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Public Hearing on Common Core Opt Out Bill

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

A public hearing was held Tuesday, March 11, on a bill allowing Alabama’s local school boards to decide whether or not they want to implement the highly controversial new Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, which were based on the unpopular Common Core Standards which are being pushed on the states by the administration of President Barack H. Obama.  Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale is the sponsor the opt-out bill, SB 443.

Sponsor Senator Scott Beason, Senator Vivian Figures (D) from Mobile, Senator Bill Hightower (R) from Mobile (who came in towards the end), and Chairman Dick Brewbaker (R) from Montgomery were the only Senators on the ten member committee who even bothered to attend.  Proponents of the bill and opponents were allowed to speak for five minutes each.

Sen. Beason said there was not much left to explain about the bill, though there was some misinformation out there.  Beason said that he was still for total repeal and that he did not favor the education experiment that we are putting our children through.  SB 443 is a compromise that allows the decision on implementation of the new standards.

Senator Beason said that the standards we had were very good standards.  Texas and Virginia have both opted out of the Common Core.  “The same kind of promises were made in No Child Left Behind” and everybody wanted out of that just a few years into the program.  “Lets let duly elected local school boards make this decision.”

A representative of the Elmore County school system spoke in opposition to the bill.  She said that this is a State Board of Education matter and that our school board unanimously voted that they are opposed to SB 443 and embrace the Common Core Standards.

She said that she met with Rep. Mike Holmes (R) from Wetumpka and it was a very positive and meaningful experience.  “We had a very open exchange,” and she hoped their meeting helped clarify some of the issues. “I am an elected official.  I am always available to discuss the issues.”  She said, “We have had zero people show up at a board meeting to oppose,” common core and finds all of this to be rather perplexing.

Danny Hubbard spoke in favor of SB 443.  “Senator Beason mentioned in the bill that local boards have the option to opt out of common core.”  We have proven in our research that this is part of a federal movement.  “Common core gave the states the option to add 15% to the standards,” Alabama added just 9%.

Katey Campbell Smith spoke in opposition of SB 443. “I am member of Macon County Board of Education…I come before you to oppose SB 443 and any effort to legislate Alabama’s education standards. I support Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.”

“Education in Alabama is not a collection of one room schools.  The state school board sets the standards.  The local school boards implement those standards…What the bill offers is simply an illusion and would require us to put to in place out dated standards.”

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Smith said, “It makes no sense and would dismantle state testing and accountability.  Alabama School Boards support Alabama College and Career Ready Standards…I am proud of the Alabama standards.  I stand here to protect our standards.”

Eunie Smith the President of Alabama Eagle Forum said, “Our position remains that we favor total repeal of common core and replacement with proven standards.” Eunie Smith said, “Parental control is best close to home” and that Eagle Forum supports, “Alabama standards that reflect Alabama values.” “Go back to the standards that you have.”

President Smith said in a prepared statement,

“Common Core standards are not research based. The only professional mathematician on the Common Core validation committee, Dr. James Milgram, says they lower the bar, fail to prepare high school students for STEM, and will put students two years behind other countries.  The only English professor on the committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, explains that common core is unlikely to prepare students for college and will stunt students’ critical thinking skills by replacing much classic literature with informational reading such as EPA regulations, etc. This is a surrender to the idea that most students should be trained for static jobs in the global economy as cc declares, not nurtured as creative human beings with hearts and minds and souls.”

President Smith said, “Significantly, a 2013 analysis by Stanford and the Economic Policy Institute shows U. S. schools are NOT being outpaced by international competition.  One-size-fits-all national standards with their inevitable political indoctrination can be expected to squelch ingenuity and further undermine American exceptionalism and private enterprise.”

Martha Peek from the Mobile public schools said, “Educators in Alabma are committed to providing high quality educational opportunities for students in Alabama.” Peek claimed that education moves through different cycles of education thought.  “Today’s term is college and career ready.”

Peek said that “Is one of the most meaningful goals set in Alabama in decades. “We must all unite to see that our young people are educated…College and career ready can not be just another term…The standards need to remain in place throughout Alabama…Principals and teachers who have studied the standards have embraced the standards.”

