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Auburn Government and Economics Institute says state should expand pre-K program

Chip Brownlee

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Auburn University’s Government and Economics Institute recently released its Alabama Issues 2018 report, which focused largely on Alabama’s esteemed pre-K program. Two articles featured in the report suggest the state should continue expanding the program while maintaining the program’s quality.

“Though the State continues to increase funding to provide more classrooms and reach more children, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K serves only a fraction of all eligible children,” the report states. “They (the authors) suggest scaling up Alabama’s pre-K program while maintaining its high quality. This would mean moving beyond an educational legacy of inequity and underinvestment by providing each four-year-old child in Alabama with access to the highest-ranking public preschool education in America.”

Over the past 12 years, the state expanded access to the First Class Pre-K program, adding 884 classrooms. And last year, the Legislature approved a 24 percent budget increase — for a total budget of $96 million in FY2019. That increase should add another 100 classrooms and provide access for 1,400 students across the state.

And Alabama is one of only two states to meet all 10 of the 2017 National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality standards.

But in the last school year, Alabama provided 941 classrooms that served 16,938 students, which is only about 29 percent of the state’s pre-K eligible children.

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More than 70 percent of the state’s four-year-olds currently don’t have access to the program, and pre-K advocates estimate that it would take $144 million to serve all eligible four-year-olds.

The Education Law Center ranked Alabama 49th in the nation when it evaluated each state on its early childhood resource allocation.

“This means that low-income students are 26 percent less likely to attend preschool than their counterparts,” the report found. “This is especially concerning, because low-income children see the largest impacts from a high-quality pre-kindergarten experience. … These early delays predict later educational gaps and shortfalls. Providing children with the early education, stimulation, and support needed for their development can change their academic and life trajectories.”

The report compared the ideas of a targeted pre-K program and a universal program.

“Though the need for pre-K is greater for low-income children, this does not necessarily imply that targeted preschool programs are the best solution, because public pre-K for all children can produce larger net benefits than targeted programs,” the report found. “Universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten provides a level foundation for future growth, ensuring that all children, regardless of where they live or how much their parents earn, have a chance to reach their potential and contribute to society.”

Studies show high-quality pre-K programs prepare students to learn and close achievement gaps, laying a solid foundation for those children to succeed.

School readiness and academic achievement gaps can take root by 5 years old and trap students in a continuous cycle of trying to catch up without access to early interventions like pre-K.

The report suggests that increased funding could save money for the state later.

“Multiple longitudinal studies have shown that children who attend high-quality pre-K are also less likely to need special education, repeat grades and drop out of high school,” it reads.

 

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Moore working to implement governor’s strategic education to workforce plan

Bill Britt

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During her first State of the State address nearly a year ago, Gov. Kay Ivey staked her ground on workforce development, job creation and education under her Strong Start, Strong Finish plan, which, if successful, will transform the state’s education and labor opportunities.

If Ivey succeeds, her legacy as one of the state’s most consequential governors will be secure.

Aiding her in this monumental undertaking is Enterprise native Nick Moore who heads The Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT) which is charged with implementing the Governor’s strategic workforce development plan.

Moore, a dedicated policy wonk, understands the intricacy of both the federal level programs and the state agencies that must execute Ivey’s strategy. He also recognizes that every individual who is willing to put in the effort deserves a shot at success.

“Success should not be based on the color of your skin, your zip code or who your parents are but on individual merit,” says Moore. “As someone from a humble background, I understand it took people looking out for me and shepherding me that allows me to be where I am today.”

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Moore, a Harvard University graduate, has a passion for policy that he hopes will assist Gov. Ivey. “If I’ve had any success in my life I want to be able to say I helped Gov. Ivey to ensure that other young people don’t have that level of uncertainty that comes with relying on the luck for a meaningful life,” he says.

In a sprawling hour-long interview, Moore took APR through the intricacies of Ivey’s strategy for Strong Start, Strong Finish: The Education-to-Workforce Pipeline.

Since her announcing of Strong Start, Strong Finish, a detailed, strategic plan has emerged to harness business and education interests for a comprehensive push that begins at the earliest stages of education and results in an educated workforce prepared for 21st Century jobs.

“Three main federal programs that provide nearly a billion dollars to Alabama from Kindergarten through workforce training are funding the plan,” said Moore.

Three federal laws – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins V) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) – provide federal support for state education and workforce activities.

ESSA provides funding for public education from kindergarten to 12th grade. Perkins provides states funding to improve both secondary and postsecondary careers and technical education (CTE) programs. WIOA funds the public workforce development system for youth and adults looking for meaningful employment.

“Aligning those three bills so you can have an education to workforce pipeline is key,” said Moore. “Forging a unified system for students to engage in the various educational and career opportunities is the goal.”

Governor Ivey’s education-to-workforce pipeline begins with the basic blocking and tackling of education, literacy and numeracy. To this end, Moore says that the state’s Pre-K program will be available to all families that want their children to participate.

