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Opinion | High school graduation, college and career readiness rates improve

This is why targeted funding matters.

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State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey shared good news about public education during the April 11, 2024, meeting of the State Board of Education. Alabama high schools graduated more students in the spring of 2023, compared to 2022, and, equally important, more of them are ready for the next steps in their lives.

Being College and Career Ready (CCR) took on additional significance in 2023 when the Alabama Legislature passed Act 2023-365, which changed the date established by a State Board of Education rule requiring all high school students, beginning with the Class of 2028, to earn at least one college and career readiness indicator prior to graduation. The State Board’s graduating Class of 2028 became the Alabama Legislature’s Class of 2026; it is now the law of the land, and it was a good act.

However, as these changes to graduation requirements were unfolding, there was no funding appropriated to help high schools, especially those with low CCR rates to implement a plan to meet the 2026 deadline. Working with Governor Ivey and her team, leaders in business and industry, Dr. Eric Mackey, key legislators, and other supportive groups recommended a $25 million appropriation, and the legislature agreed. 

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Education Trust Fund (ETF) Budget included $15 million for college and career readiness grants, and the FY 2024 Education Trust Fund Supplemental Budget included $10 million for college and career readiness grants. The Fiscal Year 2025 Education Trust Fund (ETF) Supplemental Budget includes $17 million for college and career readiness grants. 

It is great news that the high school graduation rate and the college and career readiness rate are trending higher. Due to the investments made last year, as well as the sense of urgency created by the State Board of Education and the Legislature, the gap between the graduation rate and the college and career readiness rate was closed by 3.2 percentage points in one year and by 10 percentage points in two years. This is significant, considering the gap was 16 percentage points as recently as 2021. However, the work is not done, as there remains a 6-percentage point gap between the graduation rate of 90 percent and the college and career readiness rate of 84 percent for the Class of 2023.  

This is why targeted funding matters. Governor Ivey’s Commission on Teaching and Learning recommended that for every high school to be ready to meet the 2026 college and career readiness requirement, the full $25 million be continued annually “with a priority given to high school with the greatest implementation challenges.” In other words, target more funding per pupil to the high schools that are the farthest away from reaching the college and career readiness graduation requirement. 

The Alabama Legislature acted wisely in 2023 when it codified the college and career readiness graduation requirement and moved the implementation date forward from 2028 to 2026. Governor Ivey, the State Superintendent of Education, and the State Board acted wisely by requesting $25 million for FY2024 and the results are encouraging. The Legislature can continue the positive trend by providing the full appropriation of $25 million annually for the potentially game-changing college and career readiness grants. Moving forward, the Legislature should consider implementing a weighted student funding formula that prioritizes funding for schools with the greatest challenges and student needs.

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Joe Morton, PhD, is president of the Business Education Alliance of Alabama, chairman of Gov. Kay Ivey's Commission on Teaching and Learning, and the former state superintendent of education, having served from 2004 to 2011.

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