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Who benefits when small cities separate to form new school system?

By Sen. Linda Coleman Madison

Alabama has 67 counties with 138 separate school systems. Currently, Alabama law states that a city with a population of 5,000 may form its own school system.

Most of Alabama’s schools are countywide and educational resources distributed equally so that all children have access to the same educational opportunities.

The Alabama Educational Trust Fund is the stable source of funding for all Alabama public school systems. Many cities, however, do subsidize their schools through local funding.

Still, when schools break away from an existing system, the state takes on the extra expense to provide facilities, administrators, teachers, equipment, transportation, extracurricular activities, technology, and anything else needed by the system. This includes operations and maintenance of the entire school system, which creates a duplication of educational resources.

Currently, we have newly created systems which are 3-to-5 miles apart, each competing to offer a quality education to the students in the communities they serve. In these situations, classes could have been combined to educate all children and ensure that all children have equal access to a quality education.

In recent years, the State Board of Education has had to take over several school systems, which is indicative of the complexity of operating a school system and being able to provide a quality education to prepare children for productive employment, while remaining financially solvent.

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The question is are we succeeding?

Alabama received a grade of C. Although, it is an improvement from the previous 10 years, it is not information we can use to convince potential businesses that our state has a quality workforce.

We have much to overcome relative to education and we must start looking at the root of the problems and work together to maximize resources to educate all children so that their future in Alabama will be bright.

Over the last two decades several municipalities have separated and formed new school systems. This peeling away has eroded the overall quality of education for the state of Alabama as a whole, as the state struggles to create quality in every system.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, a national service organization, brought this to the attention of the Alabama Legislature. These civic-minded leaders, most of whom are educators, brought this to light in a public forum related to the most recent separation case involving Jefferson County Board of Education v. Gardendale City Board of Education, which will be decided by the courts.

Many of the parents of the outlying communities expressed frustration and betrayal because their children would be bused miles past the new Gardendale schools to another school farther away, which leaves many in a state of uncertainty.

Additionally, Jefferson County’s desegregation plan requires that Jefferson County Schools be designed to attract and serve a racially and geographically diverse student body to comply with the desegregation order by the court.
It became evident that something needed to be done to address the situation and the Birmingham Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, embarked on a statewide petition to stem the tide of break-away schools by raising the city population threshold from 5,000 to 25,000 as a requirement before a new school system would be able to separate from the existing system through a statewide petition.

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The group also approached Alabama legislators in an effort to get a law passed. As a result, I have introduced SB44; and Rep. Merika Coleman has introduced HB250 to make the 25,000-resident requirement mandatory throughout the state and establishes criteria for which a city may form its own school system. Furthermore, SB44 includes the existing state mandate that new school systems have a three-month financial reserve fund as previously determined by the State School Board. The bill also addresses the issue of property acquisition and reimbursement to the parent system. Systems that already exist will be grandfathered.

This legislation is not intended to penalize or stop cities from forming their own school systems. This legislation is put forth to ensure that the law is brought up to date based on current standards, requirements for a school system, and financial obligations.

Legislation SB44 will make sure that cities that want to form a new school system are financially able to support that system, without it being a burden on the state. It also places the authority with the State Board of Education to determine the financial ability of the city making the request to separate.


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