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Blogs and Articles

The Discipline Crisis in Schools Has Serious Consequences

By Beth Conaway, Advisory Board Member, A Better Delaware

Public schools ensure that all students have access to a free education. As a result, they are the cornerstone of America’s future. However, our public schools are facing unprecedented challenges with teacher shortages, academic achievement, and negative school environments. Current school discipline practices play a huge role in these challenges.

Prior to Covid, schools began introducing administrators and teachers to the concept of restorative practices. Restorative practices attempt to strengthen relationships between teachers/students and student/student. Popular examples of restorative processes include affective statements (telling a person how you feel) community-building circles, small impromptu conferencing, and setting classroom agreements or norms. (Panorama Eduction Services). Teachers and administrators are trained that for students impacted by trauma and toxic stress, consequences that are not exclusionary or disciplinary in the traditional manner can be more effective in changing the behavior. Trauma based discipline states that the response or intervention for a misbehaving student needs to focus on the specific student’s needs and base the consequence on an incrementally more punitive rubric or leveled response to behaviors. The idea is to seek out the intervention that will change the behavior, not simply automatically assigning a specific response from a predetermined menu.

However, the idea of consequences and disciplinary actions changed along with the introduction of restorative practices. For example, a school may determine that a student is acting out to get attention, so rather than remove the student” to give them what he/she wants” the principal will keep the child in the classroom with or without additional adult support. In a second scenario, when a student is violent or extremely disruptive, an administrator is often brought into the classroom while the teacher takes the rest of the class out of the room. A third common scenario is that the disruptive student is removed for a short time with the administrator to participate in restorative practices and then is immediately brought back to the classroom.

There are several negative results of these actions when done without consequences.

  1. Loss of instructional time for all students leading to poorer achievement.
  2. Stress and anxiety for teachers leading to burnout and lack of teacher retention.
  3. Lack of instructional support from administrators to teachers as they deal with misbehavior rather than supporting the teachers in their instruction.
  4. An increased lack of respect from students to teachers and other students.

Students dealing with trauma and mental health needs are real. However, without disciplinary actions that support teachers and the other students in the classroom, the joy and excitement about teaching and learning will continue to erode. What began as regular instances of students cussing out teachers or acting in deliberate insubordination has escalated to a scenario where teachers are just trying to put out “bigger fires” or prevent them from occurring rather than being able to teach.

As a result, alternative classrooms, environments, and additional mental health supports need to be available to schools to give all students the supportive learning environment essential to their success.

Beth Conaway is a former teacher, who served for 8 years as Principal of the Morris Early Childhood Center and then as Principal of Milton Elementary School for 5 years. She retired aft4r 31 years in the Delaware public school system. She currently teaches graduate courses at the University of the Cumberlands and volunteers in the Indian River School District.

 

Parents Deserve a Choice About Where Their Child Attends School

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

The government doesn’t tell you where to get your car fixed or where to buy your groceries, but they do tell you where you have to send your child to school. 

Just for a moment, let’s suppose the government did tell you where to get your groceries, and they assigned you to a grocery store that, when you came to shop, only had 8% of what you wanted to buy in stock. You would probably say “I want to go over there and buy food in the store that has what my kids and I want to eat.” The government will tell you, “You are assigned to the store with the 8% rating, but if you ask a certain other store’s permission and they let you come, then we will let you.” But, of course, the better stores all have a waiting list, so you are stuck getting less than you want and need.

Like that result? Of course not. But that is what is happening to your children. If your child is assigned to Bancroft School, according to the Delaware Department of Education, only 6% can read at grade level, and only 3% are at grade level in math.  Those results are equally unacceptable. The only option to try to get your child in a better school is to ask another public school if your child can transfer in. And the better performing schools mostly have waiting lists.

Historically, the answers from the government to “fix” education are to spend more money, hire more paraprofessionals or reduce class size. None of these appears to be the issue. If you look at where the highest expenditures per student are, more money is spent in the poorest performing schools. Again, according to the Department of Education, Warner School spends a little over $30,000 per student, as compared to the average of approximately $17,000, statewide. Warner also has a teacher- student ratio of 12-1. Yet the test scores for Warner show less than 5% of students are performing at grade level in both math and English. Clearly, the same old answers are not working.

