at home.
All of this is not to suggest that we've given up on building roads. Far from it.
Before this year is out, many Delawareans will notice that their state's road system is working much better. Major construction projects like Route 896, Scarborough Road in Dover, the Bridgeville bypass, I-495 reconstruction, Ogletown Road, and Churchman's Crossing - all talked about for years - are done. The third leg of the largest highway construction project in Delaware history - SR 1 - opened in November. Puncheon Run, the leg connecting SR 1 to Rt. 13 just south of here will be completed by year's end. Construction on the final six-mile leg of SR 1 begins in March.
Meanwhile, reconstruction of I-95 between Wilmington and the Pennsylvania line also begins this spring. By the middle of October, that entire stretch of road -- both northbound and southbound -- which is now an embarrassment to our state -- will have been "rubblized," reconstructed and repaved. And, shortly after that I-95 project gets underway, the first piece of the AstraZeneca-related improvements to Route 202 will be done. The most accident-prone stretch of highway in Delaware will be one step closer to becoming a safe, efficient thoroughfare once again.
By the time we ring in another new year, 90 percent of Delaware's 1,300 bridges and 85 percent of nearly 6,000 miles of roadways will be in good to excellent condition. Will the job be done? No, but from where we started, we'll have come a long way in bringing our roads and up to snuff for the 21st Century, and that my friends, is something to cheer about!
Investing wisely in our state's transportation system will do more than enable us to get to where we need to go when we need to get there. Those investments also drive many of the land-use decisions that we'll make now and in this Century.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
Last month, after two years of difficult and sometimes tumultuous debate, our Cabinet Committee on State Planning -- ably led by my Chief of Staff Jeff Bullock -- adopted Delaware's first comprehensive statewide investment strategy. For the first time in our history, agreement has been reached between the state and each of our counties about where growth should occur and when it should happen.
This investment strategy will guide our state spending recommendations for transportation, open space and agland preservation, water and wastewater investments, school construction, and other areas.
Over the next few years, as counties revise their comprehensive plans, we need to more clearly define growth areas. By doing so, we can better target our resources and further reduce the amount of open space and farmland that's lost to unnecessary sprawl.
And one more thing: The time has come for greater legislative involvement in these smart-growth policies. Administrations will come and go. If state government is to fulfill its land-use responsibilities in the future, the General Assembly must be a full partner. We've now created an important blueprint, but it will be left largely up to those of you in our legislature to study it, improve it, and make its priorities a reality.
One area of smart growth where the legislature has already made its mark is investing in open spaces and preserving farmland. During this Administration alone, over a quarter-billion dollars have been earmarked for these two important programs. Next week, I'll propose investing an additional $10 million for farmland preservation and open space programs. The results can be seen throughout our state. Delaware has the highest rate of agland preservation on a per capita basis of any state in America. One of our latest open space acquisitions -- the largest in state history -- will preserve over 8,500 acres in the Nanticoke River Watershed. This natural treasure is an extraordinary gift for the ages. It also provides an important environmental buffer for the pristine Nanticoke. On behalf of future generations, I want to stop for a moment and thank everyone who worked so hard to make this purchase a reality.
One of the great environmental challenges that awaits the next Administration and the next General Assembly is the full implementation of the Clean Water Act. In my proposed budget for next year, I will recommend $10 million, on top of the $50 million we've allocated over the past 5 years, to help replenish the water and wastewater fund. Doing so will enable communities to continue working to meet the stringent requirements of this federal law and, more importantly, better ensure the availability of clean water for Delawareans as this Century unfolds.
The other big water issue facing our state can be addressed even more quickly. During two of the past five summers, Delaware has been hit with prolonged drought. The drought of 1999 was even called the Drought of the Century.
During both of these droughts, some parts of our state, particularly in northern Delaware, faced water shortages that resulted in drought emergencies and mandatory conservation. Some water providers simply couldn't keep up with demand during these long dry periods, largely because they rely too heavily on surface water -- rivers and streams - to supply their customers.
To guard against future drought emergencies, I'll propose legislation that will give the Public Service Commission new regulatory authority. The PSC would require water providers who want to maintain or expand their service areas to clearly demonstrate that they have adequate capacity to meet demand -- even during a prolonged drought -- and without waiving environmental protections or water quality standards.
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen -- a cleaner environment, plentiful water, agland and open space better preserved, smarter land-use strategies, an improving transportation system, safer neighborhoods, record levels of homeownership, expanded healthcare, effective management of taxpayers' dollars, and a job for everyone who wants one. Together, they represent a legacy that all of us have worked diligently to build and will continue to build as this year unfolds.
RAISING STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
But we're not done yet. Finishing our work on improving Delaware's schools is the most important task before us. And how well we do in this area may have more to do with the quality of life of our children and grandchildren than all of our other good work combined.
At the dawn of the last Century, the ability of many Delawareans to find work depended largely on the strength of their backs. At the dawn of this Century, that ability will rely largely on the strength of our minds. When Governor Castle and Lt. Governor Wolf handed over the reins of leadership to Lt. Governor Minner and me, Delaware was preparing to take a new course in the education of our children. It was one which recognized that if our children are to lead successful, productive lives in the future, then we must dramatically improve the quality of the education they receive in our schools today.
That revelation also has occurred in many states across America. Seven years ago, no state had adopted rigorous academic standards of what students were expected to know and do in subjects like math, science, English and social studies. Today, 45 states have adopted such standards.
Seven years ago, no states were administering tests to measure student progress against academic standards. Today, half of all states administer such tests.
And seven years ago, no state had put in place systems attempting to hold parents, politicians, students or schools accountable for improving student performance. Today, one-third of the states have put such systems in place.
Delaware is doing all of these things, and with the passage of SB260, we will have put in place one of the most comprehensive, promising and fairest education systems in America.
