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Putting 'A Maryland Face' On The Issues: Adela Acosta

Excerpts from the State of the State address delivered by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) at the State House

January 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved. 

Maryland is one of the most successful states in the nation. We possess excellent institutions of higher education, health care, national defense and scientific research. The Port of Baltimore is world famous. We are the center of the biotech universe.

Our citizens are highly educated, and our per-capita personal income is the sixth-highest in the nation. Yet many of the same issues debated during my tenure here [in the House of Delegates] remain so difficult, so intractable, that we tend to lose sight of the human face associated with these challenges.

Sometimes, we need to see, to touch, to feel as legislators -- and I was a legislator for 16 years -- the real impact of these issues on the lives of citizens in order to better understand them.

Sitting in front of you today are five individuals who help us put a Maryland face on these issues. Listen to their stories. They encompass so many lessons that can help us achieve a better place to live, grow, work and prosper.

- Adela Acosta

- Captain Bob Newberry

- Keith Day

- Michael Taylor.

Our last guest is not with us today. Rio-Jarell Tatum was the son of John S. Tatum and Roxanne Servance.

Meet Adela Acosta. You will never forget her, trust me.

Adela Acosta is principal of Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Prince George’s County. We’ve heard the phrase "no child left behind" in recent years. Adela was the student who simply would not allow herself to be left behind. Adela was born in Puerto Rico, and later immigrated to New York’s Spanish Harlem. When she enrolled in kindergarten at the age of five, she found it a very scary experience.

"A foreign language enveloped me," she would later write. "English sounded like rocks dropping in a river. My teachers seemed to think that if they spoke to me in a very loud voice I would understand what they were saying." Eventually, her teachers labeled her as learning impaired, and she was placed in a special education class in first grade.

Fortunately, a social worker discovered her, and she was sent to St. Paul’s parochial school. There she learned the joy and power of reading as a means of comfort and escape. Her fortunes improved, but she faced other obstacles.

Her father -- a heroin addict -- became blind as the result of a beating by neighborhood bullies. Adela became his surrogate eyes, reading to him, tending to his needs. In effect, she became his teacher. One day, she informed her eighth grade teacher that she wanted to teach one day. The teacher advised her to go into show business because -- and I quote -- "you people are so good at it."

Fortunately, Adela decided to follow her heart instead. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in Secondary Education from the University of Kansas, and a Master of Science in Education Degree from the University of Kansas. She has begun doctoral studies in Education Leadership at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Today, the girl once dismissed as learning-impaired is a nationally recognized educator. President Bush appointed her to the Commission on Excellence in Special Education. And First Lady Laura Bush -- a former teacher herself -- named her a National Role Model for Education Reform. In 1999, she helped open Cesar Chavez Elementary School. As principal, she presides over a diverse student body: 47 percent Hispanic, 49 percent African American, and 4 percent white. Ninety-nine percent of her students receive Title I funding.

The girl whose potential was once overlooked by her teachers is now looking out for new generations of disadvantaged students. Because of Adela, no child is left behind at Cesar Chavez. Adela’s experiences as a student and an educator have taught her some important lessons. She knows that social promotion policy only hurts kids and sends the wrong message to taxpayers. She knows that every student should compete on a level playing field, and that fully funding the Thornton Commission’s recommendations is critical to her mission.

I agree with Adela. That is why our budget increases education aid $242 million -- including $148 million under the Thornton formula. She and I both support the establishment of another commission -- Thornton II -- devoted to an examination of education policy in Maryland. Lieutenant Governor Steele will lead this important effort.

Finally, she supports a real charter school bill that will encourage competition in our public school system. Passing charter school legislation is one of my top priorities for this session. It is time for this Assembly to enact a charter schools bill with teeth -- one that will give disadvantaged students the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I ask you to do so this year.

Captain Bob Newberry. Bob, would you please stand?

Today, Bob fishes and crabs and harvests oysters and operates one of the few aquaculture farms on the Eastern Shore. He has been a waterman since he was 15 years old. For him, being a commercial waterman means "having something in your blood and never hating to go to work."

Three years ago, he became a part-time charter boat captain. New regulations have harmed his ability to do his job. A significant drop in the bay's oyster and crab populations is also threatening his livelihood.

Several years ago, the value of his average daily oyster catch was $2,000. Today, a typical catch falls between $400 and $500.

The Chesapeake Bay is the heart of our economic, ecological and recreational life. It defines us. There are 7,000 fishermen in Maryland. They harvest 1 million pounds, commercial fishermen, they harvest 1 million pounds annually, representing an annual income of $86 million.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, there may be no fish, oysters or crabs to catch unless we upgrade our 66 major municipal sewage treatment plants. My capital budget makes a $95 million down payment in this area. We will need to secure more dollars from the federal government to complete this critical task. This is a vital joint effort of this assembly and this administration.

We can protect the bay without unduly penalizing the good people who earn their livelihood from it.

Meet Keith Day. Graduate Northwestern High School 1975. Lives in Baltimore. Forty-five years old.

Married 14 years. Three children. Member, New Shiloh Baptist Church. Family man. Assistant manager at Sheraton Inner Harbor, 2001 employee of the year at the Sheraton.

Homeless from 1996 to 1999 -- 25-year addiction to heroin.

