Last year, I shared with you my goals for public education: all students will read on grade level by the third grade; all graduates will be college or career ready and; every student will be taught by a great teacher. Together, we have made progress in each of these areas.
I want to thank the State Board and the Department of Education for their hard work this year to implement our education bill. The State Board has imposed a new requirement that all graduates intending to teach elementary school must first pass a comprehensive exam certifying they understand how to teach reading.
Last year we provided funds to initiate the "Advanced Careers Program." To date, five career and technical education sites are implementing these career courses. By 2016 all 32 sites in West Virginia will implement high-standard career technical programs. My proposed budget provides another $500,000 for the Advanced Careers Program. This program will help students pursuing a technical career receive the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. It also ensures employers will have the employees they need to do the high-level technical work necessary for so many of today's jobs.
I will ask the State Board to place special emphasis on initiating these needed programs in regions where companies are locating-like Wood County-where our cracker will be built.
For the first time in the history of our state, teachers and principals have a voice in who teaches with them in their schools. Our bill last year made this a reality. As we continue to hold schools and teachers more accountable for the performance of their students, it makes sense they have a say in who works on their team.
We asked the State Board to study and report on allowing our school systems to hire more teachers who might not have a traditional teaching background, especially for those in hard-to-fill positions. I have reviewed those recommendations and will be proposing legislation to make certain our students have a qualified teacher leading the class.
I believe every student can learn. This has to be the expectation: Every student can learn.
Tonight I ask the State Board to implement an A through F grading system for our schools. This system has been a proven success in 16 other states, and it is a rating system we can all understand. This rating system will provide a better indicator of school wide achievement. I believe it will engage communities with their schools and encourage everyone to strive for excellence.
College students across the Mountain State report problems with the flow of class credits between public institutions of higher learning. This increases their financial burden and delays the completion of their degrees. States across the nation have solved this dilemma. Tonight, I ask for your commitment in making our students successful by supporting legislation to solve this credit transfer issue. I also challenge our colleges and universities across the state to accomplish this goal.
I'm always proud to highlight the accomplishments of our teachers. They are the backbone of everything that makes our gardens grow more than any ray of sun or drop of rain.
I am honored, once again, to introduce you to our 2014 Toyota Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Teacher of the Year. Erin Sponaugle from Martinsburg, West Virginia, told us she was a timid child, that she was a bookworm, an artist, and that while she loved the idea of becoming a teacher -- she didn't believe she had the potential.
With encouragement from a supportive adult, along with her passion and love for learning and teaching, Erin is sharing her amazing talents with the students of Tomahawk Intermediate School. Erin reminded us in her words that: God doesn't call the qualified...He qualifies the called.
Please join me in honoring our Teacher of the Year, Erin Sponaugle.
Let me also take this opportunity to recognize two individuals who deserve our thanks for their continued investment in our teachers. With us tonight are Fred Earley, the President of Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of West Virginia. And Millie Marshall, who is the President of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia and the first female President in Toyota's history. Highmark and Toyota continue to invest in our great teachers-and we are thankful for their continued support.
We should honor the work of Erin and the work done by all of our educators and public servants, not only by recognizing them, but by committing to help them prepare and educate our children-our future workforce.
This is a year of tough financial choices for our state. Our budget is strained. However, we must invest in our future -- sow the seeds for tomorrow-and invest in our children and those called to public service. Therefore, I commit to funding a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and school service personnel who invest in our children every day. I'm also asking for a modest pay increase for our state employees -- who have been asked to do more with less.
We must be vigilant and emphasize that education also includes addressing the epidemic of drug abuse. Since I launched the Governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse, thousands of individuals have collaborated to achieve common goals. Families across the state asked for increased availability of substance abuse services. I listened to your requests, and with the help of the Legislature, more assistance is available.
New recovery coaches are available in north central West Virginia to help support those graduating substance abuse treatment programs. New detox stabilization units will begin operating in the Northern Panhandle, Greenbrier, and Logan Counties. And programs like the Healing Place in Huntington are expanding their services to reach out to more people needing help ... like Josh Morrison.
Josh grew up in Milton, West Virginia. He had an ideal childhood, loved to play sports and be with his friends. Unfortunately, Josh was diagnosed with a bone disease. He had four surgeries and became addicted to prescription painkillers. Josh's story is like so many we hear from across the state: when his pain got too bad he took another pill, then another. Josh spiraled into drug addiction. He started stealing and he ended up in prison.
Josh said in a letter, and I quote: I was at the end of my rope and after a failed suicide attempt I found myself in jail serving a ten year sentence. I was 28 years old and I just wanted to die. My addiction had me and I had no way of beating it ... then I was sent to the Healing Place of Huntington.
Today Josh is four years clean. He manages two businesses and was recently married. Josh is a wonderful example of why we must never lose sight that every person -- every life -- is significant.
Please join me in applauding Josh for his great success and his courage for having the strength to be here tonight.
Last spring we began to improve public safety and reduce prison overcrowding by passing the Justice Reinvestment Act with bipartisan support. Since that time, my administration has rolled up its sleeves to begin implementing these reforms to build a foundation that will -- over time -- transform the landscape of our criminal justice system for the better. I am especially proud of our administration for developing innovative, collaborative solutions that will help former inmates recover from substance abuse find a job, and be productive members of society.