You may recall that Delaware adopted its own academic standards in 1995. The State Board of Education then urged Delaware's schools and school districts to begin modifying their curriculum and lesson plans to reflect those new standards. Some schools and school districts went to work on it, and some did not. We began testing in 1998. The initial results were largely disappointing. More encouraging was that from 1998 to 1999, third and fifth graders began showing improvement. I'm confident that this spring's tests will reveal even more improvement.
As the day of real consequences for students approaches in Delaware and in other states across America, the call has been heard to delay those consequences, to lower academic standards, or even to abandon them altogether. On this point, let me be clear. The states that lower or abandon their standards do so at their own peril. They put at risk their economic future and the future of their children. States that take either of those steps effectively abandon many of their young people to lives of unfulfilled promise, while assuring many of their employers a workforce that will not enable them to effectively compete in the 21st Century. While it's acceptable to pull back a bit on the throttle in the months ahead, and we will, we must not turn from the course we undertook over seven years ago, and I am confident that we will not.
Our real goal in setting high standards, measuring progress, and holding everyone accountable is to make sure that all Delaware students have a real chance of meeting those standards. Because children can absorb vast amounts of information when they're quite young, it's important that we begin their education at the beginning of their lives. In Delaware, we do. The key to a child getting off to a good start is making sure that parents are prepared to be an effective first teacher for their young children.
No state is doing more than Delaware to prepare parents to meet their responsibilities. Home visits for first time parents. This nationally acclaimed, "Growing Together" portfolio for all new parents. A continuum of parenting training that's mandatory for those on welfare and available to inmate parents in every Delaware prison. Parents as Teachers in each of our counties. Child care assistance for families with incomes up to 200 percent of poverty. Head Start for every 4-year-old living in poverty.
The investments in the future of our children continue throughout their school careers. We've lowered class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, and capped class sizes for core academic subjects at those grade levels. We provide an extra 20 instructional days for a third of all K-12 students. Every public school classroom is wired for access to the Internet. Delaware has the lowest ratio of students to computers in America. We invest generously in the professional development of our teachers. Disruption prevention programs are in every public school. Some 10,000 mentors volunteer in our schools. A higher percentage of families exercise public school choice here than in any other state. Charter schools operate in each county and more are on the way.
Next week, I'll propose investing nearly $100 million in new money for school construction to help bring our schools into the 21st Century. We are doing all of these things to make sure that our kids have every opportunity to succeed in school and be prepared to lead productive lives.
Last year, I proposed one final piece of this legacy to help our children succeed in this new Century -- educator accountability -- to go along with the accountability measures that we've already adopted for parents, politicians, students, schools, and school districts. I did so because no part of either a teacher's or an administrator's annual evaluation in Delaware reflects whether students are making academic progress - objectively measured - in a classroom or a school from year to year. Delaware isn't alone, either. The same situation exists in almost every other state.
Under SB260, that will change in Delaware. This proposal, the product of months of deliberations and debate, is fair to educators and gives them a real voice in the future of their profession.
Most of all, the legislation will help kids learn by helping the professionals who teach them. We know that, besides their parents, the people who have the biggest impact on our children's education are their teachers. I'm proud of Delaware's teachers. I'm especially proud that this school year saw 21 Delaware teachers become nationally-certified -- the most in state history and the most of any state in our region. One of Delaware's 39 nationally-certified teachers is with us today, one-time Delaware Teacher of the Year, Milford High's Mercedes Ferrari. Please join me in welcoming her and in saluting the many Delaware teachers who share her commitment to excellence and to our children.
The compromise that has been reached on SB260, both on educator and student accountability, did not come easily. Then again, these aren't easy issues. While this compromise may not completely please everyone, including me, it does make clear that this General Assembly is serious about continuing to improve our education system in ways that are fair to our children, to educators, to parents, and to taxpayers.
I congratulate our legislative leaders for their hard work in helping to forge this compromise. And I congratulate, as well, our state's teachers, the business community, the PTA, our State Board of Education, and many others who have not wavered in their commitment to raising student achievement.
Now that the Senate has done its duty and passed this important legislation unanimously, I ask the House to do the same, and to do it soon. The rancor and uncertainty that has gripped our education system must end. It is time for this governor and the General Assembly, along with teachers and administrators, including our state's 19 superintendents, to come together and move our public schools forward. I hope you agree. Now, let's finish the job we've begun!
Well, today I have described to you many of our shared accomplishments over the past seven years, and quite a list of things that must still be done.
But before I close out this State of the State address, I want to acknowledge once again the enduring partnership this Administration has had with this General Assembly and the three that preceded it.
We have had our differences over the years, but we have never lost sight of our common goal -- to do what's best for Delaware. Whether its improving our schools, or any of the dozens of challenges that come with each year, we've never let our differences keep us divided for long.
In the end, as Bert Carvel can tell you, that's what makes this state work so well. And it is this same uncommon tradition to do what's right for Delaware that allows us to embrace a new Century strong and confident of our future.
One hundred years from now a new generation of legislators and Delawareans will sit where you sit today and a new Governor will stand here at this podium. Very likely, they will marvel at the changes to Delaware which the 21st Century will have brought about. But as they gather here at the turn of the next Century, what will they say of us? What will they say of us?
I believe they'll say we laid the foundation which enabled Delaware to achieve a quality of life and a nobility of purpose for which future generations were grateful.
I believe they'll say we often set the standard against which other states would be measured. And I believe they'll say our commitment to excellence and to opportunity served as a lasting inspiration to those who followed us.
But, if they don't say those things, I hope Bert Carvel, Tina Fallon and Charlie West will be here to set them straight!
In this new millennium, may God continue to bless both Delaware and the people who make her great. Thank you very much!