Dr. Julie Sebrice is the mother of four children and has actually worked with the controversial new Common Core math standards.  She complained that the common core book jumped around from skill to skill and not enough time is spent on any skill for the children mastery.  Her children had problems with the new math.  “After a few months of this I hired tutors.”  “I do not believe the common core math is well defined and it is developmentally inappropriate.”

Dr. Sebrice said, that eventually, she told her children that school math is just for fun and we do our math work at home.

Dr. Sebrice also objected to the new English standards. “I take issue with calling this vigorous.” Her daughter who is in the eighth grade in private school is studying the Odyssey while public schooled children are reading the “Hunger Games.”  Homer’s ‘Odyssey is rated at a 10.3 grade reading level while ‘Hunger Games’ is just a 5.5 grade level difficulty.

Denise Burkhalter is a member of AVSB.  “I come to here on behalf of my tenth grade public school daughter.”  “What a tragedy it would be if my children did not have access to the college and career ready standards.”

Becky Gerritson has an education degree, is President of the Wetumpka Tea Party, and is a veteran home school parent.  “Parents may very well demand that their school boards opt out.”  Gerriton decried what she saw as political bias in the Common Core book on American History.  It does not tell students the truth about America.  It does not tell the truth about slavery. Slavery was an institution for thousands of years before the founding of this country.  “Students are led to believe that Benjamin Franklin opposed the Constitution.”  “Americans are portrayed as barbaric murderers when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.”

Students are diverted from literature issues into things like space travel. According to Gerritson one of the recommended books in the literature Common Core list is a book by Toni Morrison.  The book is about a 13 year old girl who is sexually abused by a Priest.  Gerritson read aloud from a section of the book told through the eyes of the Priest sex molester and read sexual slang words and sexual sensations that the editor of the Alabama Political Reporter would not allow me to repeat here.  Chairman Brewbaker demanded that President Gerritson stop reading from the book.

“This book and other books like it are vile and inappropriate,” Gerritson said.

Since the hearing, Alabama State School Superintendent Tommy Bice has said that that book is not on a reading list anywhere in this state and will not be.

“Pass this bill protect our children,” Gerritson said.

Suzanne Colbreth, the 2013 teacher of the year and mother of two said, “I oppose SB 443.”  “I have in my hands 50 emails from teachers all over the state.  Each and every one of the wholeheartedly support the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.”

Hubert “Bud” Johnson from Madison County identified himself as a rocket scientist and businessman.  “The content is the question.  We are not opposed to standards.”  “I would like to see common core repealed altogether.”  SB 443 is a step in the right direction

Ken Freeman from Morgan County said, “We have been through this many times and we will go through this some more it appears…Common core has the potential for creating a permanent educational underclass…There are psychological affects of testing.  For a child experiencing poverty in a single family home, they respond to additional stress by shutting down…Rich people have the resources to do whatever they have to do to protect their children.  Poor children don’t get tutors or get to go to a private school.”

Freeman said jobs are important but they are not necessarily producing a quality life.  All that the Business Council of Alabama wants is workers.  “Slaves have jobs.  They do not have choices or freedom.  Without free will you are a slave…When we hear the Superintendent talking about business as the consumer, shows that the State department is concerned with creation of a dumbed down workforce.  Even the NEA has come out against this and the New York Teachers Union has solidly opposed this.”

The Director of human resources at Austal, Sandra Couplis said, We are very proud of the workforce we have in Alabama and have over 500 openings on the books for this year.  This growth at Austal did not happen overnight. She said that Austal is lucky to have a state that they can work with.  “Please do not take that away.” A highly skilled technical workforce needs problem solving skills.  That is critical to ship builders.  Those skills need to be devloped at an early age.

The Director of the Alabama Legislative Watchdogs, Ann Eubank, said that she is here in support of SB 443.  Common core has taken our country’s greatest gift, freedom of choice, away.  Eubank warned that information gleaned by the state through Common Core whether given freely or taken by the Department of education will shared with HHS, the IRS, and Homeland Security.  “This bill gives the right of privacy back to the parents.”

Eubank said that Common Core takes away the right of the student in the future based on tests in the eighth grade to determine is or her aptitude for future jobs.  “Testing in the 8th grade put them on a career path for life.”  Once lost There is no chance to regain that choice.

