As I have been in several local stores lately and seen many of the varied and colorful school uniforms on display, it has reminded me that we have entered the 7th inning stretch of the summer (at least for public schools anyway).
I say 7th inning stretch because, like in baseball when the game is close to winding down, it has reached the time for many students in Mobile and Baldwin counties to soon start reentering classrooms. The summer vacation (to the chagrin of many students, and no doubt sheer elation and ecstasy of many parents) is nigh at end.
The Mobile County Public School System had a very successful 2013-2014 school year, and its “It Starts with Us” campaign has garnered much praise. But, like most county school systems in Alabama, an alternative slogan and campaign the system could have adopted is: “Doing More with Quite a Bit Less!”
Recently our political leaders in Montgomery were quite boastful of the fact that they’ve helped cut a billion dollars of state spending, but around $500 million of that has come at the expense of reduced funds toward education. For a state that continually ranks in the lower percentile of education spending, this is nothing to cheer about. You can’t have a first class education system with worst class investment in that system.
Alabama’s “First-Class” pre-K program has, year after year, been acknowledged as one of the best in the country. But sadly, only 6 percent of Alabama’s students currently have access to the program.
The Alabama Math Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) and Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) are likewise nationally touted programs that have been emulated in other states. Yet, like the First Class program, many students across Alabama are not exposed to them due to funding shortages.
In 2013, the Alabama legislature rammed through the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), which had less to do with public school accountability, and more about siphoning tens of millions from Alabama public schools to assist students in going to private or religious schools – a move the state could hardly afford. Mobile County alone saw $3 million drained from its coffers as a result of the measure. In late May, the AAA was ruled unconstitutional by a Montgomery circuit judge, but the final outcome is still yet to be determined.
Yes, Mobile has its list of what seems like perennial failing schools (currently about six out of the 90 schools in Mobile County). Yet, the solution to bringing these six schools up to the level of the other 84 is not taking millions of dollars away from the system as a whole. It’s in implementing proven strategies that work: hiring more teachers for said schools and reducing classroom sizes, increasing the support staff at such schools, intensive parental programs, and greater access to quality of life resources at the schools.
We can continue to be proud of short changing our education system and not spend money on our kids on the front-end, or pay on the back-end by having a prison system bursting at the seams, which in Alabama, is another story in and of itself.