By Adam Keller
While the discussion of our schools lately has been focused on report cards and test scores, I think it’s important to put this conversation into context. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Alabama made some of the deepest cuts to K-12 education in the country. Even now, our funding levels have yet to recover to 2008 levels. To add insult to injury, since 2013 over $90 million dollars of public school funds have been funneled into private school scholarships through the Accountability Act. In an environment of funding cuts, stagnant salaries, and political attacks, it’s not surprising that school districts across the state are facing a shortage of qualified educators, particularly in areas such as math, science, and special education.
Let’s also admit that the success of our local schools is directly linked to the economic development of the communities they serve. Alabama ranks near the bottom on virtually every quality of life measurement, with some of the highest poverty rates, highest incarceration rates, and worst access to healthcare in the country. With so many of our students facing socioeconomic obstacles, it’s that much more important that our schools have the resources our students deserve. We use a single test score to label and punish a school even though research is clear that test scores are shaped more by socioeconomic factors outside of the school than education factors inside the school. To be clear, the achievement gap is real, and we know our schools need to improve. But let’s be honest about where we’re at.
Let’s recognize that the working conditions of educators are the learning conditions of students. Let’s recognize that public education is vital to our communities and our democracy. Let’s recognize that our educators have been doing more with less and they need a substantial pay raise. And finally, let’s recognize that many of our students are struggling with mental illness, struggling with abuse and trauma, struggling with poverty, struggling with unemployed or incarcerated parents. For these reasons and so many more, our students need access to high-quality Pre-K, after-school and summer programs, smaller class sizes, a well-rounded curriculum, social workers and counselors, mental health and the other wrap-around supports to close the achievement gap.
Let’s fund and support the public schools our students deserve. I’m tired of our state being the best at everything bad and the worst at everything good. A better Alabama is possible!
Adam Keller is a former high school history teacher. He currently works as a field representative for the Alabama Education Association where he advocates for the employees of Huntsville City Schools and organizes against corporate education reform. Opinions expressed here are his own and not endorsed by his employer.