Eubank warned that Common Core teaches leftist theories like environmentalism, global warming, and collectivism.  “We don’t build hybrid cars in Alabama.”

Charles Elliot with the state board of education said that these are good standards.  Switching back to the old standards will lead to a total disruption of our students in Alabama and ignores the course of study committee.  Elliot said that he is opposed to, “Shifting this political debate to our 135 school boards.”

Stacy Tolbush from Leeds moved here from Missouri with her three children.  Tolbush complained that since Leeds City Schools adopted the new standards her children have suffered.  “I have been told that I do not have the option of opting out of Common Core.  I was told by teachers that they are just following order.  I was told not to teach my children myself.  I was told, ‘Don’t box her (Tolbush’s daughter) in to my way of thinking.’ I asked to see a text book….No reply.  I have to spend 2 to 3 hours a night teaching my children myself. My Superintendent (John Moore) mocked me when I took my concerns to him. I have to teach my children the old math.  I make less than $30,000 a year.  I can’t afford private school.”

While I want the whole thing to go away I support SB 443.  I don’t matter to my children’s school superintendent.

Sonya Griffith, the PTA President in Madison, said “I support the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.”

Retired Marine Major Smith from Morgan County said that the overflow crowd of over 200 people on both sides in the room, “Shows that there are a lot of folks in Alabama that care about education.”  Smith said, “Let counties and city school boards make a judgment call,” on which standards to use.  “The closer that the government is to the people the better.”

Connie Spears said she serves on the Madison City Board of Education.  “I support the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards…I know how hard it is to more from school to school.”

Billy Canary who heads the powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA) said that BCA urges you to vote no on SB 443.  The voices of business in Alabama support the College and Career Ready Standards and feels that they are the cornerstone of the state’s Plan 2020

“Our children need to be the best educated work force and elimination of these standards would be a disservice to our children.”

Kelly Barry from Morgan County said, “I am opposed to Common Core…I am opposed slightly to this bill because we did not put in the funding limits on expanding common core.”  I have been in private business as well.  Follow the money. All of the opponents are employees of the school system while all the proponents have all volunteered and come at their own expense.”

“One of the things I am concerned about is truth.  The Founders set up the school systems to be sure that Truth and Morals were taught.  I don’t see us teaching truth and morality.”

Elizabeth Davis is a member of the state’s Course of Study Committee and also works in the Tuscaloosa City Schools.  “I am opposed to this bill.  I find it hard to understand why we would want to go back to 1999 standards.  I would not want to go back to a doctor from 1999.  Overturning Common Core would be educational malpractice.”

Davis said that they were asked to use the Common Core to create the Alabama Course of Studies.

Dr. Terry Batton from Eufaula said, “For 50 plus years I have been sharing the Gospel…I took time to look at the Common Core Standards. It concerns me that we have never dealt with the morality factor.  We have left God out of these discussions.”

Morality is nonexistent in these standards. We must understand where we come from, where we are, and where we are headed.  “Is our intellect Christ-like? There may be some good parts to Common Core. Christianity is not rated very high in the Common Core Standards.  The principles of Christianity are not there.  Where is the Bible?  Where is the scriptures?  We need this bill to pass.  We should have the opportunity to choose.”

Dr. Batton continued, “I wonder how close we are to losing the America that we all love.  We have got to have this SB 443 bill so that we can still have choice…The people of Alabama don’t want our children to be taught that homosexuality is o.k. as early as kindergarten.  Alabama wants to choose what our children learn when they learn it and how they learn.”

Social justice themes will be written in common core.  Don’t trust anybody else, read it your selves.  It teaches children that American is an unjust and oppressive society that must be changed.  Common Core favors redistribution of wealth.

Dr. Batton concluded Common Core is a Trojan horse at the gateway of America’s educational system.  The curriculum is against the principles of faith, family and freedom and will dilute and erode the influence of the Lord in the minds of our children.

The Rainy Day Patriots Tea Party and Alabama Legislative Watchdogs are joining Alabama Homeschool groups at an event on Wednesday with signs at the state house steps to demonstrate their support for SB 443 from 8:45 to 3:15.  Home School families will also be touring the state house.  Call 205-908-8332 to secure a place on the tour.