Just like when they choose where to go grocery shopping, parents should be able to choose the best school for their child – public, private, or parochial (that is, a school with a religious affiliation). The government denies them that option right now. Unless you have the financial resources to escape these poor performing schools, you are stuck with less than what you want for your kids and what they deserve.

Because of a law passed many decades ago, Delaware taxpayer funds cannot be used to send a child to a private or parochial school. However, there is an alternative. A Better Delaware supports a program, modeled after one in Pennsylvania, that will provide businesses and individuals with a tax credit for a percentage of the amount they donate to an education scholarship fund run by a not-for-profit organization. Those donated monies can then be used by children who live in poverty or are assigned to attend poor performing schools to pay tuition at the private or parochial school of their choice. Pennsylvania has a limit of $125 million in tax credits each year. The concept is so popular, there is a waiting list to donate. We support introducing legislation to adopt that plan in Delaware. Imagine how many Delaware students those scholarships would help to get a better education.

The ability to read, make calculations and communicate effectively, with a sound vocabulary and good grammar skills, is critical to personal growth and future academic and economic success. Imagine the transformation of the futures of the children who could access these scholarships. All of Delaware would benefit, because businesses looking to locate here could have more confidence in our state’s workforce, and the skills available here. 

Some elected officials in Delaware don’t support school choice – they want to give districts or teachers more money. The Department of Education’s own website proves that does not work. You now know that doesn’t work. 

Parents need to stand up and demand a better education for their children, so that they can enjoy the economic prosperity that will come with it. School choice is the answer. Our children deserve better. So, when those elected officials ask for your vote, you tell them, “This year, I am voting for my kids. Give me a choice so they have a chance.” 

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

Parents Have Rights and Responsibilities in Their Child’s Education

By Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

Parents have the fundamental right and responsibility for the care, custody, and control of their children. So embedded in this concept in our society, that there are laws that impose liability on parents for failing to care for, or control, their child. Importantly, this includes a parent’s right to make decisions regarding educational issues.

The recent report on student assessment, which shows many students in Delaware performing at less than 50% of grade level competency, underscores the need to help our children do better educationally. A cooperative relationship between the schools and parents, built on transparency, is essential to provide quality education for the children of Delaware.

Parents, guardians, and the public should have access to all important and relevant information regarding our public schools. House Bill 326 proposed by State Representative Charlie Postles, who previously served as President of the Milford School Board, that would require that such information be made available through a school website portal. The portal would include public access to:

1) A syllabus for each instructional course.

2) Access to, and a description of, instructional materials, textbooks, and digital resources that educators plan to utilize in each instructional course.

3) The school’s policy on how information is communicated to parents, guardians, and the public about violent incidents occurring at the school.

4) What health care services are offered at the school and how parental and guardian notification and consent are handled regarding these services.

All schools would be required to have a procedure for parents to withdraw their child from any specific instruction the parent objects to their child receiving. The school would have to make reasonable arrangements to provide alternative educational activities to the child. School personnel would be prevented from imposing a penalty upon a child who is withdrawn from instruction to which the parents object. Parents would be provided access to all written and electronic recordings concerning the parent’s child that are controlled by a district or anyone authorized to provide services to students.

Finally, a process for filing, reviewing, and appealing a complaint made by a parent, which is essential, is provided for. It is the parent’s right and responsibility to develop and embrace those family values of faith, work ethic, responsibility, and discipline that will prepare their child for success in school as well as in life. What a child is told in school and how they are taught should not be kept from those most responsible for their child – the parents.

We at A Better Delaware support the concepts represented in this legislation and encourage the General Assembly to address the issue of parents’ access to information about their child’s academic and social experience at school.

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

Are your children getting the education you’re paying for?

By: Dr. Tanya Hettler

Delaware’s terrible scores on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been big news since its release last fall. Delaware ranked 47th in the country with the 4th worst overall test scores when averaging math and reading for both 4th and 8th graders.

