Alabama State of State Address 2000
By Stateline Staff
MONTGOMERY, Alabama - Feb. 1 - Following is the full text of Gov. Don Siegelman's 2000 State of the State Address:
Tonight I have a message for the families of Alabama: I remain committed to changing education in Alabama forever.
If anyone thinks I have been deterred, let me put it the way my mother would have put it to me: "Son, you've got another think coming."
You elected me to change education, and I'll never stop working until I do.
I will fight any bureaucrat, jump any hurdle or knock down any political roadblock to give our children the education they deserve.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to keep moving forward.
When this session is over, I predict the Legislature will earn the grade of "A." "A" for accountability:
Accountability from our schools; Accountability for criminals; Accountability in Montgomery, Alabama.
In this legislative session we will demand real accountability from our teachers and our principals. We will hire and reward the good ones, and, yes, we will fire the bad ones.
We will publish and send to parents School Accountability Report cards on their child's public school.
We will put video cameras and character education in our schools and take violence out.
We will reward schools that improve, and help those that don't.
We will cut waste and bureaucracy and send that money directly to local schools.
We will expand reading programs and school technology.
And, yes, we will begin this year to take teacher salaries to the national average.
But we won't stop there. We will change the way Alabama does business. State government is serious business; it is time we ran it that way. It is time to write Alabama's budget just like Alabama families do: by setting priorities and cutting waste.
And for the criminals in our state, we have a little something for you, too. We are cracking down on murderers, drunken drivers, domestic violence, sexual predators of children and juvenile thugs.
That is my agenda for the year 2000.
Our children deserve it. Our families need it. And we are going to do it.
Now, let me tell you about the last 14 months of my life.
I went through a governor's race, planned an inauguration, hired a state government.
I sold a house, moved to a new one. I went through a tough legislative session, lost a lottery, called a special session, led the state away from a financial crisis and averted a Y2K disaster.
But I'll let you in on a little secret: I have enjoyed every moment of being your governor because I believe we have a chance to make Alabama a great state in so many ways.
And because of your help, we have taken great strides forward.
Now let me tell you what I found my first day as governor.
I found dangerous portable classrooms growing like kudzu throughout Alabama. Our children deserved better, and we changed it. Now we are investing $600 million in new school construction, and portable classrooms will virtually be history by the year 2002.
When I got here, Alabama teachers hadn't been tested in 17 years. Lawsuits had prevented all teacher testing. Our children deserved better, and we changed it. Teacher testing is now on the way out of the courtroom and into the classroom where it belongs.
When I got here, teachers were not subject to national criminal background checks. Our children and their parents deserved better, and we changed it. Now every new Alabama teacher must undergo a criminal background check.
When I got here, we had overcrowded classrooms in kindergarten through the third grade, the most critical grades for learning. Our children deserved better, and we changed it. We hired 600 new teachers to reduce class size.
When I got here, Alabama drivers weren't required to have liability insurance. It had been debated for more than 20 years. Alabama citizens deserved better, and we changed it Democrats and Republicans working together. Alabama now has mandatory liability insurance.
When I got here, tort reform had divided Alabama for more than a decade and had given us an ugly, anti-business reputation. No governor or legislature could pass meaningful tort reform.
Alabama and Alabama businesses deserved better, and we changed it. We brought tort reform to Alabama.
When I got here, our unconstitutional franchise tax had been allowed to fester for more than 12 years, jeopardizing critical funding for seniors and children. They deserved better, and we changed it. We solved that financial crisis.
When I got here, I found a pile of pending legal cases on the corner of my desk. One dating back for nearly 30 years challenged how Alabama treated the mentally ill. This case and others tarnished Alabama's public image and drove up legal costs. The mentally ill and the state of Alabama deserved better, and we changed it. We wrested control from the federal courts and took charge of our own destiny.
When I got here I found an economic development office that had been shunned and neglected by state leaders.
We watched as high-paying jobs went to neighboring states. We deserved the international recognition that Alabama is simply a great state in which to do business. We landed Honda, and we changed it.
Portable classrooms, teacher testing, teacher background checks, overcrowded classrooms, mandatory liability insurance, tort reform, mental health, economic development, franchise tax and Y2K.
We did it, you and I together, and we did it all in one year.
As leaders, you know the job is not complete. But if you think this governor is going to stop pushing, you are dead wrong.
The people of Alabama are counting on us. Their needs are too great, their future too important, the time too short for us to rest now.
We must help Alabama believe in itself again. But we must first earn the people's trust again. And we do that with accountability.
