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Inspector General Will Bring Transparency to Delaware Government

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

The operation of our state government can be complex, confusing, even overwhelming, if you are not directly involved in the day-to-day development and implementation of the expenditures. But there are some basic standards that government should meet in making sure the public is informed about the priorities of their leaders and the way the public’s funds are being spent.  Transparency and accountability are the hallmarks of a government of good integrity.

That is lacking in Delaware today.  Even with regard to how much money the state will spend this year, we are not getting the full story.  The Governor proposed a budget of about $8 million, and the Joint Finance Committee recently released an operating budget of $6.1 million. There are some capital expenditures and financial support for non-profits that will be added. But that is not the entire story.

You may have heard about the more than $4 billion dollars Delaware spent in surplus funds in the past three years, provided by the federal government, largely due to Covid funds.  But Covid did not begin the provision of federal supplements, and they will not end when the Covid funds run out (we are spending the last of them now). According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, Delaware actually spent between $7 and $10 billion more than our “budget” each year since 2019.

And recently we learned that we have not accounted for, or spent, all those funds wisely or appropriately.  Were you aware that nearly $200,000 was embezzled from our state unemployment insurance funds? Neither were the State Auditor or law enforcement.  For over a year, no information was provided by the agency about the loss.  The facts only surfaced when an auditing firm advised they could not perform an audit because the accounting of the funds was in such disarray

In its annual report, Truth In Accounting, which evaluates the 50 states’ financial transparency and scores each state, awarded Delaware 74 out of 100 points, and ranked our state 26th. The Report found that a factor in that ranking was failure to accurately state our assets and liabilities.

If we count on the government “players” to let us know what is going on, we will not learn the facts. We need to have an independent, non -partisan Office of Inspector General (OIG).  According to a report by WHYY, such a concept has been the subject of discussion since 2007.  Amid great fanfare, a bill was introduced to establish such an office. The bill stated that the “sole mission [will be] to investigate and prevent fraud, waste, mismanagement, corruption, and other abuse of governmental resources. The OIG will “protect the health and safety of Delaware residents, assist in the recovery of misspent or inappropriately paid funds, and strengthen government integrity and the public trust in government operations.” That bill has stalled.

You may think that the State Auditor would take care of finding the mismanagement abuse or fraud in the state agencies. After all, the mission of that Office is to provide evaluation of the state’s fiscal accountability and public program performance. But historically, there has been consistent reluctance to share information with our State Auditor when discrepancies are discovered Given that the agencies have not shared information as appropriate with the Auditor, an independent non-partisan position of Inspector General is needed in Delaware, which will have the ability to investigate and issue subpoenas for information relevant to their duties. We urge you to contact your legislator and tell them you want them to vote for SS1 for SB21, the Office of Inspector General.

Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.

 

 

Delaware: No Longer the First State

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

The Urban Institute publishes the State Economic Monitor that tracks and analyzes economic trends at the state level.  Recently they published the numbers relating to state gross domestic product.  You may recall, from previous newsletters, that the gross domestic product is the value of the goods and services Delaware businesses produce. For the fourth quarter of 2023, Delaware was dead last. Not only was Delaware last in the nation, but Delaware was also the only state in the country in which the gross domestic product decreased. Every other state in the country grew their productivity in the fourth quarter of 2023.

So, what does that decrease in gross domestic product portend for the state’s economic future? Well, our state’s budget (spending) depends on revenue from business and personal taxes, as well as fees imposed for such things as auto inspections, real estate transfers, etc.  When business isn’t producing and growing, and is shrinking, fewer taxes are owed, fewer employees are paid, and the expectation of future revenue is placed in jeopardy.

Our economic productivity has not improved in some time. Our GDP was expected to remain static before the pandemic, and since, it has repeatedly declined. That reality did not stop Governor Carney from recommending, just a few months ago, a budget with an increase of over 8% in spending.  And among the candidates for governor in this year’s election are several who propose significantly more spending.

Delaware has been on a spending spree that is not supported by our revenue. During the past three years, Delaware has spent nearly $4 billion in surplus money we received because of the federal government’s excessive granting of funds during the Covid pandemic. Indeed, some of the funds for the expanded budget the Governor just recommended comes from residual federal funds.  Much of that federal money went to new programs, or the expansion of some, such as unemployment and Medicaid eligibility, which remain in effect. However, the federal money is now gone, and state revenue will be required to support those programs. That revenue simply is not likely to be there.

To his credit, Governor Carney has supported the Smoothing Fund, which is a stabilization fund into which the government has placed money to help the state through difficult economic times. He did so in the face of opposition from his own party. That program is established by Executive Order.  Governor Carney ‘s legacy to our future financial stability as a state should be to present that concept to the General Assembly in the form of a bill, and secure its passage, before he leaves office.