Fourth and eighth grade are both important years in school. It is generally accepted that students learn to read from kindergarten to third grade. From third grade on, students read to learn. And if students cannot read by 8th grade, they will not make it through high school.

The 2022 NAEP scores reflect a sharp drop from the 2019 scores (the last uninterrupted school year before COVID-19 closures and remote learning). In fact, Delaware had the largest decline in the country in test scores over the COVID-19 period. And these decreases were just an acceleration of a negative trend that began in 2013.

The declines are not due to a lack of school funding. In fact, Delaware boasts the 10th highest per-pupil spending in the country.

In the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from 2020, Delaware ranked 13th in the nation in education spending increases from 2002-2020. The Delaware per-pupil spending increased 29% from $13,387 to $17,235 (inflation-adjusted).

A Closer Look into Delaware’s Education Spending

Table 1 below is a closer look at Delaware’s education spending increases over the 18 years from 2002-2020. Student enrollment only increased by 11%. Yet, every area of spending increased at a significantly higher rate except for teacher salaries.

Table 1:  Delaware’s Educational Spending Increases from 2002-2020 (inflation-adjusted).

 

 

Even more shocking is that when we look at education expenses in 2002, we find that Delaware already spent significantly more on education than most other states.

As is evident from this data, Delaware is in the top 10 for education spending in the country. Yet our students continue to perform at the bottom compared to all other states. This is unacceptable! We are failing our students. It is time for a comprehensive upgrade of Delaware’s education system to improve our students’ success.

The generous funds our schools receive from Delaware taxpayers need to be reallocated from excessive administration spending toward teachers’ salaries, with a special focus on starting salaries and hiring new teachers. Across the country, there are twice as many non-educators in schools than educators, and this ratio may be even worse in Delaware. Reallocating funds to teachers will allow for better teacher-to-student ratios and enable schools to hire and retain good teachers. Improved educational outcomes will follow.

 

Dr. Tanya Hettler is the Director of the Center of Education Excellence at the Caesar Rodney Institute and the author of “Nary the Right Whale: Help Save Nary and His Friends.”

A Requiem for the EV Mandate

Mark Twain was once quoted as saying, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Unfortunately, the same can be said of the electric vehicle (EV) mandate in Delaware as I have heard several Republicans comment that they have won the fight.

After the GOP held five town hall meetings to foster a discussion of the EV mandate with Secretary Garvin of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Dave Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute, myself, and the Republicans initiated two bills to attempt to stop the DNREC Secretary from unilaterally adopting the California standards regarding restriction of the sale of fossil-fuel-powered cars and trucks.

The first, Senate Bill 96 (SB96), would have prohibited the DNREC Secretary from adopting California’s rules to decrease slowly the proportion of gas-powered vehicles delivered to automobile dealers to zero by 2035.  SB96 was proposed by Senator Brian Pettyjohn and co-sponsored by every Republican in the House and the Senate.  The bill was introduced on April 19 but was tabled by the Environment, Energy & Transportation Committee in the Senate and, thus, was never voted upon.

A second bill was proposed by House Minority Leader Michael Ramone and would require DNREC to pause application of the California Air Quality Regulations in Delaware until a report of their fiscal impacts on Delaware could be obtained.  Thus, this bill would require any EV mandate be approved by the General Assembly.  As with SB96, House Resolution 17 (HR17) had co-sponsorship from every Republican member of the House.  HR17 was introduced into the House on June 22 and enjoyed bi-partisan support with all Republicans and two Democrats voting for the bill.  Nevertheless, HR17 was defeated by a vote of 22-to-17 that same day.

Some saw the EV mandate as having nothing to do with the State’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50% in less than 6½ years (i.e., by 2030) and becoming ‘net-zero’ (i.e., no net greenhouse gas emissions from the State) by 2050 in a vain attempt to minimize global climate change; rather, this simply was an issue where rules affecting people’s lives were being made by an unelected governmental official (i.e., the Secretary of DNREC) rather than the State legislature.  Those who held this view must be pleasantly surprised, even though SB96 and HR17 went unenacted.  Why?