The Committee will vote on SB 443 on Wednesday.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Three mental health crisis centers coming to Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville

“Today marks a culture change in Alabama for treatment of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey Press held a press conference with Alabama Dept. of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear for the announcement of Crisis Center Awards Wednesday, October 28, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced an $18 million project to create three new mental health crisis centers to be located in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. 

These centers, once in operation, will reduce the number of people suffering from mental health crises who are hospitalized or jailed, Ivey said during a press briefing in front of the Capitol Building in Montgomery. 

“When these facilities are open and fully staffed, these centers will become a safe haven for people facing mental health challenges,” Ivey said. 

Lynn Beshear, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, said during the briefing that the centers will provide “recovery based” care with “short term stays of a few hours, or up to a few days, to provide treatment, support, and connection to care in the community.” 

“Today marks a culture change in Alabama for treatment of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders,” Beshear said. 

Beshear said AltaPointe Health in Mobile will operate one of the three facilities, and once built it is to serve Mobile, Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Monroe and Washington counties with 21 new beds, including 15 temporary observation beds. Altapointe will begin with a temporary space while constructing the new facilities, she said. 

Beshear said the Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority is partnering with the East Alabama Mental Health Authority and the Central Alabama Mental Health Authority to serve the 11 counties in Region 3 with 21 new beds, including 10 temporary observation and respite beds. 

“The regional crisis center will be located in Montgomery, and will be open to walk-ins and for drop off by law enforcement, first responders and referrals from emergency rooms,” Beshear said. 

Wellstone Behavioral Health in Huntsville was selected to open the third center, and will do so at a temporary site while a new facility is being built, with the help of an additional $2.1 million from local governments, Beshear said. That facility will eventually have 39 beds, including 15 for temporary observation and 24 for extended observation.

“There’s not a day that goes by that after-hours care is not an issue in our state,” said Jeremy Blair, CEO of Wellstone Behavioral Health, speaking at the press conference. “And so I applaud the Department of Mental Health and the leaders for their efforts in recognizing that and taking it a step further and funding our efforts here.” 

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Asked by a reporter why a center wasn’t located in Jefferson County, one of the most populous counties with a great need for such a center, Ivey said those residents will be served in one of the other regions. 

“Plans are underway to continue this effort. Today’s beginning, with these three crisis centers, is just the beginning,” Ivey said. 

Ivey added that request for proposals were sent out for these three centers and “it was a strong competition for the location of these three crisis centers.” 

Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said during the briefing that more than a year ago, Ivey asked him what the state should be looking at, and that he replied “we’re failing miserably in mental health.”

Gov. Kay Ivey Press held a press conference with Alabama Dept. of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear and House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter for the announcement of Crisis Center Awards Wednesday, October 28, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

Ledbetter said Ivey asked him to take on the challenge of correcting the state’s response to mental health, and a team was created to do just that. 

“Working together, today’s announcement will not only change Alabamians lives, but will help to save lives,” Ledbetter said.

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Health

Ainsworth returns to work after testing positive for COVID

Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth speaks during a video message. (LT. GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)

Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Wednesday announced that he was returning to work that day and had met public health requirements for quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19 some time last week.

Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease. 

“While many have battled with coronavirus, my symptoms never progressed beyond some mild congestion that I usually experience with seasonal allergies,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “During the quarantine period, I participated in several Zoom calls, caught up on some office work, spent some quality time with my family, and completed a number of overdue projects on my farm.”

Members of Ainsworth’s staff who were in close contact with him haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 but will remain in quarantine for a full 14-day period as a precaution, according to a press release from Ainsworth’s office Wednesday. 

“Ainsworth once again urges all Alabamians to practice personal responsibility, which may include wearing masks, maintaining social distancing whenever possible, and taking other precautions to lessen chances of exposure to COVID-19,” the press release states.

Ainsworth still disagrees with Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, he said. According to the release, he considers such orders “a one-size-fits-all governmental overreach that erodes basic freedoms and liberties while removing an individual’s right to make their own health-related choices.” 

The wearing of cloth or medical masks has been proven to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 and the more people who wear masks, the better. While not perfect, masks limit the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain infectious virus shed from the nose and mouth of the mask wearer.

