Governor Bentley's 2016 State of the State
Today we launch Alabama's Great State 2019 Plan, our strategic three year course of action.
Alabama's Great State 2019 Plan sets its sights on educating and training our people, while connecting and constructing basic opportunities for all our citizens. It is a bold course of action will guide us over the next three years. It will address long-standing problems from healthcare to prison reform with cost-effective, common sense solutions.
Specifically focusing on Alabama's approximately 55 rural counties, we are directly addressing obstacles that stand in the way of our state's potential for greatness, in education, healthcare, access to technology, job growth and economic opportunity. Once again in Alabama, we will do what we've never been done before, not because it is easy - but because it is hard.
And we begin with some of our state's youngest citizens, in one of our state's greatest success stories. Alabama's First Class Voluntary Pre-K is a shining star of success in Alabama.
Through the Office of School Readiness, Alabama's First Class Pre-K Program is consistently ranked among the best in the nation and serves as a model for other states. We are working to give young children a 'new, strong foundation' with the opportunity for a good education in a voluntary Pre-K program. That is why in this year's balanced budget I will present, we are doubling the amount of funding for First Class Pre-K.
Our goal by the year 2019 is to significantly increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.
Modeled after the GEAR Up Program launched last fall by UAB, Alabama's own FUTURE Scholarship Plan, will identify 7th graders beginning in the state's poorest counties. Through Alabama's Community College System, those students will receive tutoring, summer-help programs, visits to college campuses and financial planning to make sure they not only want to go to college, but that they can and will succeed. By the time they graduate high school, after they've met strict criteria, kept their grades up, and tapped into all available financial aid, we will pay their two-year college tuition.
Offered as a "last dollars" incentive, the FUTURE Scholarship Plan will not only educate and train our students, it will produce a pipeline of well-trained, well-educated talent for industries so those businesses can expand and grow. We will be able to fund these scholarships and this plan through money we save by the streamlining measures we have already put in place in the community college system.
The money we save through consolidation and by finding efficiencies will pour back into the system to help students get a good education and be better prepared for the workforce. Launching as a pilot program, by the Year 2019 our goal is to expand the plan statewide. The results will be a well-trained, well-educated new generation of Alabamians. For the first time in Alabama, we will allow business and industry to drive our workforce development system. This year we will restructure, streamline and clarify Alabama's Workforce System to improve how we train workers for Alabama's businesses.
The new Alabama Workforce System will be driven by business and industry demand, and what skills and talents those industries need. In turn Alabama's K-12 system, community colleges and 4-year institutions, AIDT , ATN and private training companies will all work together to not only educate, and train but to also create a talent-supply chain of hardworking Alabamians to business and industries.
Essential to economic growth, job creation and the overall quality of life in Alabama is access to technology for all our citizens. Today over 1-million Alabamians do not have access to even the slowest and most basic high-speed wireless technology. Technology is growing at lightning speed, changing the way we educate, deliver healthcare, and even start a business, yet our communities and rural areas cannot tap into the potential that broadband access would bring.
We are embarking on an ambitious plan to provide rural and under-served communities access to broadband - high speed, high capacity - technology. Working with private sector providers, we will first begin by cutting the bureaucracy that stands in the way of providing broadband access. We will first work to provide the infrastructure needed to provide broadband. Private providers will then be able to provide access and offer it at a more affordable and manageable cost to our communities.
Promoting a robust broadband network will lead to a stronger education system, increased capabilities for healthcare, a more efficient connected law enforcement and enhanced economic development opportunities. We cannot talk about fundamentally changing Alabama without addressing what has become a very difficult and growing problem in our state.
For decades, Alabama's prisons have become increasingly overcrowded, dangerous to both inmates and our corrections officers and incredibly costly to taxpayers. But that's going to change beginning now. Alabama is about to embark on a complete transformation of the state's prison system.
Led by Department of Corrections Commissioner Col Jeff Dunn, we will permanently close the doors to decades old facilities where maintenance costs have skyrocketed and increased staff are needed. These aging prisons will be consolidated and replaced by four, newly constructed state of the art facilities. And by constructing a brand new female prison facility, the State of Alabama will permanently slam the door shut on Tutwiler Prison for Women. Funded by an adequate bond issue, we will begin this process within the year. The consolidation and closing of aging facilities will produce immediate savings for the state with less operational costs, and higher efficiencies in staffing and maintenance.
These larger, more efficient facilities will meet all necessary standards and, along with prison reform measures put into place by the Legislature last year, it will drastically lower Alabama's prison overcrowding. The money we save with the more efficient prisons will in turn be used to pay off the debt of the construction. This innovative concept will not only provide more secure, safer prisons, it will also ensure the safety of our citizens, and corrections officers. Alabama's prison system will go from being an outdated, inefficient overcrowded system to being the best. And Alabama will become the model for the rest of the nation.
In 65 of Alabama's 67 counties, there is an undeniable shortage of doctors. Alabama ranks 40th in the number of physicians per capita and we rank last in the number of dentists. It is no wonder then that we see rising rates of preventable and manageable disease, especially among rural, low-income counties. The majority of Alabama is rural, yet rural physicians make up less than 10-percent of the physician workforce. Under Alabama's Great State 2019 Plan, we will increase the number of doctors serving rural areas, especially in the state's poorest counties. Those who are classified as rural health care providers must be able to adequately support their practice and make a decent living.
To make this possible, we will increase funding for medical scholarships and loan forgiveness for medical students who commit to serving a period of time in one of our underserved communities. This applies to physicians, physician assistants, advance-practice nurses and dentists.
We will also work to create a state tax-credit of up to 5-thousand dollars and working with our Congressional delegation we will push for a federal tax credit of up to $50-thousand dollars for those classified as rural healthcare providers. It's the first step toward reversing alarming health problems that have not gone away in Alabama. Having a doctor in a small, rural community, changes a community and it saves lives. Greater access to good healthcare can be achieved. Our communities need it and our people deserve it.
No pageant, no festival no celebration will better commemorate Alabama's 200th birthday in the Year 2019 than for our people to be living a more prosperous, and healthy life. In 2019, let's commemorate our state's humble beginnings by celebrating greater opportunity and access to a good strong education, quality healthcare and game-changing technology for all Alabamians. There is no better way to mark the 50th anniversary of the time Alabamians set their mind to achieving the impossible, than for Alabamians to once again prove WE CAN DO THIS.