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Opinion | Alabama hasn’t taught black history well. It’s hurt us all.

Josh Moon

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Majority-white public schools received about $23 billion more in funding than majority-nonwhite schools in 2016, according to a report from the nonprofit group EdBuild.

That seemed to surprise a lot of people when the study’s findings were reported in the Washington Post last week. I’m not sure why.

The majority of school funding models are based on property tax revenues, and the majority of affluent landowners in this country are white. We made sure of that for decades in the post-slavery America, utilizing a variety of tactics and Jim Crow laws to ensure that blacks and other minorities knew their place.

In Alabama, we took it a step further. Because if we’re going to overachieve at anything, you can bet it’ll be racism or football.

In this state, to ensure that wealthy landowners didn’t accidentally pay to properly educate black children, we set up a property tax system that taxed working land at much lower rates. Places like plantations and timber land and large farms often didn’t pay as much in taxes as the standard, single-family home.

It’s a system that mostly remains intact today, which explains a lot about the sad state of our education funding.

Because we’re all on this planet together, though, and because you can’t inflict hatred and misery on one group of people without it affecting everyone, this tactic has harmed us all in myriad ways. It has deprived us of countless geniuses, who happened to have darker skin, and it has helped racism thrive.

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But it has also done something else: It has instilled a level of disinterest in nonwhite people, even nonwhite heroes, in our education system and ultimately in our lives. It has led us to approach their struggles and triumphs with a shocking level of indifference.

This is why movies like “Green Book,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture last Sunday, receive such fanfare. We don’t understand what we don’t understand.

We’ve turned the fight for civil rights in this country into a comic book war, and we’ve turned the people who fought those battles into caricatures and cartoons. We’ve totally transformed the environments in which they lived and survived and fought into these made-for-Hollywood, weepy scenes in which only the clearly evil failed to recognize the unflawed minority hero.

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Growing up in Alabama public schools, I entered adulthood believing that Martin Luther King Jr. was something just short of a saint, who was loved by all — black and white — and that racism died because a tired seamstress didn’t want to move out of the white section on the bus one day.

It wasn’t until I met attorney Fred Gray in the early 2000s that I discovered just how utterly misled I had been. Because I had zero idea who Fred Gray was.

“You should look me up,” Gray told me one day. I did.

Let me tell you all you need to know about Gray’s lawyering skills: In the mid-1960s, in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, MLK was prosecuted for tax evasion. Fred Gray got him acquitted. In Alabama. By an all-white jury.

Sell that damn movie.

He also defended Rosa Parks in the Montgomery bus desegregation case, won approval for the Selma-to-Montgomery march, desegregated Alabama’s public colleges, helped plan the bus boycott and brought national attention to the horror that was the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

I remember thinking: How is this stuff not in textbooks?

And it just kept getting worse.

Turns out, Rosa Parks wasn’t just some timid and tired seamstress. She was a legit superhero who fought off a would-be rapist and then went to work trying to expose and bring to justice men who sexually assaulted black women in the days of Jim Crow.

She knew she had almost zero chance of winning convictions from all-white juries, but that never stopped her from shaming men publicly — through the media, through government officials, through simple word of mouth.

She and Gray and their team of “agitators” helped plan and pull off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And they didn’t do it by luck or by the goodwill of a white savior who rode in to push the well-meaning-but-downtrodden blacks over the finish line.

They did it with intelligence and cunning and planning and bravery.

It’s an awful travesty that American school kids don’t know the names of E.D. Nixon, Claudette Colvin, Jo Ann Robinson and so many others.

But then, knowing these men and women, and knowing their full stories and the history that has truly shaped us all, would lead to a better understanding and possibly a bit more harmony.

And denying that outcome seems to be the point of it all.

 

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Economy

Alabama Workforce Council delivers annual report touting improved career pathways

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The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) recently delivered its Annual Report to Gov. Kay Ivey and members of the legislature. The report highlights the many and varied workforce successes from 2019. It also outlines policy recommendations to further solidify Alabama as a leader in workforce development and push the state closer to Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the state’s workforce by 2025.