Because another bill passed with bipartisan support.  House Bill 99, better known as The Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act of 2023, “establishes a statutory target of greenhouse gas emissions reductions over the medium and long term to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on the State”.[1]  Moreover, HB99 “creates climate change officers in certain key cabinet-level departments who will assist DNREC in the ongoing implementation of the Climate Action Plan [and] requires State agencies to consider climate change in decision-making, rulemaking, and procurement”.[2] HB99 passed the House 27-to-13 and in the Senate by 15-to-5.  In the House, bi-partisan support for HB99 was afforded by GOP Representatives Hensley and Smith who both voted in favor of the Climate Change Solutions Act.  An amendment specifically to require that “this chapter does not confer authority to State agencies to promulgate or amend regulations” [3] was rejected in the House on a pure party vote of 15-to-25.

What does this mean for Delaware and its EV mandate?  Delaware’s Climate Action Plan notes that the largest in-state source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the transportation sector at 61%.  Thus, if the State is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in just 6½ years, there must be an EV mandate.  But the Climate Change Solutions Act of 2023 authorizes DNREC to implement the State’s Climate Action Plan and it requires State agencies to take the initiative to consider climate change in all that they do.  Moreover, it expands the bureaucracy by creating a cadre of ‘climate change officers’ across the Executive Branch to assist DNREC in its implementation of the Climate Action Plan.  And all this transfer of power to the various state agencies was afforded by a vote of the State legislature which has granted DNREC the power that the opposition to the EV mandate sought to squelch.

Still not convinced?  Consider House Bills 10 and 12 (HB10 and HB12).  HB10 establishes targets for converting all school buses in the State to electric vehicles.  HB12 creates an Electric Vehicle Rebate Program to encourage Delaware residents to purchase and lease new and used electric vehicles, with standards and procedures to be developed by DNREC.  And Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 103 (SS1) requires that all new construction of single-family and multi-family residences must include electric vehicle charging infrastructure by providing county and municipal government enforcement.  SS1 expires only when the Secretary of DNREC advises the legislature that the Delaware Administrative Code has been updated to match or exceed these standards.  Moreover, if the single-family dwelling does not have a garage, attached or detached, “an electric vehicle capable parking space must be provided in the driveway, assigned parking space for the dwelling, or at an unassigned non-street residential parking space constructed as part of the project”.[4]  These three bills passed with only support from Democratic legislators (although Senator Buckson voted for HB12) although various Democrats did join the Republicans in their opposition.  And all three bills cited mitigating the State’s carbon footprint and its concomitant climate change as the reason for these actions.

The Delaware legislature is foolish if it thinks that the EV mandate will cause anything more than economic hardship for our citizens.  While the state makes it increasingly expensive for Delawareans to heat and cool our homes, cook food, and get around, China is building the equivalent of two new coal-fired power plants per week.[5] Delaware’s electric vehicle mandate will have no effect on the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, in light of the increase in carbon dioxide being emitted by China’s coal-based power plants.  Thus, Delaware’s legislators make our energy unaffordable while China enjoys inexpensive energy from coal.

So, to modify a line from Francis Pharcellus Church’s editorial, “Yes, Delaware, there IS an Electric Vehicle Mandate.”  And expect natural gas appliances and fireplaces, as well as fertilizer, to be under attack in subsequent legislative sessions because, despite objections to the contrary, the legislature is attempting to save our State from climate change.  The only thing they have achieved is making our state unaffordable and stripping choice from Delawareans. We should not stand for it.

 

David R. Legates, Ph.D., is a retired Professor of Climatology and Geography/Spatial Analysis at the University of Delaware and is Director of Research and Education for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He serves on the ABD Board of Advisors.

 

[1] https://legis.delaware.gov/BillDetail/130272

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://legis.delaware.gov/BillDetail/140422

[5] https://www.npr.org/2023/03/02/1160441919/china-is-building-six-times-more-new-coal-plants-than-other-countries-report-fin

Bureaucracy in Charge?

