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All I want for Christmas is… for every child to have a good education

Craig Ford

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By Rep. Craig Ford

When my kids were growing up, I don’t know who was more excited on Christmas morning: the kids opening their presents or me and Gwen watching them!

Ever since God gave us the original and best Christmas gift, our lord and savior Jesus Christ, giving gifts has been a part of celebrating Christmas. But as I thought about what I wanted most this Christmas, it wasn’t anything material or even something for myself.

What I want most for Christmas is to finally see every child in Alabama be given a chance at the quality education they deserve. And believe it or not, that is a gift that we could actually make happen.

Despite all the divisiveness in politics, most voters and elected officials actually agree on the problems and even agree on many of the solutions. For example, we all agree that more resources need to be given to the state’s outstanding pre-K program, as well as reading, computer and technology programs.

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And people on both sides of the aisle also agree that we need to invest more in teaching and classroom resources.

Last week, the news broke that Alabama’s cuts to K-12 education are among the slowest in the nation to catch back up to the pre-recession levels of 2008 (specifically, we are the third worst in the country, with only Arizona and Florida lagging behind us).

Most of the cuts to education have come from the classroom. There are nearly 5,500 fewer employees in our public schools today than there were in 2008. And of those, 3,000 of them are teachers – that’s a 6 percent drop!

Fewer teachers means larger class sizes, and that means less one-on-one time between students and their teachers. Larger class sizes also make it harder for teachers to control the classroom, making discipline problems (which then become distractions for the other students) more common and more difficult for teachers to prevent.

The lack of funding has also impacted our ability to provide educational programs for students who are less interested in college and more interested in getting a professional certificate or Associate’s Degree – and this has especially impacted our economy.

There is a serious gap of skilled workers in this state. Some of those skilled jobs are computer based, and I’m glad to see Gov. Ivey address those needs in her education plan. But there is also a need for men and women with certifications in the various trades, and those jobs can pay very well.

I would like to see every public school system have pre-apprenticeship programs, or at least some sort of introductory classes, into trades like brick masonry, building construction technology, carpentry, welding, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing, among others.

While it is important for us to always be improving our college prep classes and looking for options (such as a lottery) that can help fund scholarships to two-year and four-year colleges and universities, we also have to remember that 75 percent of people in Alabama do not have a college degree, and 50 percent never attended college at all.

Any educational goals we set have to keep that reality in mind and make sure that every child who graduates from an Alabama public school is ready for the next step, whether that step is a college degree or a professional certification.

What we don’t need to do is take more money out of the already underfunded school system and use it to pay for charter schools and scholarships to private schools. We have seen in other states that charter schools have typically performed no better than traditional public schools, and they have been hotbeds for fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.

Likewise, the Alabama Accountability Act, which was sold to the public as a way to help “kids trapped in failing schools because of their zip code,” in reality has mostly gone to kids who were not in failing schools, and many who were already attending private schools (And nearly 40% of the private schools receiving scholarship students are not even accredited!).

But even if the Accountability Act worked exactly as it was originally meant to, and every kid who received one of these scholarships ended up getting a better education, it would still only be helping some of the kids who need help. The majority would still be left in the failing schools.

Though there are disagreements about charter schools and the Accountability Act, there is still plenty that everyone agrees on. If we work together on those things, then we can make my Christmas wish come true.

Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

 

Rep. Craig Ford is an Independent who represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Gerald Dial is a steady hand for Alabama

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Alabama’s economy is growing…but it can do so much more. The key is having the right leadership in all elected positions, people who have vision.

So far, Governor Kay Ivey has shown she has what it takes to make important changes and place our state in a position to win.

Did you know agriculture and forestry together are the biggest industry in Alabama? They contribute $70 billion each year toward the economy. Nearly 9 million acres and 600,000 Alabamians are involved in this huge business that benefits us all.

I would know; I was Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries several years back. During that time, we put Alabama’s top asset at the forefront of economic development.

John McMillian, our current commissioner who is term-limited and running for Treasurer, has done a good job, and now Alabama is at another crossroads. We need the next Ag Commissioner to find new and more ways to grow our state.

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Gerald Dial is just that person. He and I served together in the State Senate, and his Christian values and new ideas are exactly what Alabama needs right now. The key to making government work for the people is to have someone who can’t be bought but also knows how government works. Gerald Dial fits the bill, and I trust him explicitly.

