Officials announced a loan-forgiveness program Monday as an incentive to get more dentists in Appalachian Kentucky.
The program will get $500,000 from the state, according to a news release from Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers.
The dental schools at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville will administer the program, which will provide money to pay down student loans for as many as five recipients who agree to practice in the region for a time.
Lack of access to dental care in Eastern Kentucky has contributed to overall low rankings in dental health for the state.
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The state Department for Public Health says Kentucky ranks 41st in annual dental visits, 45th in the percentage of children with untreated dental decay, and 47th in the percentage of adults 65 and older missing six or more teeth, according to the news release.
"One of the reasons why access to dental care has been traditionally low in our region is the sheer fact that we have shipped our talent out for education, with very little incentive to return home to practice dentistry," Rogers said.
Beshear, a Democrat, and Rogers, a Republican, announced the program along with health and university officials before a meeting of the board of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, in McKee.
The two earlier joined educators to announce the first phase of a program to help teachers in Eastern Kentucky receive National Board Teaching Certification.
A total of 64 teachers from 22 counties with high unemployment and poverty rates will take part in the three-year program, in which they also will receive a master's degree, a rank change and a raise, according to a news release.
The ultimate goal is to boost so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) capacity in the region's workforce, according to the news release.
Beshear set aside $100,000 in federal funds for the first phase of the program and is recommending $370,000 for the next phase, which will spread a curriculum called Project Lead the Way to schools in the region.
Morehead State University is handling the certification project in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Council on Postsecondary Education, the University of Pikeville, the state Department for Local Government and Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.
"To accelerate our economic momentum and to make it sustainable long-term, especially in Eastern Kentucky, we realize we must build a workforce that can compete in the global economy," Beshear said.
Beshear and Rogers also announced an Aug. 31 groundbreaking for a project to build a high-speed broadband network across the state, starting in Eastern Kentucky.