His life changed when he connected with the Helping Up Mission, a faith-based organization based in Baltimore. Program graduates have an 80 percent chance of being employed and sober a year after entering the program.

Keith continues to work his recovery program. He is clean, sober and helping people by volunteering at the mission.

Keith makes me believe. We all need to believe. Keith, thanks for coming here today.

Last night, the president talked about a war against international terror. In Maryland, we have an internal war against another enemy: drugs.

The drug culture cuts across every line in our society. It does not care about who you are or what you do, the color of your skin or the size of your bank account. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed or color.

It breaks our hearts and makes us bleed. It destroys families and it destroys futures. It strikes fear in the heart of every parent. We are the parents of a 3-year-old, and we're scared. Every parent in this room is scared.

Our budget spends nearly $136 million on alcohol and drug treatment -- a 4.2 percent increase over last year. That's a good start, but we can and must do better.

We must work together to get nonviolent drug offenders out of jail and into treatment programs, where they belong.

We must stress early diversion initiatives. [Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the nominee for secretary of juvenile justice] is the right man in the right place at the right time, and I know everybody in this General Assembly agrees with me.

We need to stop condemning so many young offenders to the adult criminal justice system. And that is a major priority of our new secretary.

We will work with faith organizations of every denomination to offer treatment programs on a nondiscriminatory basis. Lt. Gov. Steele will lead this important effort as well. It will involve every subdivision in our state. It is a priority for our administration. It is time to empower the problem solvers in our society.

Gun violence, domestic abuse, sexually transmitted disease, lack of educational opportunity, overcrowding in our criminal justice system, over-representation of our minority youth in prison. All are directly related to our out-of-control drug culture, and we all know it. We can and must do better.

Meet Michael Taylor. Forty-four years old. Placed in Rosewood Center in 1971, at age 12.

Michael spent 30 years in state institutions in Maryland and Massachusetts. The cost of being institutionalized in Maryland for 30 years is conservatively estimated at $1.6 million. That is what it cost the taxpayers to lock Michael up for 30 years.

Michael was released from Rosewood in 1999. In 2000, he was hired by the Living Free Campaign. In April 2002, he moved to his "freedom pad." The "freedom pad" is his apartment and his alone.

Michael has secured a new job with Best Buddies of Maryland, where he earns $10,000 a year.

Michael is a success story for any individual who faces obstacles and challenges in his or her life.

Our 2004 budget includes important programs that will help people in similar circumstances live with independence, dignity and self-sufficiency. As I said during the inaugural, it's not only a moral imperative and a constitutional right; it's a good deal for the taxpayer.

We fund $5.2 million for the transitioning youth program.

We fund $6.9 million for developmental disabilities waiting lists.

We fund $3.1 million to respond, for money to respond, to emergencies faced by families in crisis, such as when an older parent caring for their adult child can no longer provide that care.

Sixteen million to increase the wages that personal-care workers receive to assist those with disabilities to ensure a high quality of care.

In total, funding for community services for individuals with developmental disabilities increases by $38.3 million for [fiscal year] 2004.

Other important funding initiatives I have proposed assist Marylanders with community-based initiatives, including, for our seniors, $7.3 million for 1,000 additional placements for the Medicaid older adults waiver.

For youth, and maybe there's nothing more important, $1 million for a Juvenile Services Drug Court Initiative to help Maryland's youth get the drug treatment they need without needlessly filling up state juvenile facilities.

For people with mental illness, an overall $66 million increase for [fiscal years] '03 and '04 for the Mental Hygiene Administration's community services budget. This money will help restore our public mental health system to ensure that it cares for people in the community again. Because when it does not, we know where the patients show up -- in emergency rooms, inappropriate settings.

This is a new day for Maryland, in more ways than one. We must usher all Marylanders into the 21st century by moving people out of institutions and into communities, where they can live, learn, work and thrive.

Our last guest is not with us today.

It's Rio-Jarell Tatum. He was 19 years old when he died. Today, he's represented by his parents, John and Roxanne. They're here today.

They raised the kind of kid that would make any parent proud. Their son graduated with a 3.97 grade point average. He was a member of the National Honor Society. He was captain of the baseball and soccer teams. Admitted to Penn State University in September 2001 with a full scholarship.

Shot during a robbery in Baltimore on May 26, 2002.

I wish I'd had the chance to meet this exceptional young man. The things that made a difference in his life -- academics, sports and family -- are the same things that made a difference in mine.

He did everything right, yet he still became a victim of the gun violence sweeping our state's largest city. The story is a wake-up call for all of us. As long as gun-toting criminals roam our streets and communities, no one -- not even the best and brightest -- is safe.

It's time to bring Project Exile to Maryland.

Government can be made to work better, more efficiently and to live within its means. Taxpayers do it, families do it, businesses do it. We can do it, too.

These are just a few of the fascinating people I met during the journey that ultimately brought Kendel, Drew, Michael, Andrea, and I to Annapolis. As we go about the business of getting our fiscal house in order and making difficult decisions about spending priorities, let’s keep in mind these, and so many other faces of Maryland who depend on us to protect them from injustice, provide a cleaner environment, guarantee a quality education, provide temporary assistance when needed, and make our streets safer.

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