Although the work has just begun, and will continue for some time, we can already see the roots of progress taking hold and the sprouts of early success. Today, I am proud to tell you since June we have reduced overcrowding in our regional jails by more than 600 individuals. We have also reduced the overall number of corrections inmates -- for the first time in 16 years -- by almost 300 individuals. Now, through our Justice Reinvestment efforts, we are moving our inmates out of Regional Jails and into placements offering substance abuse and job training services.
As most of you know, the National Boy Scout Jamboree was a highlight of last summer here in West Virginia. We welcomed more than 40,000 scouts, troop leaders, and volunteers to Fayette County's Bechtel Summit. They climbed mountains, tamed the New River, and experienced twelve unforgettable days of "wild and wonderful" adventure. In addition to enjoying and learning about our great state, the scouts also performed service projects throughout southern West Virginia.
Most important, we helped support the safety of 40,000 scouts during the Jamboree by following the Boy Scout Motto, "Be Prepared."
Recognizing that the Jamboree could overburden local health and public safety resources, I issued an executive order declaring a State of Emergency. This was the only tool available by statute to ensure adequate health and safety support for this event. It wasn't a State of Emergency-it was actually a State of Preparedness.
This "State of Preparedness" concept can be applied to future jamborees, winter storms, and any other predictable natural disaster. That is why I will be introducing a bill authorizing the mobilization of medical services, law enforcement, and equipment in preparation for emergencies. Like the Boy Scouts, West Virginia should always "Be Prepared."
I'm proud of all the men and women who served during those weeks in Fayette County and I'm also proud of those who served as volunteer leaders to the thousands of Boys Scouts with us this summer including Troy Householder of Bridgeport.
Troy is just one of the hundreds of adult volunteers in West Virginia who teach the building blocks of character and life skills to our young scouts. Troy is with us tonight along with his wife Louisa; son Corbin, an Eagle Scout; his son Carter, a Life Scout; and his daughter Jena, a member of the Venture Crew.
Thank you, to the Householder family for your commitment to our scouting families and improving the lives of so many across the Mountain State.
In April of 2013, I issued an executive order creating the Governor's Commission on Military Spousal Licensure to examine ways to ease the burdens faced by military spouses in obtaining a professional license when moving to West Virginia.
Based on the hard work and recommendations of the Commission, chaired by First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin and Ms. Amy Hoyer, the wife of our Adjutant General James Hoyer, I will be proposing legislation providing temporary licensure options for military spouses. Spouses can begin working in West Virginia within a month of applying for a license, while going through the normal process to obtain a permanent license.
Joanne and Amy, will you please stand and be recognized on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform-and their spouses and families.
West Virginia must also be prepared to take care of our beloved veterans-those who gave when the country called. The Department of Veterans Assistance is helping veterans further their education through our higher education system.
In conjunction with the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, the Department unveiled the first ever Gold Star Families Memorial Monument. This monument located at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery honors the family members of those who have lost a loved one in combat.
In tough economic times we hear the word "homeless" so often that sometimes we forget it can also describe veterans who have risked their lives but struggle to find a livelihood. Our West Virginia Veterans Home is working with the VA Medical Center's Homeless Veterans Resource Center to provide immediate shelter to homeless veterans.
Homelessness also includes hard-working families who can't make ends meet. It includes people with disabilities and children without support. Homelessness is devastating. We cannot turn our backs on our fellow West Virginians in need. I have revived the Interagency Council on Homelessness to bring together leaders who will work within the community to end homelessness in West Virginia.
Although my remarks tonight have focused mainly on younger West Virginian's, it is our seniors who have paved the way for our prosperity. Our seniors have collective wisdom -- they've seen more, done more, and learned more. With 10,000 individuals reaching age 65 each day in the U.S., the need for qualified, registered in-home care workers is increasing exponentially.
Until now, families have not had a good way to identify and research the backgrounds of providers. My administration's In-Home Care registry will provide a starting point for families beginning their search for a provider. It will help families sort through important information-listing only providers who have passed a background check. It will include the provider's level of training and experience. This registry will help give West Virginians the peace of mind they deserve, when searching for a provider to entrust with the care of their loved ones.
As we continue to plan we know it is more important than ever to eliminate government waste. That's why I will be proposing legislation reforming our purchasing laws to ensure that every dollar of state money is spent with the proper oversight to achieve the best value.
Because of this commitment to a good, responsive and efficient government, I have identified a number of boards, commissions, and councils that no longer operate, but linger on the books creating ambiguity and clutter. I plan to dissolve many of these groups by executive order, and I will submit legislation to eliminate the rest of these obsolete boards.
As any good gardener knows it's the hard work at the beginning of each season that ensures a great harvest. Marshall University football coach Doc Holliday ... knows how to grow a good team. With planning, patience and foresight, Coach Holliday transformed the Thundering Herd into Military Bowl champions. Let's recognize and congratulate our home-grown coach and his team for the big win over Maryland.
I'm proud of our team -- the one right here in this chamber.
I'm proud of the work we have done-together.
I'm proud of our planning, our patience, our foresight.
I'm proud of the opportunities we now have for our children.
Tonight, I want to speak directly to the next generation of West Virginians. Our state has never had the solid financial security you enjoy today or the opportunities you will have tomorrow and for decades to come. It's now up to you. Stay in school, stay off drugs, apply yourself and find your passion. The jobs will be here for you. The present is bright. And the future is brighter.
For those who have left the Mountain State -- come home. Come home to take advantage of the growing opportunities we are creating for you. Come home. West Virginia's garden is thriving and we will yield a great harvest for years to come.
Thank you, God bless you, God bless America and God bless the great State of West Virginia.