Gov. Ivey acknowledged the recent progress stating, “the continued efforts of the AWC and the various state agency partners in transforming our workforce are substantial. Significant work has been accomplished to ensure all Alabamians have a strong start and strong finish. We will continue to bolster our state’s economy through dynamic workforce development solutions to help us reach our ambitious goal.”

The AWC, formed in 2015, was created as an employer-led, statewide effort to understand the structure, function, organization and perception of the Alabama workforce system. The goal of the AWC is to facilitate collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable workforce that is competitive on a global scale. 

“This report details the tremendous efforts of the dedicated AWC members and their partners who have greatly contributed to the progress of building a highly-skilled workforce.” noted Tim McCartney, Chairman of the AWC. “To meet ever-growing job needs of an expanding economy, we have put forth recommendations to bring working-age Alabamians sitting on the sidelines back into the workforce to address our low workforce participation rate.”

Included among the many highlights from the report are:

  • Created the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to support apprenticeships and work-based learning statewide.
  • Established the Alabama Committee on Credentialing & Career Pathways (ACCCP) to identify credentials of value that align with in-demand career pathways across Alabama.
  • Furthered foundational work toward cross-agency outcome sharing through the Alabama Terminal on Linking and Analyzing Statistics (ATLAS).
  • Commissioned statewide surveys to better understand the characteristics, and potential barriers, of the priority population groups (during record-low unemployment) identified as likely to enter or re-enter the state’s workforce. 
  • Provided technical assistance, support staff and grant writing services to a cohort of over 30 nonprofits from across the state enabling them to expand services and directly connect more Alabamians to training and economic opportunity. Services helped cohort members secure over $6.4 million in grant money through various out-of-state grant programs.
  • Identified and evaluated 17 population segments of potential workers and determined the likelihood of adding members of those respective population segments into the workforce. Within this process, issues affecting the state’s labor participation rate were also detailed. 

Vice-Chair of the AWC Sandra Koblas of Austal USA commented, “the energy around workforce development in Alabama right now is incredibly exciting. We are working together with businesses, nonprofits and agency partners to reduce barriers, increase opportunities and grow the state’s overall economy.”

The full report can be viewed here.

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To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council please visit: www.alabamaworks.com/alabama-workforce-council

 

 

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Education

Committee hears state plan to address student mental health

Jessa Reid Bolling

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State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey asked the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee for funding to put more mental health professionals in schools. 

While addressing the committee, Mackey said that having more counseling available for students will help to not only address student mental health but to also help teachers who are “overwhelmed” with trying to make up for the lack of counseling services. 

“Teachers are the frontline on good mental health for our students,” Mackey said. “They have to do a lot of the work but teachers are not therapists. They don’t have time to do it, they’re not trained to do it and teachers in our state are absolutely overwhelmed with the problems that are coming into their classrooms. 

The Alabama State Department of Education in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Mental Health created the School Based Mental Health Services Program (SBMH) in 2010 with the goal of ensuring that children and adolescents, both general and special education, enrolled in local school systems have access to high quality mental health prevention, early intervention and treatment services. 

The collaboration places a certified mental health professional, hired by the mental health department, in a school system to be available throughout the school day, with an estimated cost of $50,000 per site, according to Mackey. 

Mackey said in his presentation that there is a need for far more of these therapists than he is requesting but that there simply are not enough of them available to be hired. He also noted that seeking the help of social workers and organizations like the Department of Human Resources to fill that need for more school counseling would ultimately harm their existing duties. 

“If we put students in therapy but then they’re going home to a dysfunctional situation, then we’re just spinning our wheels and that’s why we’ve got to have community collaborations and we’ve got to have these other strong agencies like Mental Health (Department) and DHR to support the work with the communities.”

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Alabama State Senator Jim McClendon (District 11) said that he has heard from “frustrated” teachers who have to take on responsibilities apart from teaching. 

“They were kind of depressed, the teachers were, simply because they felt like they weren’t able to do the job they were hired to do because they were doing so many other things,” McClendon said.

In the 2019 Fiscal Year, nine mental health centers were added with the $500,000 appropriation in FY19. There are now a total of 72 school systems participating in School-Based Mental Health. Mackey says there will be 82 by the end of this year and asked for funding for 20 more after meeting that goal.

