Monday, July 27, 2015

Our kids know iPads and iPhones, but do Alabama schools prepare them for the iFuture?

If you've spent any amount of time around a young person lately, you've probably had a tough time prying the iPhone, iPad, iSomething, away from them. The new generation of students is growing up in a digital age--one where they can't imagine having to stop to use a pay phone, get a map for directions or live without googling anything on their mind. 

Yet when those same children step into the classroom, many teaching strategies haven't changed since I was in school. The YouTube and Instagram generation is being told to sit in a desk and write with pen and paper, read from textbooks and learn from chalkboard lectures. We know their workplace will look nothing like this, but we're continuing to instruct them with out-dated methods.

Meanwhile, schools that have the funding and ability are implementing digital components to the classroom, preparing students for an increasingly technological economy.

Those schools that are utilizing technology in the classroom are changing the dynamic of education from passive learning to active participation, giving the students the ability to get instant feedback and learn in a way that fits with their individual learning style. Teachers are able to promote collaboration on projects, upload lectures to iTunes, and empower students to harness the power of technology to complete their assignments.

And we're sending our pen-and-paper students out into the workforce to compete with them.

Now I understand that we have many schools in the state that are digitally integrating their classrooms to capture all of these benefits. But I also understand that we have schools in this state that don't have the resources to offer a simple computer course for students.

If we, as policymakers, are serious about moving Alabama into a 21st century economy, recruiting businesses and promoting our workforce, we must start by building a 21st century education system for every student in our state.

Rather than spending $30 million tax dollars to take rich kids out of failing schools, we could invest $30 million into making sure that our schools have the tools they need to give students the resources for a quality education.

The economy isn't slowing down, and it's certainly not returning to an era where proficiency in typing is enough to be considered "computer savvy." The sooner we begin familiarizing our students with digital tools for success, the faster they'll be able to compete in a global economy and move Alabama boldly forward.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Broadband Internet is critical to the future of Alabama

If the statistics hold, seven out of ten people reading this article will be doing so on a laptop using the Internet.  Among all American adults, 56 percent have used a cell phone to access news in the last week.

Needless to say, the Internet has changed the way that we access news and stay up-to-date with current events.  It has changed the way we stay in touch with friends and family, pay bills and make purchases.

It is rapidly evolving the way that companies carry out their business in every field--including health care, education and sales.

When companies look to locate or expand in Alabama, access to up-to-date Internet technology is a factor in making that decision.  When we work to make our schools technologically-driven for the future, we must have the infrastructure to support it.  When our hospitals develop telemedicine programs, they will need top-of-the-line Internet to do so.

For these reasons, I'm proud to learn that Governor Bentley signed an executive order to create the Office of Broadband Development to spread broadband Internet access across Alabama.

If we expect to move Alabama forward into the 21st century, we absolutely must focus on developing and spreading the technology to do so.

Expanding broadband Internet access will be one component to leveling the playing field across urban and rural Alabama--from allowing students the same educational opportunities as their urban and suburban counterparts, to giving businesses the opportunity to expand and reach their consumers, to giving voters the ability to research and learn about candidates for public office, to giving doctors the ability to consult with patients in rural areas without requiring a 100-mile commute. 

It's past time to connect Alabama to the World Wide Web, opening windows and doors to a 21st century state.

I'm proud of Governor Bentley for taking the lead on this initiative, I'm looking forward to working closely with him to see it implemented, and I'm excited to see the benefits for our state.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Patchwork solutions aren't necessary, reasonable or realistic when we address the budget crisis

Last week, Governor Bentley called the Alabama Legislature into a special session to address the state's looming budget shortfall.

Now this isn't a new problem- we had 30 meeting days to do the business of the state. However, instead of addressing the budget shortfall, the Republicans allowed bills up for discussion on a range of topics from riding in the back of pick-up trucks to declaring a state crustacean.

Without reaching a compromise during this special session, the Alabama government will shut down due to lack of funding--without appropriations from the legislature, the various departments like the Public Safety and our Department of Human Resources will be greatly impacted.

When the governor issued his call for the special session, he specifically said that he didn't want the legislature to consider any gaming bills--only those pertaining to new taxes for Alabamians.

Regardless of the governor's wishes, the legislature can bring gaming bills--or any other bills--with a three-fifths vote of the legislature.

It's unnecessary to take a solution off the table, only to force a balanced budget on the backs of our hardest working families.

It's unreasonable to expect working men and women to pay more in taxes until we've expanded Medicaid and accepted the federal money available to make that program solvent.

It's unrealistic to think we can patch the hole with BP settlement checks, when that money belongs to the Gulf Coast for restorations and repairs from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

We don't have time to consider unnecessary, unreasonable and unrealistic solutions to our state's problems.

It's necessary that we consider all options on the table, especially gaming revenue to avoid levying new taxes.

It's reasonable to accept the federal dollars we already pay to help fund our healthcare system.

It's realistic to consider the options on the table, not borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and solve this crisis by making responsible decisions.

The people of Alabama deserve for us to lead. They deserve better than patchwork solutions to an overwhelming crisis. I hope my colleagues will take this process seriously and move this state forward.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Healthcare

Over the weekend, friends and family gathered together to celebrate our nation's Independence Day. More than 200 years ago, we came together to sign a paper declaring our independence from England and affirming that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet across this nation, and certainly across this state, there are working men and women who are unable to achieve these rights--due to a lack of access to affordable healthcare.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that took any and all air out of the argument to fight the Affordable Care Act. They made it clear in their ruling: Obamacare is here to stay.

Yet the state of Alabama is continuing to play politics with people's lives, gambling away billions in federal dollars, dozens of rural hospitals and affordable care for 300,000 Alabamians with one simple refusal to expand Medicaid.

The facts of the matter are clear: Alabama is broke and Medicaid is a huge portion of our budget. Our hospitals are closing and taking with them maternity wards and emergency rooms. We have $14.4 billion available to alleviate these concerns, but we're refusing to accept it.

Frankly, we have few other options. When we return for a special session in August, we have two choices on the table to fund Medicaid: Our first choice is to raise taxes to cover the rising costs, pulling more money from Alabama pockets. Our second choice is to claim the federal dollars from taxes we are already paying, and will continue to pay, to make our program solvent.

Nobody wants more taxes, but nobody wants more cuts either. Accepting Medicaid expansion is one of the rare political win-win situations, and it would be a tremendous mistake not to grab it.

Let's face it, Alabama. We're in a budget crisis and we have to take smart steps to resolve this problem. Often, smart steps require hard decisions. Fortunately, this isn't one of those times. Expand Medicaid now.