We start with my top priority, education. I believe in rewarding teachers, principals and schools. I believe in giving them the tools they need to succeed. But in exchange, we will demand real accountability and results.
First, we will take teacher salaries to the national average. Right now, beginning teachers make well above the national average. They deserve that, and my plan will maintain that advantage. That's how you attract the best. But our senior, most experienced teachers make well below the national average, and that's not fair, and it's not smart, because we are losing them to higher salaries in the private sector. I'm asking you to help me change that.
My budget contains a targeted raise ranging from 1 percent to 5* percent for teachers this year, and we will continue to raise teacher salaries each and every year until we reach the national average.
Second, we will continue to give a $5,000 dollar grant and add $5,000 dollars to the annual salary of teachers who achieve national board certification, the toughest test of all, the highest honor in the field.
Last year we almost doubled the number of nationally certified teachers. My goal this year: double the number again. Tonight four of Alabama's nationally certified teachers are with us: Douglas Bailer from Dutton, Wilma Guthrie of Oxford, Jane Mobley of Montgomery, and Tonya Perry of Pelham. Thank you for your commitment to our children's education.
Third, we must reward schools when they improve. My new program, the Governor's Award for Academic Improvement, does two things: It helps schools meet our high academic standards and financially rewards those schools that do. In exchange for all this, we will demand real accountability from our teachers, our principals and our schools.
We have a lot of excellent teachers in Alabama, but it only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel. I am asking you, the leaders of the Legislature, to help me amend the Alabama teacher tenure law. Right now it takes as much as three years to get a bad teacher out of the classroom or to remove a principal from a school. Three years.
It's not fair to the students, it's not fair to the other teachers, and it is unacceptable to me.
We will streamline that process to reduce the time from three years to as little as 90 days. Teachers who can't do the job will have to find work somewhere else.
Next, I am asking you: Help me abolish tenure for principals. New principals will no longer be given tenure, but contracts. Like the rest of us, if they make the grade they'll keep their job. If they don't, they'll be fired.
To further increase accountability, we will strengthen teacher evaluations, develop a mentoring program, and help those teachers who struggle with our new, tough evaluations.
Next, we will give parents a School Accountability Report Card. Parents know little about the success or failure of their child's school. We are going to change that. From now on, every year parents will receive an accountability report card on their child's school.
We will hold schools accountable to the public and to the families they serve.
Finally, for too many years, too much money has gone to administrative costs and not to the classroom. My budget changes that.
I will cut 5 percent from the bureaucracy in Montgomery, and I will redirect every single penny of those savings into local school supplies. We will give teachers an extra $25 to buy supplies for their classrooms. The bureaucracy won't touch that money. The full amount goes straight to the teacher.
In summary, my school accountability plan: Raises teacher salaries to the national average, gives schools and teachers the tools they need to succeed, and rewards schools that improve. But there's a trade off: We will streamline our tenure laws, cut bureaucracy and waste, and issue report cards on every single public school.
We must also give Alabama children the skills and resources they need to compete in this new century.
I am proud of Alabama's nationally recognized Reading Initiative program. This year, we will provide $10 million dollars to expand the program to more than 400 schools throughout the state.
We have two students with us tonight who have personally benefited from this program.
Tiffany is a sixth-grader at Cedar Ridge in Decatur. When Tiffany began this year, she was reading two years below grade level. She went from the fourth-grade to the seventh-grade level in just three months.
Anthony is a fourth-grader at Yarbrough Elementary in Auburn. When Anthony entered fourth grade, he was reading on a second-grade level. Because of the Alabama Reading Initiative, Anthony is now reading at his fourth-grade level. He is now a leader in his class and model student. Congratulations on your hard work.
Alabama has been recognized as one of the top five states for having the highest academic and accountability standards. We also have one of the toughest high school graduation exams in the country. Now we must ensure that every Alabama student can meet those standards and pass that exam.
I am asking the Legislature to appropriate $6 million to create a new program, High Hopes for Alabama High School Seniors, providing tutorial, mentoring and after school help so our students will have the best chance possible to pass Alabama's exit exam.
We will appropriate $10.3 million to create the Alabama Virtual High School to continue funding the Virtual Library and to train teachers in technology so that every student in Alabama will have the computer skills and information they need to finish school and to compete in the 21st century. I am determined that Alabama will become a leader among states in providing technology for our students.
Next, we will raise the stakes on those who endanger the lives of our school children.
I will support the speaker and Rep. Howard Hawk's legislation to make school bomb threats a felony. If you even so much as threaten Alabama school children, you will face up to 10 years in prison.
Finally, we will put video cameras and character education in our schools and take violence out. Parents are concerned about the rising tide of school violence.