“It is essential that by third grade every student is literate and numerate,” says Moore. “These are the basics.” Next is career exploration and discovery which takes place during grades four through eight. Then students are ready to take advantage of the 16 career clusters and 79 career pathways that the state has identified working with employers and other stakeholders.

“We are looking at labor needs to focus on demand and opportunity,” which Moore says is part of the overall strategy. The state currently offers around 4,000 credential programs. “Part of the plan is to work with students and employers to determine which are the most valuable to the individual student,” says Moore.

“We are not trying to pigeon-hole a child,” said Moore. “But to allow them to focus on areas of interest so that they have every chance to succeed.”

Some of the state’s premier businesses have already invested money and resources into improving education, and Ivey’s teams are working with business entities to further the efforts of The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) which is comprised of business executives from some of the state’s most important industries and organizations.

The Council’s goal, as stated in its mission statement, “is to facilitate collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable, top-notch workforce that is competitive on a global scale.”

The Alabama Community College System under the leadership of Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker is engaged in a long-term strategy, as well, to provide the skills needed to fill the employment opportunities being created by government-private sector partnerships.

Moore says Gov. Ivey’s plan also is working to address the challenges of special populations, which include veterans, those recovering from substance abuse and those exiting prison. Moore said it also is there to help out-of-school youth, those who have been structurally disadvantaged or underemployed.

“Our labor force participation is at 57.3 percent. To get the number up to the national average is to focus on these special populations,” says Moore. The national labor force participation is at 62. 9 percent.

Moore says reaching these individuals is challenging but a fundamental task that must be accomplished.

Moore is tasked with building a coalition among 22 state agencies from Medicaid, the Department of Youth Services, Veteran Affairs and others to reach out to those who can take advantage of the various programs offered.

“All of these agencies talking, understanding the resources to help the individual help themselves by using what is already available to get what they need to succeed is essential,” says Moore.

A program, begun under Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, is working to match skilled laborers with the employers that have jobs to offer and is currently underway.

A jobs portal, AlabamaWorks, is matching employers with job seekers. It also offers advice for students that are already interested in building a career.

AlabamaWorks, according to its website, “is a network of interconnected providers of workforce services, including all of the governmental, educational, and private sector components that train, prepare, and match job seekers with employers.”

“Broad outreach, integrating existing government agencies is vital,” says Moore.

Moore says Gov. Ivey and her team are committed to data-informed decisions which leads to data-driven policies.

Under Ivey’s direction, the days of merely throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks are over. With Ivey’s plan, there are structures in place to make informed choices based on real-world information.

“For Alabamians to have career opportunities, they must be prepared when the right job comes along,” said Ivey at her first State of the State. “My education initiative, Strong Start, Strong Finish, does just that. Under Strong Start, Strong Finish, we will coordinate our efforts and bring all stakeholders to the table in order to improve education all the way from Pre-K to the workforce.” Moore says he is ready to assist the Governor to make that a reality.

 

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Opinion | The fight against public corruption isn’t lost yet

Josh Moon

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This will likely not surprise you: I get a lot of correspondence.

Emails. Twitter direct messages. Facebook messages. Text messages.

Every day. All day long. They come rolling in, usually from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written or has taken issue with something I said on TV or who wants to say something bad about my mama.

At this point, there’s very little contained in a letter or message to me that would surprise me.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought until the last couple of weeks.

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When the Matt Hart letters started rolling in.

If you don’t know by now, Hart is the recently fired head of the Alabama Attorney General’s special prosecutions office — the team that prosecutes political corruption. If that seems like it should be a relatively obscure position, well, it should.

Except for a couple of things: 1. We have a ton of political corruption in Alabama, and 2. Hart went after all of the crooks, regardless of party or political influence.

For those reasons, I guess, people in this state paid attention to the guy who was doing the prosecuting. And right now, I feel safe in saying that no one topic has prompted more messages than Hart’s firing by AG Steve Marshall a couple of weeks ago.

Those messages generally fall into two categories: 1. “I’m mad as hell!,” or 2. “What are we gonna do now?”

If you’ve written me one of these letters and not received a reply, consider this your answer.

I get it, and I don’t know.

The fact is Hart’s ouster, which comes a year after his top deputy — AG candidate Alice Martin — also resigned, is a significant blow.

Hart and Martin are a sort of white-collar-crime-fighting duo, beginning with their days in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama. As al.com’s Kyle Whitmire pointed out recently, prosecutions of political corruption spiked in that office while Hart and Martin were on the job.

Then those prosecutions spiked at the AG’s office when Hart landed there.

At the federal level, Hart was chasing primarily Democrats. At the state level, after the GOP takeover, it was Republicans.

Because corruption doesn’t vote straight ticket, even if you do.

But now, we’re in trouble.

Taking Hart’s spot is a prosecutor who has never tried a public corruption case and who has spent her life in and around state politics and defense attorneys. Maybe Clark Morris will be a fantastic prosecutor and turn this state upside down rooting out public corruption — I truly hope that’s the case and I’ll be happy to write about it if so — but I have my doubts that she’ll be half as dogged as Hart has been.

