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American Dream 101

By Mary Scott Hunter
Representative-Alabama Board of Education, District 8

Working for the Outcome – Prosperity:
I came across a line in my Sunday School reading of Mike Slaughter’s book Shiny Gods, “Work is not primarily for the income; we work for the outcome.”  Beyond mere income, the benefits of Work are spiritual, moral, and generational.  Steady work in a good job means increased household net worth over time and less stress in family life.  Steady, good work means fewer of our citizens on disability, lower crime rates, lower prison populations.  The financial and personal triumph of home ownership and family health insurance coverage become more than a dream with a good job.  There is also a deep spiritual component to Work. People are fulfilled when they are working at their full potential.

We in government should work for long term success.  It takes discipline and leadership to put longer time lines on our political planning, but the rewards of laying in a good strategy and letting time work for you are real and lasting.  Yet, long term unemployment is trending up , and Alabama isn’t yet beating the national trend. That’s a problem worth paying attention to and goes to the very heart of the American Dream.

The long term unemployment trend can be better understood by examining the reasons that Americans become disabled.  Certainly some are taking advantage of the system, but of those that are not, there’s a mistaken belief that disability is the result of a terrible accident or illness.  In fact, people start on a path that often leads to disability the moment they begin falling through the education cracks.  The longer one waits to develop a vocational base through education and job experience, the closer one moves toward the edge of the disability cliff.  Those that have a strong vocational base in their education and in the length and quality of their work experience can often make a vocational adjustment when illness or an accidents befalls.

American Dream 101:
So, I am dogged in pursuit of “American Dream 101”, an education that prepares graduates for college and/or careers.  It’s the essential ingredient, the secret sauce of economic recovery.  But, more importantly, it’s the key to all those individual outcomes that increased personal wealth brings.

Alabama College and Career Ready Standards:
We have much to be hopeful about regarding Alabama Public Education, both in K-12 and in Higher Education.  For example, while the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards have been controversial because they include the Common Core State Standards, most all agree that high standards are necessary.  The increased rigor is already moving the meter.  Increased academic rigor at every level of education, kindergarten through graduation, is the nitty-gritty heart of college preparation, and it’s the brass tacks of success in business and work.  Listening closely and responding to the fears and concerns about this issue has been job one for me, and I’m pleased that the Board is working to alleviate the concerns of those who believe that our Alabama Standards are not controlled here at home.  This week the Board will vote on a Resolution Affirming Alabama State Board Control of the Alabama Standards.  Continuously reviewing ourselves in this area is important so that we are always focused on the basics of real learning.

Alabama’s Education Appropriation in 2014 and 2015:
Also, while we will have a very lean education budget year coming up, we have the opportunity to focus on foundational needs.  The repayment of the Rainy Day Fund will be completed in 2014.  So, the 2015 Legislature will have a much better opportunity than the 2014 Legislature to appropriate for education.  I hope that the 2014 Legislature will level fund or even slightly increase some education game changers such as the innovation priorities of Strategic Plan 2020, Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative, Professional Pathways for Educators, and Accessing the Arts.  Community Colleges are also a game changer for our citizens and historically receive the smallest amount per student as compared to K-12 students and our 4-year college students.

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Alabama should focus on Education and good jobs because of the income it can mean for our citizens but more importantly for the outcome and prosperity that can be set up for generations to come.

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