Thank you Chairman Abney and members of the community.
Thank you for partnership and collaboration. Working together, we've been able to get a lot done for Rhode Islanders. We've put Rhode Island on stronger ground, so much so that last week we announced unemployment rate was below national average. That's a clear signal which shows the good that can happen when we work collaboratively together.
Just as we've worked together to create thousands of jobs, I believe we have a collective responsibility to make sure that Rhode Islanders are getting the good jobs that our businesses are creating.
The only way that's going to happen is if we make sure that people have the training and education that businesses require. I talk to business owners every day and they tell me the hardest part of growing is finding the educated workers for the jobs they need to fill.
Over the past several years, we've taken many steps to make sure that Rhode Islanders have the job training they need to get good jobs. We're investing in our career and technical education programs, expanding apprenticeships, Real Jobs RI, and we've made record investments in K-12 education.
The Rhode Island's Promise Scholarship program is a continuation of that work. I'm here this evening to ask you for your support of the Rhode Island's Promise Scholarship program. This program is meant to ensure that every Rhode Islander has access to affordable education and job training. As you know, the program costs less than one-half of one percent of our state budget and doesn't require any new tax increases.
Our proposed Rhode Island's Promise scholarship will provide relief to middle class families who are up at night worried about how they'll pay their kids' college tuition. And it will benefit every Rhode Islander - those looking to earn a four-year bachelors degree at URI or RIC, as well as those seeking an associate's degree and technical education at CCRI.
Like you, I hear from people every day that they want to work, they're willing to work hard, but they can't get a job because they don't have the training or education that's required.
I talk to students and professors and they tell me stories about students who are working full time and going to school full time and that many of them drop out because the cost of college is too high. In fact, studies show that the high cost of college is one of the leading reasons that less than half of students who start college in the U.S. actually finish. It's hard for a lot of us to believe, but the simple truth is that $500 or $1,000 can stand in the way of someone finishing a degree, or even pursuing one in the first place. They simply don't know where get the month.
This proposal isn't about giving something away for free, it's about guaranteeing access to opportunity and job training for every Rhode Islander.
If we make this investment, we will see meaningful change. That's exactly what's happened in other states. In Tennessee they passed a similar initiative with leadership from a Republican Governor, the first class of students with the scholarships saw graduation rates increase by 80 percent!
I've received hundreds of letters and emails from Rhode Islanders who write to say how our Rhode Island's Promise scholarship will change their families' lives.
Elizabeth O'Flaherty wrote: "As a middle class family, we finally feel like we may possibly get a break. This proposal is proof that working hard pays off."
Sandy Salimeno wrote: "As a single mom of an honor roll student in 7th grade, I have lost many nights' sleep worrying about how I would send my son to college. I work seven days a week, working two jobs just to get by week to week. I was literally in tears when the [Rhode Island Promise initiative] was announced. My son deserves the same chance at a college education as [every other Rhode Island] child."
Every Rhode Islander needs training or education to get a good job and deserves access to that education, regardless if they're from a rich family or poor one.
At the end of the day this isn't about me, it isn't about you, it isn't about politics, it's about giving Rhode Islanders a shot. We have an opportunity to give thousands of Rhode Islanders a shot at a good job that they otherwise won't have.
As with any budget, there are priorities. I'm confident that we'll be able to work together in the coming months to pass a budget that reflects our values and builds on the momentum of our growing economy. I'm looking forward to participating in this process. I looking forward to your questions, our discussions and your feedback.
Thank you. I'm happy to answer questions you have.