By Jane Brady, Co-Chair

Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 (that is, unanimously) that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) need not notify individuals whose financial records the government was going to access and review, if they were looking for monies owed by a delinquent taxpayer. The case was brought by the wife of a delinquent taxpayer and several law firms with which that individual did business. The Court rejected an argument that the government had to show that the delinquent taxpayer had some legal interest in the funds that the government was seeking to examine.

Why did this happen? Because the Congress passed a law that gave broad authority to the IRS, and therefore, the Court was “without jurisdiction” to impose any showing beyond what the statute required.

Similar, and equally unfair, circumstances have occurred in Delaware recently. Like Congress, the General Assembly has given away too much of its authority. During the Covid shut down, the Governor unilaterally, without any vote of the General Assembly, continued the declaration of emergency for over a year and a half. Many members of the General Assembly, both Republican and Democrat, wanted a say on behalf of their constituents regarding the extent and duration of that shut down.  But, without new legislation and affirmative effort, they were prohibited from any such vote. Why? Because the authority they gave to the Governor in the law upon which he was relying was so broad.

More recently, with regard to the electric vehicle mandate, the General Assembly had previously given broad authority to the Department of Natural Resources (DNREC) to make decisions about the implementation of regulations to achieve emission objectives. Now, DNREC, against the overwhelming opposition of Delaware citizens, and despite many members of the General Assembly opposing the mandate, seems prepared to impose strict regulations, forcing the sale of electric vehicles and, ultimately, prohibiting the sale of gas powered vehicles in Delaware.  Again, this action by DNREC, a government agency, is being taken without a vote by members of the General Assembly, who are to represent Delaware’s citizens.

It is time for Congress and the Delaware General Assembly to review legislation that has given the bureaucracies of government authority without the peoples’ representatives having a say in the adoption and implementation of policy.  It is time that the General Assembly and Congress return the power to the people – the people they represent. There is no accountability for the bureaucrats and their decisions without legislative oversight.

 

Delaware’s economy is shrinking, but it does not have to

By Jane Brady, Co-Chair

You are probably familiar with the term “gross domestic product.” That is a figure that represents the total value of the goods and services produced by businesses in a country or a state.  The gross domestic product takes into account the productivity of an economy, measured by the creation of products or services over a particular period of time. Generally speaking, that figure represents the value of the products and services to the people who created them and to those who will be using those products and services. Governments and citizens like to see the value of those products and services grow over time as the workforce increases or technology advances production.  The increase in gross domestic product reflects a growing economy, which produces more jobs, new and different products, and prosperity.

In times of inflation, however, the value of those products and services is diminished by the higher prices that people are required to pay.  The increase in price does not represent any increase in value but rather, simply the reality that consumers are paying more for the same item or service.   In those instances, there is a calculation that can be made to reflect that overpricing, resulting in a figure which is called the “real domestic product.”  That figure, then, more closely measures the economic activity of the country or state.  In times of significant inflation, that figure can sometimes even be a negative number, representing the fact that the economy, despite a larger number, is not growing but is, in fact, shrinking.

Even before the COVID pandemic, in 2019, Delaware’s economy was expected to grow at 0% – that is, we were not expected to increase our gross domestic product in the State of Delaware at all.  Pretty bleak. The reality today is much worse. When you take into account the current gross domestic product for the state of Delaware, and you include in the calculation the impact of inflation on consumers’ buying power, the real gross domestic product is down 8.7%, that is -8.7%. This figure is supported by research from the Caesar Rodney Institute and also by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, which makes calculations of gross and real domestic product for the country and each state.

The United States has the largest gross domestic product in the world. Delaware is perfectly situated geographically to be a much bigger part of our nation’s production and export story. But our state’s business policies are putting us behind.  We need leadership that is going to be creative and innovative in restoring our manufacturing base, bringing good-paying jobs back to Delaware; to look at the opportunities in the Coastal Zone to make Delaware a player in the increased interest in returning the manufacture of vital medicines and technology back to the US. And, we need to support the current reality – increasingly, most of the new businesses in Delaware are small businesses – many employing 5 or fewer people.

Delaware has a proud history of leadership in business and driving our nation’s economy.  Our objective should be to bring prosperity to Delaware families by renewing our role as a leader in the business world.