As a parent and as governor, I am committed to providing the safest school environment possible. Therefore, we will appropriate $1.3 million for the installation of video cameras in our public schools.
Ladies and gentleman: Are we making progress in our quest to make Alabama the education state? Yes, sir. Are we finished? No, ma'am.
We are going to require elementary public school students to use the courtesy titles, "sir" and "ma'am," when addressing teachers.
We are going to put civility, common courtesy and good old-fashioned Alabama values into our schools, and this is where we will start.
Now I have a message for criminals: We are going to hold you accountable, too.
The families of murder victims must relive their tragedies year after year after year as endless, senseless and needless appeals clog our court systems.
Justice delayed is justice denied. And justice takes too long in death-penalty cases. We must eliminate the lengthy, two-tier death-penalty process in Alabama, the only state in the nation that gives convicted murderers two bites at the apple to go free. The last person executed in Alabama lived on death row for 16 years. Enough is enough.
And, we will crack down on sexual predators of children. I am tired of reading about adults who sexually assault children. And we're going to do something about it.
First, we're going to make chemical castration a condition of probation or parole for adults who rape, sodomize or sexually assault our children.
Second, I'm asking you to provide a death-penalty option for any adult repeat offender who violently rapes or violently sodomizes one of our children.
And to those repeat offenders who commit the most cowardly act of all, attacking women and children in the one place they should feel safe, their own home, I have a message for you: Get ready to serve your time. I am pleased to support Senator Escott-Russell's domestic violence bill. We will crack down on domestic violence by providing mandatory jail time for repeat offenders.
With the passage of my Seven Deadly Sins Bill, we will crack down on juvenile thugs who commit adult violent crimes. In my state: If you commit an adult crime, you will do adult time.
We will continue to crack down on drunken driving.
I am proud to support Representative Fuller's DUI Dragnet legislation that will close the legal loopholes and get habitual drunks off our streets.
And we're going to get tough on deadbeat dads. I am asking you to support my "10 Most Wanted" legislation requiring DHR to publish photos of those who financially abandon their children.
We will hold criminals accountable, education accountable, and we will hold state government accountable.
One basic responsibility of any government is efficiency. This year, we returned the second highest budget surplus in Alabama's history.
It didn't happen by accident. We did it the old-fashioned way: We pinched every penny and watched every dollar. And we couldn't have done it without the support of my Cabinet and state employees.
I want to thank the Alabama State Employees Association and you, Mac McArthur, for helping me hold the line on spending. But, now I'm asking for even more. I'm asking that state agencies do two things: First, today I signed an executive order requiring state agencies to get approval for every expenditure over $500; second, from this point on, I will ask state agencies to identify 1 to 5 percent that can be cut from their budgets. We're watching every dollar. That's how Alabama families handle their finances, and that's how the state of Alabama will handle ours.
There's something else Alabama families do: They save their money for a rainy day. Starting today, so will the state of Alabama.
We will put $5 million in a rainy day fund and aggressively work to increase that fund. This is the most responsible thing we can do, saving today to meet the needs of tomorrow.
And with performance-based budgeting we will budget for results, giving taxpayers a bigger bang for their buck.
And finally, we have several seniors visiting with us tonight. I say to you: You worked hard to build this state in the 20th century, and we're going to take care of you in the 21st.
I want to give you the peace of mind that you have earned. Your Medicaid funding for medicine and nursing-home care will be there when you need it.
We will create the "Seniors' Safety Net," a Medicaid trust fund that will keep the agency solvent through the end of the decade. We will also increase funding for Meals on Wheels and work to create a rural transportation network.
We owe a debt to our seniors, and I intend to pay it.
That is my agenda for the year 2,000. Hold education accountable. Hold criminals accountable. Hold state government accountable.
But I need your help to achieve it. Last year we came together and put the people's business first. By any standard, we accomplished a lot. Now is not the time to rest, but to build upon our success.
The people of Alabama want schools that work, teachers that teach, and students who achieve.
They want safer homes, streets and schools. And they want a government that works as hard as they do. They are watching and expecting results. And they will remember if we fail them.
So tonight, as governor, I extend my hand once again to each and every one of you. We have the power for this short time to make a difference for the children and families of Alabama. The future of Alabama is in our hands.
We are lucky to have this chance.
Together, we can achieve great things. Divided we will squander our opportunity.
The children of Alabama are counting on us. The families of Alabama are depending on us. The future of Alabama is waiting on us.
Together, with your help and God's blessings, we will make Alabama the state it can be.
Now let's get started; there's work to be done.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the great state of Alabama.