PARCA Statewide Constitutional Amendment Analysis

When voters go to the polls on November 6, they’ll not only be electing a governor, legislators, and other state and local officials, they’ll also be asked to vote on 19 new amendments to the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Voters statewide will decide whether to add four proposed amendments that will apply throughout the state. In addition, 15 local amendments will be voted on only in the counties in which they would apply.

The Alabama Constitution is unusual. It is the longest and most amended constitution in the world.  There are currently 928 amendments to the Alabama Constitution.


Most state and national constitutions lay out broad principles, set the basic structure of the government, and impose limitations on governmental power. Such broad provisions are included in the Alabama Constitution. However, Alabama’s constitution delves into the details of government, requiring constitutional amendments for basic changes that would be made by the Legislature or by local governments in most states. Instead of broad provisions applicable to the whole state, about three-quarters of the amendments to the Alabama Constitution pertain to particular local governments. Amendments establish pay rates of public officials and spell out local property tax rates. A recent amendment, Amendment 921, grants municipal governments in Baldwin County the power to regulate golf carts on public streets.

Until serious reforms are made, this practice will continue, and the Alabama Constitution will continue to swell.

Statewide Amendment 1

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, providing for certain religious rights and liberties; authorizing the display of the Ten Commandments on state property and property owned or administrated by a public school or public body; and prohibiting the expenditure of public funds in defense of the constitutionality of this amendment.”

Amendment 1 and Amendment 2 are proposed amendments to the Alabama Constitution, but they both concern rights and protections that are governed by the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of federal law and the Constitution.

Since the U.S. Constitution supersedes state law and the state Constitution, both these proposed amendments would not have any immediate legal effect. They are more like statements of opinion. However, considering the recently altered composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, those Alabama amendments could become operative as the new court addresses cases that may alter established precedent.

Amendment 1, proposed by Act 2018-389, restates principles of the separation of church and state that currently exist in Section 3 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 which reads:

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

The new proposed amendment adds to that by specifically authorizing the display of the Ten Commandments on public buildings, public property, and public schools, as long as that display is made in conformity with Constitutional principles.

As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, a display of the Ten Commandments on public property is allowed, but only if it is not a specific endorsement of a religion. Displays of the Commandments are permitted when they are contained in a secular context, surrounded by other educational and historical displays. For example, the display might include other historical documents, like the Code of Hammurabi, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution or historical documents or personalities associated with the development of law.

The proposed amendment also specifies that no public funds may be expended in defense of the constitutionality of the amendment. That prohibition of public funding for the defense of the amendment would not prevent public funds being expended to defend a challenge to the constitutionality of a specific display of the Ten Commandments created by any agency or local jurisdiction.

Statewide Amendment 2

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended; to declare and otherwise affirm that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and to provide that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

Amendment 2, proposed by Act 2017-188, concerns the state’s position on abortion rights and the rights of “unborn children.”

It would add an amendment to the Alabama Constitution that would specify that it is the “public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” The proposed amendment does not define at what point a fertilized embryo or developing fetus would be considered an unborn child. The amendment also specifies that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

The right to an abortion is currently protected by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In Roe, the Court ruled that governments, federal, state, and local, could not prohibit a woman from having an abortion during the first trimester and placed limitations on state regulation of abortion in subsequent trimesters. The Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy (recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut) protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. As summarized by Oyez, a compendium of information on the Supreme Court compiled by Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, Justia, and Chicago-Kent College of Law, the Roe decision gave a woman total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters.[1]

In subsequent Supreme Court cases, the Court preserved the right to an abortion but allowed states to regulate abortion and to ban it after the fetus had reached viability, the point at which the fetus could survive outside of the womb. Other restrictions on abortion throughout pregnancy were permissible, the Court ruled, if those restrictions did not put an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

In Alabama, abortion is prohibited when the pregnancy has reached 20 weeks, except in cases of life or health endangerment to the mother. Alabama has also passed numerous regulations pertaining to all abortions. In Alabama, abortions must be performed by a licensed physician. Abortion providing facilities must meet multiple requirements. If the fetus is deemed viable, the abortion must be necessary to preserve the life and health of the mother, a second physician must participate, and it must be performed at a hospital.

Public funding can only be used for an abortion in the case of life endangerment or rape or incest. Alabama requires pre-abortion counseling and a 48-hour waiting period after counseling. If a minor is involved, a parent must give his or her written consent before the procedure can occur.

A 2016 Alabama law would have criminalized dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure, a procedure used throughout pregnancy and the most common method of second-trimester abortions. In August of 2018, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower court ruling blocking the law, finding that the ban would create and undue burden on the right to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable.[2] Alabama also has not repealed its law that was in place before Roe v. Wade.[3] That law makes it a crime to perform an abortion and contains no exceptions for the life or health of the mother.

Passage of the proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution would not have any practical effect under current law. However, if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade and turn abortion regulation back to the states, the language in the Alabama Constitution would potentially have an effect. Any attempt to alter restrictions on abortions could be challenged on the grounds that it would harm the right to life of unborn children. If states were granted the full authority to regulate abortion, the rights to life and liberty guaranteed to individuals (the mother, in this case) in Section 1 of the Alabama Constitution would have to be weighed against the right to life of an unborn child contained in this amendment, if it is adopted.

