I love living in Birmingham. It’s the progressive city in Alabama, a blue island in a very red state.
A friend in northeastern Virginia once told me I should move to a blue state, that it would add 10 years to my life. I don’t know about that. But, really, if I can’t live in a blue state, I can at least live in a blue city. Birmingham is certainly that.
I must emphasize that I am not a member of the Democratic Party. But I am progressive, and generally vote for the issues most Democrats embrace.
It is Birmingham where the City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage, only to be slapped down by jealous lawmakers from other cities. That case is in court. Birmingham also wanted to remove confederate war memorials, but, again, the Legislature said no. Keep in mind, Birmingham didn’t even exist during the 1861-1865 Civil War.
Now, Birmingham is doing something no other city in Alabama has done. It’s ensuring that city school students can go to college tuition free.
I’d like to see the Legislature vote against that. Who knows? It might. After all, giving underprivileged kids a free college education goes against the grain for many Republicans, if not most. They don’t even like feeding hungry children, complaining all the while about free lunches at public schools.They’re all in for huge tax cuts for the rich; not so much Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the state’s poor and disadvantaged.
That’s fine. This won’t be the first time Birmingham goes out on its own initiative. Last week at UAB, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and UAB President Ray Watts announced they would partner to provide the opportunity for every graduate of Birmingham City Schools to get as many as five years tuition to attend UAB.
Think about that. Birmingham City Schools graduates who qualify will get tuition-free scholarships to attend one of the nation’s most diverse universities. UAB’s hospitals, medical school, and nursing school are among the nation’s best.
Some areas in the state have dual enrollment programs. A few years ago, I taught writing to a Hoover High School senior at UAB. She was a great student.
But looking forward to a tuition-free college education is a game changer.
“Birmingham is UAB, and I think it is fair, UAB is Birmingham,” said Woodfin at the announcement last week. “As we begin a new decade, it’s hard to imagine Birmingham’s future without UAB.”
It is, indeed. UAB is the state’s largest employer. Enrollment at the university that ate Southside is setting records, more than 22,000 students this year. So each of the 23,000 students in a Birmingham city high school won’t have to worry about paying tuition if they make decent grades and do OK on the ACT.
UAB is not lowering entrance requirements for these students, either. According to the announcement, “in order to qualify for the Birmingham Promise scholarship at UAB, Birmingham City School students must … (b)e eligible for UAB admission, which for fall 2020 is a minimum 20 ACT score and a minimum of 2.75 GPA. Be admitted to UAB as a first-time, full-time freshman in the fall semester of the academic year immediately following their high school graduation. Complete the FAFSA form and UAB application by Feb. 1, 2020. After this year, the deadline will be Dec. 1.”
The FAFSA program qualifies students for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs.
“This promise completely changes the trajectory of their lives,” said Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring.
I’m proud to live in a city with leaders who are actually looking out for their younger citizens, who understand the high cost of a college education even at a public university prohibits many good kids from getting a degree, and who do something about it. I’m also proud to teach at a university that sees the value of partnering with a city to help provide that scholarship money to deserving teens.
Yes, it will be costly. Clearly, Woodfin, Watts, and Herring understand that it is worth it for promising students who simply need a helping hand.
This is a bravo moment for Birmingham, UAB, and Birmingham City Schools.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]