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Business, community leaders call on lawmakers to support Gov. Ivey’s push for more Pre-K funds

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Governor Ivey’s push for a $25 million statewide expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was endorsed today by business and community leaders from across the state. If approved by the state Legislature, the proposed funding increase would add at least 160 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 2,889 additional four-year-olds.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2020 Legislative Recommendations. The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities.

In addition to increased funding in FY2021, the Task Force’s plan proposes a series of recommendations to fully fund the state’s First Class Pre-K program by the 2022-23 school year while maintaining the program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/asra-pre-k-task-force-recommendations/.

“We are not there yet, but the state is moving in the right direction to provide high-quality, voluntary pre-k to all families that want it,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, business leaders and co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force is pleased that Governor Ivey is once again prioritizing additional funds to add more pre-k classrooms across the state. We stand with Governor Ivey and encourage lawmakers to appropriate the $25 million increase outlined in her proposal.”

For 13 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.

The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply. Potential providers can apply for three different levels of funding: an excellence classroom (up to $50,400), tiered funding (ranges from $86,904 to $100,008), and a new classroom (up to $120,000). Applications for First Class Pre-K classroom funding are due March 13 on the Department’s website, www.children.alabama.gov.

The ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $122.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.

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Education

Finance and Taxation Education Committee briefed on state program to improve literacy

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey spoke to the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. Mackey addressed the committee on the state department of education’s efforts on improving literacy.

We have a literacy task force,” Mackey said. “We are very proud and happy to have the Literacy Act.”

“A task force is meeting,” Mackey said. “Their main purposes are to vet, form an assessment of K-12 reading, and vet materials.”

“We have 14 venders who responded to a request to bid,” Mackey said. We narrowed that down to six and the finally three. We have sent letters offering them to present their best price statewide. “We will get a statewide price from all venders. I can not tell you which three are the final three.”

“The Alabama Action Plan for Literacy is being revised by a committee formed by the Literacy Act,” Mackey explained. An eight person committee will be meeting between now and June to revise the Alabama Action Plan for Literacy.”

“We are relying on outside experts who have done work in other states,” Mackey told the committee.

Mackey said that the department is hiring 53 state reading specialists. “Each of them will be assigned to the lowest performing schools.“ The poorest performing five percent will have a reading specialist in their school every single day. The schools that are having the least difficulty will see a specialist once a quarter. The schools in the middle will see a reading specialist once a month. “The focus is on the most needy schools.”

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“We are around 40th in (fourth grade) reading,” Mackey said. “We are lower in math. We were in the state average ten years ago, but have dropped.”

“We will be going to a new test for reading,” Mackey explained. “Our current test is not accepted by the federal government so I had to get a new test. “We could have lost a $half a billion in federal money if we had not done that.”

“In the eighth grade we are 49th on reading,” Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. ‘How did we lose our way?”

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Orr chairs the committee.

Mackey said that before the Great Recession the ARI (Alabama Reading Initiative) budget was $70 million. That was cut to $40 million. “All the summer training for teachers and reading coaches went away. We have many teachers who have turned over in the last ten certainly twenty years who have never had any training in those ARI modules.”

Mackey said that a report came out that was not favorable to Alabama Schools of Education. “We do not prescribe their curriculum.”

State Senator Jabo Wagoneer, R-Vestavia Hills, asked, “I chaired a committee on Artificial Intelligence there seems to be some concern at the college and higher education level that our K-12 students are not prepared in technology Where are we on technology in our K-12 schools.”

“Compared to surrounding states we are actually ahead,” Mackey said. “We are the fifth state in the nation to meet all the code.org criteria. We are ahead of at least 45 other states.”

“We put in place a three-year plan to offer a computer science course in every high school,” Mackey said. “The next year we will offer computer science in every middle school. The third year we will offer it in every elementary school. Hundreds of elementary schools are already offering computer science.”

The Governor is asking for more money for reading coaches and ARI in the 2021 education trust fund budget (ETF).

In 2019, the Alabama Legislature approved a state constitutional amendment that, if ratified by voters, would replace the elected Alabama’s State Board of Education with a commission appointed by the governor. Amendment one will be on the March 3 ballot.

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