Why the EV Mandate May Occur One Way or Another

From; Ethan Lang, Executive Director

In May, the Division of Air Quality of DNREC conducted statewide hearings to discuss its ban on new internal combustion vehicles by 2035. That discussion became rather heated in town halls across the state, with citizens on both sides expressing strong views.

But despite what has been said about this issue, the electric vehicle (EV) mandate IS being forced by the effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Most people do not realize that because of this irrational focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Delaware may get an electric vehicle mandate regardless of Secretary Garvin’s decision and on a timescale much faster than in 2035. Let me explain.

Like other states, Delaware can adhere to regulations set forth by the EPA or adopt more stringent standards set forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). States may not develop their own regulations. Generally, northeastern and northwestern states adopt the CARB standards.

While the original proposition of the EV mandate was couched as an ozone-reduction measure, California notes clearly that one of the primary goals was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The press release by CARB[1] noted that:

“Transportation is the single largest source of global warming emissions and air pollution in the state … In 2040, greenhouse gas emissions from cars, pickups, and SUVs are cut in half, and from 2026 through 2040 the regulation cuts climate-warming pollution from those vehicles a cumulative total of 395 million metric tons. That is equivalent to avoiding the greenhouse gases produced from the combustion of 915 million barrels of petroleum.”

Indeed, Governor Carney’s State of the State Address[2] tied Delaware’s EV focus to climate change – “The effects of climate change and sea level rise on Delaware communities are real. We see them every day. That is why we need to act. With the help of federal infrastructure funding, we will accelerate efforts to build out Delaware’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”

Why this is important is that the Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act[3] “establishes a statutory requirement of greenhouse gas emissions reductions over the medium and long term to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on the State … and requires State agencies to address climate change in decision-making and rulemaking.”  This bill was introduced into the State legislature on June 2, 2022, and passed the State Senate by a vote of 13-to-6 (with one abstention and one absentee). It was tabled in the House to allow businesses to evaluate its potential impact. This Act was reintroduced during this session as House Bill 99 and will require the electric vehicle mandate to be implemented. It passed the House on June 6 and now awaits a vote by the Senate.

But surprisingly, the Act states, “the State shall implement greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies to ensure that, no later than January 1, 2030, statewide greenhouse gas emissions on a net basis shall be reduced by not less than 50% from a 2005 baseline” (emphasis added). That is less than seven years from now and requires us to cut emissions by at least half. As CARB1 noted, “transportation is responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gas emissions (when accounting for fuel production emissions) … in California.”  There is no way such a bill could go into action without addressing the carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector. Thus, the State legislature may enact a more draconian EV mandate even if Secretary Garvin decides against it.

But the possibilities for the enaction of the EV mandate continue beyond here. The New York Times[4] (and other news outlets) reported that the EPA might propose an ambitious, almost innocuous climate regulation like the CARB standard. CARB proposed that 68% of all new car sales would be EVs by 2030; the new EPA rule would require two-thirds by 2032. Remember that Delaware has a choice – the EPA rule or the CARB rule – we cannot make up our own rules. If the EPA goes forward with its rule, the EV mandate is a fait accompli; the only question is how fast it will be implemented.

Note that none of these rules can mandate EV sales. But the Clean Air Act limits the pollution generated by the cars sold by each automobile manufacturer, with substantial fines and penalties levied against companies that fail to comply. These limits are so stringent that automobile manufacturers must sell a certain percentage of EVs to comply with the rule. Thus, while EV sales cannot be mandated directly, forcing automobile manufacturers to comply with pollution levels generated by the new cars they sell dictates the proportion of EVs sold.

So, our solution is not just to petition Secretary Garvin to reject the EV mandate. Many of those in opposition to the mandate have noted that it is being forced on us by non-elected officials, with the tacit assumption that it would be acceptable if elected officials voted for it. But the passage of the Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act will require a vote by our elected officials. Thus, concerned citizens must tell all our elected officials – in the Governor’s Office, the State Senate, and the Delaware General Assembly, as well as in Washington DC – how they feel. Otherwise, we will be forced to pay more for electric vehicles, both in initial and operating costs, all while being stripped of choice.