Just recently Gerald Dial created a solution to a massive problem in our state – the opioid crisis. This pandemic is killing thousands of our citizens each year. Instead of sitting back and think it isn’t his problem, Gerald Dial petitioned the drug manufacturer, Kaleo, of naoxolene, an injection that can save someone experiencing an opioid overdose. The delivery device is called EVZIO.

The result is 1,744 FREE doses of an overdose-reversing drug to Alabama’s volunteer rescue squads to combat the opioid crisis. That $4 million donation to our rural first responders equates to nearly 2,000 lives that will be saved.

I could go on and on about Gerald Dial because he’s such a wonderful friend and effective public servant, but what I want to ask you is to support Gerald Dial in the July 17th Republican Primary Runoff for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.

The powerful special interest groups in Montgomery don’t want Gerald elected, because they are scared he won’t take marching order like their preferred candidate. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I need to know about Gerald Dial – the powerbrokers don’t want him, so I do!

Charles Bishop was a Republican member of the Alabama Senate. He represented District 5 from 2006 to 2010. The district covers portions of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties. He was elected as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries for the term 1999 to 2003. 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Sez you, Nikki Haley

Kristina Scott

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While “experts” like the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley say it “is patently ridiculous for the U.N. to examine poverty in America,” Alabamians know that what’s actually ridiculous is the hundreds of thousands of Alabamians who live in poverty.

Haley’s comments came in reaction to United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip G. Alston’s examination of poverty in Alabama and a handful of other American states.

Alabama experts also failed to prioritize poverty and homelessness as a serious issue facing the state in the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s (PARCA’s) Alabama Priorities poll. Those experts are business leaders, civic leaders, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, political science professors, and political journalists.

In contrast, the Alabama voters PARCA surveyed ranked poverty and homelessness as the fifth most serious issue facing Alabama. Alabamians’ concerns about poverty cut across party affiliation, ideology, age, gender, education, and income.

In order to educate both experts and the general public, Alabama Possible releases a poverty data sheet each year. We recently released our 2018 Alabama Poverty Data Sheet in June, and it highlights poverty, economic security, educational attainment, and food security.

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There is good news to share: poverty is at its lowest rate since we started publishing the Alabama Poverty Data Sheet in 2010. Just over 800,000 Alabamians live below the poverty line, which is $24,257 for a family of four.

Those of us who are concerned about poverty can’t rest, however. Alabama is still the sixth poorest state in the U.S., and 17.2 percent of Alabamians live below the federal poverty line. Fifteen of Alabama’s 67 counties have a poverty rate higher than 25 percent. Eight counties have a poverty rate higher than 30 percent.

On top of high poverty rates, Alabama’s median household income is not keeping up with the nation’s. The typical Alabama household earned $46,309 in 2016, which is $11,308 less than the national median household income. That gap has grown by $1,547 over the past five years.

No wonder we are concerned about poverty and homelessness. It is getting harder and harder for Alabamians to afford the cost of living.

We also can’t overlook how our state’s complicated racial history impacts poverty and economic opportunity. All eight of the counties with poverty rates above 30 percent are majority African American, and Alabama’s median household income for African Americans is $21,165 less than that of white families.

Alabama policymakers have focused on workforce development with good reason. Alabama faces two great hurdles: not having enough good jobs that support a family and not having enough qualified workers for the jobs we do have. That’s why Alabama Possible supported the efforts of the Alabama Workforce Council in developing the Success Plus strategic plan.

Poverty is complex, and having an income is just part of the puzzle. What about hunger and food insecurity? Basic sanitation systems and clean water? Accessible, affordable mental and physical health care? The opportunity to vote?

Alabama doesn’t have a plan to address these matters. What can we do about it?

Here’s one idea: let’s make it abundantly clear to “experts” that they should be worried about what we think of them, rather than what they think of us.

Use the data sheet to start conversations at your house of worship, in civic clubs and with your colleagues to think about how to better serve low-income people and break down multigenerational barriers to prosperity. Talk about why the issue is important to you; maybe you grew up poor, or you teach in a low-income school and see how the grinding reality of poverty impacts your students.

Don’t forget that it is an election year, and there are plenty of opportunities to talk with candidates who want your vote. You can interact with them on social media, at candidate forums and even at the grocery store.  Ask them how they intend to address poverty and homelessness.

