ALMOND LAYS OUT VISION FOR 21ST CENTURY IN STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS
Pledges to Create Nation's Best Healthcare, Childcare and Education Systems
Governor Lincoln Almond this evening addressed the State of Rhode Island in his fourth State of the State Address and laid out a vision for a 21st Century Rhode Island that would have the nation's best healthcare, child care, education, business climate and quality of life in America.
"I know this is the future Rhode Islanders want," said Almond. "It's the future I want to lead us to."
In his address tonight, Almond highlighted the progress the state has made over the last three years in creating thousands of new jobs, cutting the size of state government and dramatically improving the state's business climate.
"I am very proud to report Rhode Island is on the right track to compete, thrive and prosper in the 21st century," said Almond.
Almond laid out a series of sweeping proposals including a major expansion of the state's childcare program, a new center on aging for Rhode Island's seniors, and additional steps to continue the state's overhaul on public education.
In a new child care initiative called Starting RIght, Almond detailed a plan that will expand child care to working families from 185 to 250 percent of the poverty level by Fiscal Year 2001. That translates into an income of $47,000 for a working, middle-class family. Through this effort, 11,000 more families will be able to take advantage of this program.
Also included in Starting RIght would be the expansion of after-school programs through the age of 16; health insurance for child care center employees; and additional funding to expand the overall day care capacity and create new, innovative child care programs.
In addition, Almond proposed increasing available training resources for child care providers; expanding existing care and educational services to at-risk and working families; and convening a statewide child care summit in March to mobilize support from the entire community.
"One of the reasons child care is so important to me is that we must ensure that our kids enter school ready to learn," said Almond. "Once our kids are in school, it's our responsibility to give them an education that prepares them for the future."
In order to prepare our education system for the 21st century, Almond proposed setting aside $1 million in new state education aid for school districts to develop full-day kindergarten and implement preschool programs.
Almond also called for the creation of more charter schools; continued redirection of more education aid to urban schools; and expansion of the school year by five days for teachers for training and to set aside $1 million in new education funds for teacher training.
"We can't fault our students if we don't challenge them," said Almond. "And the students I've met welcome this challenge. That's why all of us must step up to the plate to make our schools better."
Finally, Almond laid out his plan to transition Rhode Island's elder population into the next century.
"This state has the third highest percentage of people who are 65 and older," said Almond. "Our parents and our grandparents want to live independently for as long as they can. It's our job to help them do that."
Almond announced that he would be calling for a bond issue to create a new Center on Aging that will be housed in the Howard Complex in Cranston. The Department of Elderly Affairs would be relocated to this new site, and the state-of-the-art Center would also provide seniors with a much-needed information resource center.
The Center will have a consumer education center offering seminars and workshops; it will have a library and clearinghouse on aging which would be the first of its kind in the state.
"Just as Rhode Island led the nation into the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island can lead our nation into the 21st century," said Almond. "I thank the people of Rhode Island for their support and assistance and for giving me the privilege and honor of serving as your governor. But our work is not done. Together let's continue to make great things happen for Rhode Island."