Is A Little Bit More Enough?

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware 

When John D. Rockefeller, once the richest man in the world, was asked by a reporter how much money is enough, he responded: “Just a little bit more.”

Rockefeller’s sentiment is one evidently shared by the Delaware state government under Gov. John Carney’s leadership, something he affirmed on Jan. 26 while presenting his record $5.48 billion proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget.  While there where some highlights to his presentation, Governor Carney’s budget proposal missed the mark on providing practical common-sense solutions to our states most concerning issues.

Fiscal Responsibility

Gov. Carney Carney’s budget maintains the state’s untapped $316 million “rainy day fund,” and has directed nearly $19 million into a separate “budget stabilization” reserve fund. This leaves $421.5 million sitting in a bank account, essentially, available to use only if the state falls on hard times. The fiscal responsibility of building the state’s savings account is worthy of applause but ignores the elephant in the room: our states ballooning pension debt. This year  a proposal to allocate $51M to pay down Delaware’s  public pension debt, while the current debt is $8.9 Billion. Delaware’s financial problems stem mostly from unfunded retirement obligations, (it only had seven cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.)  A Better Delaware recommends significantly paying down Delaware’s public pension debt and reducing new state worker retiree health and pension programs, so that future taxpayers will not be burdened with paying the under-funded retirement promises.

 Taxes and Spending

To the governor’s credit, Carney’s budget reduces the effective tax burden on lower-income earners by increasing the state’s standard deduction from $3,250 to $5,700, a 75% jump. It also will increase the amount of refunded tax for those who meet federal Earned Income Tax Credit requirements to 7.5%. Those moves should provide some relief for struggling Delawareans, but the budget proposal fails to enact the type of long-term, meaningful tax cuts that would unleash the state’s economic potential.

According to The Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, Delaware ranks as having the 44th highest individual income tax burden in the nation. It leads the country with the highest corporate tax, and at 4%, Delaware’s realty transfer tax is the highest in the nation.

In a recent position piece, A Better Delaware outlined its legislative priorities, which include cutting the regressive gross receipts tax, reducing individual income taxes, slashing the realty transfer tax and lowering the corporate tax. Rather than celebrating the largest budget in state history, elected leaders should be asking why now isn’t as good a time as ever to make Delaware a more affordable place to live, work and do business.

Health Care

Carney’s budget proposal doesn’t call for any of the things most likely to reduce health care costs for Delawareans: reforms to the state’s Health Commission and Health Resources Board, the repeal of cumbersome Certificate of Need (CON) laws, nor expanding options for out-of-state health insurance plans.

Delaware ranks fifth highest in the nation for health care costs per capita. In 2020, 10.1% of Delaware adults chose not to see a doctor because of costs. The state Health Commission’s Health Resources Board, as designed, prevents and discourages health care providers from entering or expanding in Delaware due to onerous CON laws. These laws stifle competition, reduce access to care and promote monopolies.

Carney’s budget proposal should come alongside demands to audit Delaware’s Medicaid system for fraud and abuse, phase out the Health Resources Board, eliminate CON laws, and increase access to care, competition and choice. In its current form, the budget won’t do anything to alleviate these issues. The General Assembly must consider alternatives before approving Carney’s proposal.

 Education

Carney’s budget offers 9% pay raises for teachers and 3% raises for other public-school employees, as well as $53 million in “Opportunity Funding” for students with disabilities, low-income students and those whose first language is not English. This proposal follows a disturbing trend: As Delaware’s education spending grows, students’ test scores fall. That’s because throwing money at a problem doesn’t make it go away.

In 2022, Delaware ranked 47th in educational performance out of 50 states when combining the rankings in both math and reading for fourth and eighth graders. That’s despite spending more per-pupil than the other 41 states.

In light of the state’s teacher shortage, Delaware should expand pathways to becoming a teacher, accept out-of-state certifications and ease restrictions on educator licensing. The governor’s budget doesn’t call for any of that.