And if anyone tries to blame the poor for their economic circumstances, or make excuses for why Alabama is so poor, you can do what Alabamians have done for generations: say “sez you.”

Kristina is executive director of Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit organization that removes barriers to prosperity.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Groups, initiatives align under AlabamaWorks! success plus

Ed Castile

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Alabama is moving quickly in developing a trained workforce that meets the needs of business, with major changes in recent years in how our workforce development system operates.

The process began four years ago when the Alabama Workforce Council recommended a re-alignment of our workforce programs. The Alabama Legislature responded by passing legislation to make the changes possible, and Gov. Kay Ivey, then lieutenant governor, fully supported these measures. Today, Alabama’s workforce landscape is strikingly different.   

One of the Alabama Workforce Council’s recommendations was to reorganize the state’s 10 workforce regions into seven. The Legislature approved funding for staff to run these councils, and these regional workforce directors work closely with the business community as well as the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Community College System, K-12, the Alabama Department of Labor, the Career Center System and other related agencies, to identify and meet the needs of industry and workers. In addition, Commerce and the ACCS have assigned liaisons who link each region to workforce training and other resources.

The Legislature also required that at least 75 percent of the voting members come from the business community within each region. This raises the level of engagement with Alabama businesses.

Another significant change in the streamlining of workforce development was the realignment of the Workforce Innovations Opportunity Act program. The three local WIOA boards were expanded to seven and aligned with the seven workforce areas. Many business leaders from around the state were appointed to the state’s WIOA board and, in some areas, to the local boards. Again, this change has resulted in a more even approach to WIOA funding and a significant increase in business engagement across the state.

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In 2016, the Legislature approved the creation of Apprenticeship Alabama, designed to increase the number of apprentices to assist companies in building their pipeline of workers.

In its first year, 2017, Apprenticeship Alabama significantly increased the number of apprentices statewide. And while the modest tax credit was a new benefit to companies, the fact that there was an office dedicated to helping businesses register their programs with the U.S. Department of Labor enabled the program to grow. Navigating the waters of federal registration can be tedious, but the Apprenticeship Alabama staff, along with the regional councils, are dedicated to assisting companies with the expansion of this training program.

At first glance, the various components of workforce development appear to be separate entities with separate goals. When you look closer, however, they form the backbone of Gov. Ivey’s recently announced AlabamaWorks Success Plus initiative.

The Success Plus education attainment initiative is the cornerstone of the governor’s “Strong Start. Strong Finish” endeavor. Ivey announced that by 2025, Alabama MUST have 500,000 additional workers who have more than a high school diploma.

Many high schools and career technical programs offer students credentials that qualify within Success Plus. Some students involved in dual-enrollment programs with the ACCS receive not only a high school diploma, but an associate degree or certificate.

Without doubt, one of the most important factors in the development of Alabama’s workforce system has the foresight and the wok of the Alabama Workforce Council, a business-led advisory group for the governor, the Legislature and agency heads. Under the Chairmanship of Zeke Smith, from Alabama Power, the council has provided the sounding board needed by among business and state leaders and the vehicle for candid discussions about workforce development initiatives. The importance of the AWC cannot be understated.

Finally, workforce development in this state would not be complete without the work of AIDT. AIDT is Alabama’s workforce training incentive program. It assists both existing businesses in expansion and new businesses moving to the state. AIDT is consistently ranked in the top three training incentive programs in the country, and we are extremely proud of our ranking. Day in and day out, AIDT staff are boots on the ground assisting more than 130 projects across the state helping fill thousands of jobs.

Of course, the best entry point to any job-seekers is the 50-plus Alabama Career Centers located strategically across Alabama, managed by the Alabama Department of Labor.

When you build a team, the goal is to be the best. This involves uniting team members who are good at a particular position. On their own, they may not make a significant impact. But working as a unit, they perform like a well-oiled machine. During the past four years, we’ve been putting this team together, and we’re seeing the fruits of our labor.

Why does this matter to you? Simply said, these changes, these new initiatives, program improvements and alignments will keep Alabama in the game for new industry and jobs. We must have an educated and skilled workforce for our businesses in the world to come.

For more information about these and other programs within Alabama’s education and workforce infrastructure, visit www.alabamaworks.com.

Ed Castile is deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT.

 

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All I want for Christmas is… for every child to have a good education

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