I know that I am extraordinarily blessed to live in Montana and to call Helena my home. Our great local and state-wide communities are compassionate and caring and we build on our strengths as we seek to improve the lives of all Montanans. However, the challenges facing our communities are also great and all are in need of thoughtful, creative and collaborative solutions.
We must continue to protect and promote our Montana constitution which guarantees “equality of educational opportunity … to each person of the state.” We need to work together to make sure that every child enters kindergarten ready to learn; state-funded pre-school must become a priority. Let’s work to strengthen our attendance eligibility to include students who are taking a bit longer to finish school, almost exclusively due to health or socio-economic issues. Let’s work to ensure that our most vulnerable students can stay in a school setting until they have the resources and skills to succeed. And finally, let’s make sure all students leave public school ready to succeed whether that is immediate placement in an apprenticeship program or further training in our community colleges, colleges and universities.
Montana’s economy was built on the strength of our unions and we must make certain that their history is not forgotten. Our economy has a growing service and tourism industry, but we are facing a critical workforce shortage in jobs that require specialized training. Our schools and our state must increase our commitment to ensuring that young Montanans have the skills necessary to succeed and build a life in their home state. This means recognizing and respecting the vital importance of every member of our work force and guaranteeing them “equality of opportunity” to earn a living wage and a safe work environment.
An educated workforce recognizes the importance of public access to our public lands. Montanans need not be millionaires to benefit from the many physical and psychological benefits of our state’s open spaces and we must ensure that this ease of access is never compromised. The attacks on public access to public lands has only increased over the past few years and every Montanan must be vigilant that our laws and our people continue to protect our rights rather than diminish our right to “a clean and healthful environment…for present and future generations.”
The most educated, well-employed outdoorsperson cannot fully benefit from their status if they do not have access to affordable, quality healthcare. Although our focus today is rightly on those most in need who are having their access to physical and mental health services limited or removed, we are all facing inadequate healthcare. In part, this is due to a shortage of trained personnel, particularly in our rural areas, but it is also due to the cost of healthcare that makes access impossible for many of our working families. We need to strengthen and promote the availability of all aspects of healthcare services for all our fellow Montanans.
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