When the 2013 regular session of the Alabama Legislature convenes tomorrow, the Business Council of Alabama will be vigorously engaged on a number of issues from economic development to healthcare regulations to property rights and others.
But perhaps no issue demands our lawmakers’ attention more than public education. Many may be surprised that a group representing businesses ranging from Alabama’s largest manufacturers to local neighborhood “mom and pop” storefronts would place public education at the top of its agenda, but the reason is actually quite simple.
In a May 2011 column, we showed that by creating more jobs in Alabama – and not raising taxes – more revenue would flow into the Education Trust Fund. With every percentage point drop in the unemployment rate, the ETF nets roughly $100 million in new revenue. In fact, during the most recent fiscal year, the ETF benefited from job creation, when more than $250 million in revenue flowed into the state’s education coffers.
The business community in Alabama is, by far, the largest consumer of the product created by our state’s school systems, so it is imperative that graduates possess the skills and education that the 21st century workplace demands. We believe that skills training should begin during a child’s earliest developmental period and continue throughout their teenage and young adulthood years.
That is why, since 2007, BCA has been a fierce advocate for Alabama’s proven and successful voluntary pre-kindergarten program and for the funding and resources it demands. Investing in our children is the best investment we can make.
Alabama’s Pre-K program, known as “First Class,” is among the best in the nation and a model for other states. The National Institute for Early Education Research, in fact, has ranked our program as one of the top two in the United States in terms of quality and said it met all 10 of the group’s standards.
In addition, the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative are also intensive, world-class teaching programs whose undeniable success has attracted positive attention from across the country. The Bay State Reading Initiative in Massachusetts, for example, is based upon the fundamental principles of ARI and was created after a delegation of educators visited Alabama to study our program. Even with this pedigree, however, AMSTI is available in approximately half of all Alabama schools.
Also, to provide a seamless transition for students entering the workforce, Alabama’s Career and Technical Education programs must become an even higher priority utilizing all of the resources available under the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education our Community College network.
If Alabama is to continue to attract the aerospace, automobile and rocket manufacturing facilities that have made us the envy of our sister southeastern states and the rest of the nation, and if we are going to foster our rapidly growing biotech, high tech and research industries into our economy of tomorrow, Alabama must provide our children the education and skills that those jobs demand.
To enhance this education and skills delivery system, educators and local schools systems need the flexibility to match each unique education environment with the needs of the students. The status quo, a one-size-fits-all approach, has proven to be ineffective no matter how much money is thrown at it…this practice should never be an option, again.
There are some in Alabama politics who wish to divide business and education by promoting fear; however, the Business Council of Alabama has united with many in the education community creating a true Business Education Alliance that will provide hope and opportunities for our students and our future workforce.
Let’s not look back generations from now and ask how great Alabama could have been if not for misplaced priorities and misguided decisions. Instead, the Alabama Legislature must invest our education dollars directly in the classroom, where they belong, so that generations from now our children, our grandchildren and their children after them can look back and thank us for fighting for their future…today!
- William J. Canary and Anita L. Archie