Much of our state revenue comes from the fees and taxes corporations pay to be incorporated in Delaware.  Many of them do not do business here, but we benefit from their choice of incorporation state.  Recent events threaten that revenue as well. You may have read that Elon Musk moved his corporation from Delaware as a result of some court decisions and the eroding business climate in Delaware.  Additionally, the passage of a bill creating government oversight of hospital budgets – private business entities – has the legal community abuzz with concern about for businesses being subjected to government oversight in order to do business with the government. And concerns even go beyond those which actually do business with the State, to those which choose to incorporate here.

The purported purpose of the oversight bill was to try to cut the cost of health care expenses the State incurs.  The intrusion into private fiscal operations is unprecedented (except for a plan in Vermont that, according to nearly all accounts is failing miserably).  The impact on business and our corporate revenue has not yet been felt, but concern is high.

The answer, of course, is to cut costs if they are not sustainable. The State seems unable to even contemplate that course. Incredibly, at the same hearing at which funding was approved for the previously mentioned oversight committee, the same legislators voted to expand Medicaid coverage and eliminated co-pays for state-insured patients for certain health services.

And, the State has failed to pass on increases in costs to those insured under State plans.  Failure to do so responsibly and periodically has resulted in opposition to huge increases of 25% or more in a single charge. The State owes it to the employees and other insured to be transparent and share the increases fairly.  Everyone understands there are increases in costs for every product and service, and while no one likes to pay more, the reality is they do, every day, everything else.

The state cannot sustain the spending it has incurred with decreasing revenues.  The Governor and the General Assembly need to take a close look at how and where they are spending our money and make some responsible decisions. That is only fair, after all. That is what they expect of the rest of us.

Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Strong Readers in Delaware: Applying the Science of Reading

By: Dr. Tanya Hettler, PhD, Center for Education Policy

In 2022, Delaware passed HB 304, which has been called the Science of Reading Bill. This legislation mandates three annual screenings each year in kindergarten through third grade to look for students at risk for developing reading difficulties. It requires districts and charter schools to provide literacy interventions to students with a potential reading deficiency from a list maintained by the Delaware Department of Education. This is a commendable effort to address Delaware’s literacy crisis, but more must be done.
With only 41% of Delaware students reading proficiently, merely identifying students once they begin to struggle with reading is not sufficient. The majority of Delaware students are struggling to read. Therefore, we must use an evidence-based reading curriculum to teach early literacy to all students, and this instruction must be done proactively from day one in kindergarten. If we wait until reading problems are detected, it will be too late.
The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development’s research on reading has consistently shown that the “Science of Reading,” which includes phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, is essential for developing strong literacy skills. By teaching these principles to all students, we can prevent deficiencies rather than try to fix them after they develop. Once students learn the wrong way of “reading,” it is extremely difficult to correct it.
Over the past several decades, most students in teacher preparation programs were taught that students can read without explicit instruction. Strategies such as “whole language” or “balanced literacy” instruction were being taught. These methods, which encourage children to figure out how to read by looking at books and guessing what the words are rather than sounding them out, actually impede students’ ability to learn to read.
In fact, brain researchers have found that the neural pathways in the brain that allow students to read do not exist in the pre-literate brain and, thus, must be built through explicit instruction and much practice. Learning to read is an extremely complicated activity, and we have been doing teachers a disservice by not educating them on how to teach reading and doing students a disservice by not giving them systematic and explicit reading instruction.
Additionally, there is a short timeframe in which reading skills must be taught correctly to ensure students can read efficiently and with comprehension. Waiting to see if students will develop reading problems is not an effective way of providing early literacy instruction.
I applaud Delaware legislators and the Governor for passing a Science of Reading Bill. But I also urge the Delaware Department of Education, teacher colleges, districts, and schools to ensure that teachers learn how to teach reading based on the science of reading to all students in their classes from day one. Current teachers must be re-taught how to teach students based on empirical evidence that requires systematic and explicit reading instruction. By doing this, we can ensure that every student, regardless of their initial proficiency, receives the quality education they deserve.
This will have a profound impact on the percentage of Delaware students who can perform at grade level on tests of reading proficiency. Substantial evidence indicates that this is especially crucial for students who have not been exposed to many books at home and thus have yet to begin to make the connections between letters and sounds.
A thorough implementation of the science of reading for all students should be the goal of our state education system. Implementing these changes will not only improve literacy rates but will also equip our students with the skills necessary for future success. Teaching educators how to teach reading based on the science of reading will lead to Delaware students experiencing greater success in school, which will lay the foundation for higher learning and career success and lead to a more successful and productive populace.