With a growing economy producing more tax revenue, Alabama leaders have chosen to invest in the state’s future, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said Monday in Dothan.
Ainsworth, speaking to Dothan Rotarians at the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center, said the Education Trust Fund experienced more than 6 percent growth in the past year since its funding relies on income and state taxes. That caused legislators to consider how to use the new resources, and they opted to invest more in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K Program and broadband internet access initiatives along with other projects.
Ainsworth said officials from several states have visited Alabama to learn about the First Class program, a need he learned about from Marshall County kindergarten teachers when he first forayed into state politics.
“I asked them what they needed, and it was unanimous from the kindergarten teachers. We needed pre-K programs,” he said. “(They said), ‘A lot of parents are not doing their jobs. Some students haven’t even been read to. We need developmental time with them.’”
As a result, officials assigned more than $20 million in extra funding to First Class. Ainsworth said the results should lead to better graduation rates, which translates into fewer people in the prison system.
The General Fund received an extra $80 million in revenue thanks in part to legislators’ decision to assign online sales tax revenues to it, Ainsworth said. The ‘growth revenue’ allows officials to focus on the intersection where education meets business – workforce development – moving forward.
Ainsworth said the top issue industry leaders tell him they face is a lack of qualified people to grow their businesses – not the business climate or opportunities. His office oversees a task force that focuses on workforce development, one which state Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R- Geneva) aids.
The task force has partnered with two consulting firms to evaluate the community college system, K-12 system and apprenticeship programs in an effort to continue Alabama’s growth, he said.
“We’ve got to train for the job of today and the jobs of tomorrow,” he said, noting students must be well-prepared in science and math in order to do so. “We’ve got to get every student in this state job-ready, not just college-ready. We’re going to have a plan to do both.”