It is possible — even likely — for symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and mildly symptomatic people to spread the virus. That’s why it’s important to wear a mask even when you’re not sick.

Cloth masks offer only minimal protection from others who are not masked, meaning that masks are not simply a matter of personal safety but safety of others. Masks are also only effective when worn over both the mouth and the nose. [Here’s a guide on how to wear masks properly.]

VIA UAB

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Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told Ivey after she announced the statewide mask order that it was a “brilliant” idea. The order has been credited by Alabama infectious disease experts as having dramatically reduced the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks after the order went into effect. 

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Tuesday that from personal observation he is seeing more people not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and said the state could dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 if the public regularly wore masks and wore them properly.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday crossed the 1,000 mark for the first time since Aug. 31 — a sign that Alabama may be headed for another peak in hospitalizations as the state prepares for winter and flu season.

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Elections

Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment

“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.

The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.

This is their letter:

Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise.  As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.

Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.

The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.

Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville

Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention

Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale

Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery

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National

Report: Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state in economic prospects

Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(APR GRAPHIC)

It took Marquis Forge five years and 18 banks before he and his partner were able to open their company, Eleven86 Water, in Autauga County, just north of the Black Belt, and a report released Tuesday shows how Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses. 

Forge, a former University of Alabama football player, told reporters during a briefing Monday that he considers Autauga County, which borders the Black Belt’s Lowndes County, part of the Black Belt, and said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to access the capital needed to start a business. 

The report released Tuesday by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center titled “Black Belt manufacturing and Economic Prospects” is the last in the center’s Black Belt 2020 series, and found that only four of the state’s 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the center, are above the statewide average of 22.4 businesses per 1,000 residents, and just one, Montgomery County, was above the 2018 statewide average of personal income of $43,229. 

Researchers also found that just three Black Belt counties are above the state’s average in gross domestic product being produced by counties of $45,348. 

“To achieve Governor Ivey’s ambitious goal of 500,000 a million more Alabama workers with skills by 2025, all hands have to be ‘on deck.’ It will require higher labor force participation rates, particularly in the Black Belt, where the average is 20 points below the statewide average,” said Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center and one of the authors of the report. 

“Due to smaller economies of scale, our approaches to  education, workforce development, and community building will have to be different to reach Alabama’s Black Belt,” Katsinas continued. “In the longer term, we first must define the Black Belt, because you can’t measure what you can’t define. Then we must do what West Alabama Works is doing–go where the people are to bring hope by connecting them to a well-aligned lifelong learning system that makes work pay.”   

Donny Jones, COO of Chamber of Commerce West Alabama and Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks, told reporters Monday that one of the keys to helping the Black Belt will  be helping state and Congressional legislators understand the nuances of rural Alabama. 

Jones said the state should look at how colleges are graded, and that many smaller colleges don’t get credit for putting students through programs that get them short-term certificates that lead to jobs. 

“Those are some of the things on the statewide level that we can really start to work on,” Jones said, adding that they’ve already begun teaching modern manufacturing in Black Belt high schools that gives students college credits toward an associates degree while still in high school. 

“I think that’s very important for individuals to understand the impact that we can have in our higher ed and our K-12 system, really works hand in glove to move the needle for workforce development,” Jones said. 

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Jim Purcell, State Higher Education executive officer of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told reporters that it’s also important to look at one’s own community and identifying what is “unique and special,” and said he was recently in Autauga County, where he is from, and bought two cases of Eleven86 Water because he remembered how good the water there was. 

“I think that’s what you’ve done, is you’ve taken the gift that Autauga’s environment has and enhanced it, so that the people can benefit from it,” Purcell said to Forge. “I think that’s the key.” 

Asked what he’d tell state legislators to spur them to make changes so that other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as he did to open a business, Forge said he would ask for a clearer path for assistance. 

“Instead of digging down through a tunnel with a spoon I would have someone outline the tracks on getting funds and assistance from local, state and the national level, because there are funds out there,” Forge said. 

After going to 18 banks to get the financing he needed, he still had to liquify all his assets to make it happen, Forge said. 

“How many people are going to do that?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”

To read all of the Education Policy Center’s reports on Alabama’s Black Belt, visit here.

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