While the preamble to our national constitution sets out the mission for our federal government, its vision cannot be realized without the leadership of states.
Our brave first responders help to insure domestic tranquility, while the National Guard is called upon to provide for the common defense. State courts are necessary to establish justice. And we promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty by providing access to housing, health care and schools.
In the process, states’ roles in advancing our society transcend their borders. We act, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, as “laboratories of democracy.” As Brandeis explains, a “state may, if its citizens choose … try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
The Affordable Care Act, based on Massachusetts’ health care reform, is perhaps the most prominent recent example of a state innovation guiding national efforts to address our country’s challenges. Earlier this year, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy visited Delaware to highlight our efforts to clean up power plants and reduce dirty air emissions, including through a partnership with neighboring states. That work helped shape the President’s new Clean Power Plan.
Delaware has a special obligation to serve as a laboratory of democracy – to innovate and figure out what works. We are small and nimble, with the ability to quickly bring together public and private sector leaders to solve problems. But we’re also diverse, with varied economies and lifestyles represented in our different geographical regions, as well as among our urban and rural areas. What works in Delaware can work anywhere.
At a time when the country faces increasing competition from abroad and the quality of one’s education and training is more important than ever, our state can help secure the blessings of liberty for America’s posterity. The hard work of our educators – from preschool through high school and beyond – has given us that chance, if we are willing to make the long-term commitment to the innovations we have begun.
First, we can transform the opportunities for low-income children to have access to the early learning they need to start school, ready for success. By raising the reimbursement rates that early childhood programs receive for serving these kids, and by paying higher rates to high-quality programs, we’ve already seen the number of low-income children in the best programs more than double in three years. We must continue to ensure programs have the resources they need to improve, recognizing that high-quality early learning has shown to be the best investment our country can make in economic development.
Second, Delaware is effectively transitioning to the Common Core education standards thanks to the leadership of our administrators and the educators in our classrooms. They have benefited from a voluntary statewide initiative called Common Ground, which meets individual school needs for resources and support for teachers. That program has also brought together educators throughout the state to share best practices and develop lesson plans. Raising expectations for our students to be ready for college or career is critical across the country and Delaware can set an example by tackling this issue successfully.
Finally, while college isn’t for everyone, it’s clearly important for the next generation to have access to higher education. Delaware leads the country in identifying assistance that students need through our advanced data system that tracks student progress. In addition, our program to offer free, school-day SAT testing to all high-schoolers helps us know who is on track for college. We provide all of our college-ready students with the information and resources, including application fee waivers to those who qualify. And students receive assistance with their applications and financial aid forms in schools. Last year, every college-ready student in Delaware applied, and 98 percent enrolled, compared with only 82 percent to 86 percent in prior years.
Delaware has a long, honorable tradition of leading progress in our country. A desegregation lawsuit brought by our state’s first African-American attorney, Louis Redding, helped pave the way for the Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed racial discrimination in schools nationwide. Delawareans invented and operationalized the nation’s first flour mill, resulting in a surge of economic growth. And the successful Jobs for America’s Graduates program, founded by Gov. DuPont, has effectively helped many of the most at-risk students across the country to graduate and pursue careers.
Now, Delaware has an opportunity to help America become a more perfect union by securing our nation’s future. I’m confident we are up to the task.
This blog was originally published in The News Journal.