Also absent in the Governor’s proposal was support for school choice expansion. Expansion in the form of education savings accounts (ESA’s) and tax credit scholarships would give parents the financial freedom to choose where their kids go to school and create healthy competition in the education marketplace.

 Accountability and Transparency

This year the Bond and Capital Improvements Act totals $1.289 billion. That’s $1B in cash to the Bond Bill – up $150M from last year. It is the 5th “one-time” supplemental bill which is another 5.9% growth of overall spending. How much is sitting unspent? So why then, did Gov. Carney not include funding for oversight of the largest budget in our state’s history?

A Better Delaware recommends funding for the formation of a nonpartisan Office of Legislative Ethics and independent Inspector General’s office — ideas that nearly came to fruition in the last General Assembly. Neither does the budget include any funds to reform Delaware’s antiquated and toothless Freedom of Information Act, from which lawmakers have exempted their own communications. These offices would ensure accountability from our elected officials and state offices and give citizens recourse when they witness or fall victim to waste, fraud, abuse, or misconduct.

Workforce Development

Gov. Carney signed into law a bill that will increase Delaware’s unemployment benefit one day after announcing a whopping $46.6M investment for workforce development. Carney stated in his budget address that in Delaware “thousands more job openings than we have people looking for work.” Why then, make it attractive to not apply for a job? A Better Delaware believes that by tightening unemployment benefit requirements to have applicants prove that they are seeking work and showing up for job interviews will help in decreasing our states workforce shortage.

  The governor’s budget does nothing to reform burdensome business regulations, reduce occupational licensing fees, or increase apprenticeship ratios. Occupational licensing fees, which require trained professionals to pay for the privilege to work, particularly impact lower-income Delawareans. Those who can least afford it are shut out of job opportunities by costly regulations. Apprenticeship ratios, which often require three or even four journeypersons for each apprentice, restrict employers from creating opportunities for young tradespeople, crippling their ability to fill jobs that so many Delawareans need. If the governor was truly committed to workforce development, addressing these barriers to entry would have been highlighted as a priority in his budget proposal.

According to a study by Mercatus, Delaware is has the 2nd most regulations per capita in the region.  Before passing the budget, the General Assembly should insist on a framework to reduce overburdensome, antiquated regulations. Reducing the number of regulations would refocus Delaware’s government on the issues that matter while also unleashing the job creating power of small businesses.

 Energy and Climate

One and a half years after allocating some $80 million to a Clean Water Trust Fund which hasn’t since completed a single project (or started more than one, for that matter), Carney proposed an additional $26.2 million for the fund, to be administered in large part by the notoriously opaque Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Before this money is allocated, there needs to be a serious inquiry into the efficiency and transparency of the Clean Water Trust.

The Trust was pitched to the General Assembly on the promise that it would not run out of funds or require new legislation to replenish its war chest because it would be replenished year after year by interest from project loans. With no projects to point to, the Trust is far from self-sustaining. The General Assembly must take a hard look at this before authorizing additional funds.

Additionally, as the state moves toward a near-total ban of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035 (and without approval by the legislature), the governor’s budget proposal includes $57 million for EV infrastructure and other associated projects. Rather than allowing the free market to drive this technological “advancement,” Carney has signaled his intention to spend an ever-ballooning amount of taxpayer dollars to subsidize an initiative with questionable environmental benefits.

The General Assembly should assert its right to weigh in on the gas-powered vehicle ban and offshore wind projects by rejecting any budget that authorizes the spending of state funds on these initiatives without legislative consent. In this budget, lawmakers can assert their power over runaway executive agencies. In addition, establishment of an independent Energy Advisory Council is needed to establish a realistic state energy plan to be approved by the Delaware legislature.

With unprecedented Federal and State funds flowing through Delaware, Dover has a unique and historic opportunity to lead in the moderation of the governments overall share and control of those citizen taxpayer dollars.

Now is the time to ensure more access and freedom of those dollars go to the individuals and businesses permitting them to choose where it is most productive with less mandates and restrictions. All the while ensuring all the branches of governments portions are openly, rigorously, and independently reviewed to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse at each level.