And so, I guess that leaves the business of exposing and stopping public corruption to just one person: You.

That’s right, you. And me. And all of the good people who live in this state who are sick of crooks and political welfare and good ol’ boys and smoky back rooms and brother-in-law deals and pay-to-play scams.

You all care about this stuff. I have your letters to prove it.

So, it’s time to take some action. To pay attention to what’s going on. To show up at board meetings and council work sessions and county commission meetings and state legislature committee hearings. It’s time to start asking questions and making phone calls and writing letters.

If you need help, I guarantee you that we at APR will help all we can. And I’m certain other media outlets will help, too. Whether it be with making sure you know when and where to go for meetings or helping expose the corruption or illegal behavior you find.

Our system of government was set up from top to bottom to represent everyday people, and it is designed — in most cases by law — to give the people it represents a voice.

Look, I know you’re busy. I know you have lives and jobs and kids and the dog isn’t going to drive itself to the vet, but this is important too. In fact, it might be the most important thing, because it literally encompasses almost all of your life — from the taxes and fees and costs you pay every day to the quality of your kids’ schools to the success of the company you work for to the 401k you’re relying on.

It matters.

And it’s up to you to make sure the crooks don’t win.

 

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Ivey awards $6.3 million grant to the Office of Prosecution Services to help crime victims

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday the award of a $6.3 million grant to support crime victims as they navigate the criminal justice system.

The grant was awarded to the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services to provide 88 certified victim service officers throughout the state. The officers will be stationed at local district attorneys’ offices and will assist crime victims with information, referrals, updates, court accompaniments and other direct services as needed.

“The criminal justice system can seem intimidating to people who have been victims of crime,” Ivey said. “I am pleased to support this program which will provide knowledgeable professionals to help crime victims understand the court process and ensure that they know of other community resources that may further assist them.”

Victim service officers are professionals trained to support victims of crime. They offer victims information, emotional support and help finding resources and filling out paperwork. The officers also may accompany victims to court proceedings and contact criminal justice or social service agencies to obtain assistance or information for victims.

Barry Matson is the executive director of the Office of Prosecution Services.

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“This groundbreaking partnership between the governor, Alabama’s district attorneys and ADECA is a model for the nation,” Director Matson said. “No one chooses to be a victim of crime. Through criminal and often violent acts of others, victims are forced into a vast and intimidating criminal justice system. They are forced to find out how strong they are, because it’s the only choice they have. District attorneys, challenged by meager resources, have long stood with victims of crime. But with tens of thousands of felonies a year, it has proved daunting. With the help of Governor Ivey, Alabama’s district attorneys will better ease the pain and anxiety caused by crime, while providing comfort, information and guidance to victims.”

Tom Anderson is the district attorney for Coffee and Pike counties and the President of the Alabama District Attorneys Association.

“This grant is a major benefit for victims, victims’ families and district attorneys across Alabama,” President Anderson said. “In some circuits where money for victim’s assistance is especially tight, it’s a real game-changer. Many more victims of crimes and their families will have someone in the DA office to both comfort them and assist them through the process of obtaining justice. We are extremely grateful to the governor, ADECA and everyone who assisted in making this grant possible.”

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Justice through the Victims of Crime Act.

“ADECA is pleased join Gov. Ivey in support of crime victims in Alabama, and we commend the Office of Prosecution Services and the victim services officers who will be directly helping those in need,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said.

ADECA manages a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim services, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation development.

Ivey was recently elected to her own term as governor with over 59 percent of the vote.

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Shelby announces $14 million highway infrastructure grant for Cullman

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a grant totaling $14,000,000 in funding for highway infrastructure improvements in the city of Cullman. The grant is made available as part of the DOT Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant program, which focuses on economic development and infrastructure upgrades.

“This BUILD grant awarded to the city of Cullman will allow for critical highway infrastructure improvements in the region,” Shelby said. “As Cullman continues to experience significant commercial, industrial, and residential growth, it is important that we find ways to support this rapid development. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and DOT in paving the way for economic success by rebuilding our local infrastructure.”

The $14 million grant will be used to help widen Alabama State Highway 157. According to the city, traffic on Highway 157 has increased to over 15,000 vehicles per day, creating hazardous driving conditions and lengthy delays for numerous businesses and individuals. This project will to help address existing transportation issues and provide infrastructure enhancements that will benefit the city and surrounding areas.

“The widening of Alabama Highway 157 is one of the most critical transportation projects needed in our community. I am delighted the City of Cullman has been awarded this grant that will make the construction a reality,” said Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs. “Our team at the City of Cullman did a remarkable job preparing this grant. The City of Cullman, Cullman County and the surrounding area will benefit greatly from this project. I would like to thank Senator Shelby and his staff for their assistance with this grant process. Without their support, this project would not be possible.”

The state Legislature is considering legislation to increase fuel taxes in order to get the state more funds to put up as matching funds to draw down more federal transportation dollars.

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Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Shelby was first elected to the Senate in 1986.

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Auburn Government and Economics Institute says state should expand pre-K program

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 3 min
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