Abortion rights groups, like Planned Parenthood, and anti-abortion groups, like the Eagle Forum of Alabama, agree that Amendment 2 would lay the groundwork for an abortion ban in Alabama if Roe v Wade is overturned.

Statewide Amendment 3

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, relating to the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, to specify that the congressional districts from which members are appointed continue to reflect those as constituted on January 1, 2018, to remove the State Superintendent of Education from membership, and to delete the requirement that members vacate office at the annual meeting of the board following their seventieth birthday.”

Under current law, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees is composed of 16 people: three members from the congressional district in which the Tuscaloosa campus is located, two members from each of the other six congressional districts in the state, the Governor, and the State Superintendent of Education. If the number of congressional districts in Alabama increased or decreased in the future, the number of trustees would also increase or decrease. Additionally, other than the Governor and the State Superintendent of Education, current law requires a trustee to retire from the board following his or her seventieth birthday.

Amendment 3, proposed by Act 2018-132, does three things:

First, it provides that the board will be composed of members from congressional districts as those districts existed on January 1, 2018.  This eliminates the need to make changes based on the number of congressional districts in Alabama. It does not impact the number of board members. Based on population trends, Alabama is at risk of losing a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.[4] Second, it removes the State Superintendent of Education from automatically having a seat on the board. The Superintendent currently serves on the Auburn University Board of Trustees.[5] The State Superintendent was removed by statute from the board of the University of North Alabama in 2018 but remains on the board of the University of West Alabama.[6] Third, it allows a trustee to serve after his or her seventieth birthday.

Composition of the governing boards for SEC universities varies. Currently, in addition to the University of Alabama System, the Universities of Arkansas, Missouri, and South Carolina also have a state superintendent on the boards.[7]  The Universities of Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee include seats for faculty members on the governing boards, with the University of Florida having two such positions and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees rotates the position by each of its four instructional institutions.

Along with the Universities of Arkansas and Georgia, both Auburn University and the University of Alabama System rely on congressional districts for apportioning seats on their boards, while the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning apportions seats by each of its supreme court districts, and the University of South Carolina recruits board members from each of its 16 judicial districts through a College and University Trustee Screening Commission.[8]

Tennessee requires that the governor appoint at least two residents from each of the state’s three grand divisions, with at least five of the members being alumni of the University of Tennessee, and at least seven must be residents of Tennessee.[9] Missouri requires that board members be U.S. citizens and residents of the state for at least two years. Missouri also prohibits more than five members being from one party.

If a majority of voters vote “Yes” on Amendment 3, future changes to the number of congressional districts in Alabama will not change the number of board members. The State Superintendent of Education will no longer be an ex-officio member of the board, and trustees will be allowed to serve on the board after their seventieth birthday.

If a majority of voters vote “No” on Amendment 3, future changes to the number of congressional districts in Alabama will have an impact the number of board members, the State Superintendent of Education will continue to have an ex-officio seat on the board, and trustees will not be allowed to serve on the board after their seventieth birthday. 

Statewide Amendment 4

 “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that, if a vacancy in either the House of Representatives or the Senate occurs on or after October 1 of the third year of a quadrennium, the seat would remain vacant until a successor is elected at the next succeeding general election.”

Every four years, all members of the Alabama State Senate and House of Representatives stand for election. The subsequent four-year term for which those Senators and Representatives are elected is called a quadrennium.

Currently, if a seat in either house of the Legislature becomes vacant during the quadrennium, a special election must be conducted in order to fill the vacant seat. The Governor must call for a special election if the vacancy happens before the next scheduled general election. The governor has discretion in setting the date of the election along with the nominating deadlines. This special election to fill vacancies can be held at any time during the four-year cycle, and the winner fills the term until the next general election.

When a special election is held, all costs and expenses incurred are paid from funds in the State Treasury not otherwise appropriated. Each legislative special election costs the state roughly $120,000.[10]

Alabama is one of twenty-five states in the U.S. that fill vacancies in the state legislature through special elections. Twenty-two states fill vacancies through appointments and three states fill vacancies through a hybrid system that uses both appointments and special elections.[11]

Amendment 4, proposed by Act 2018-276, would keep the current procedures for calling a special election in place but would change the current law so that when a vacancy occurs in the Senate or House of Representatives on or after October 1 of the third year of the quadrennium, the seat will remain vacant until the next general election – approximately 14 months or less.

The Governor would no longer have the power to schedule a special election to fill a vacancy in these circumstances, and public funds that would have been spent on the special election would be saved.

This amendment would not apply to U.S. Congressional or Senate seats.

If a majority vote “Yes” on Amendment 4, state legislative seats that become vacant within the final 14 months of the four-year term of office will remain vacant until the general election.

If a majority vote “No” on Amendment 4, the Governor will continue to be required to schedule a special election whenever a vacancy occurs in the state legislature.

For more information, see the analysis provided by the Alabama Fair Ballot Commission at https://sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/voter/ballot-measures/statewide.

[1] “Roe v. Wade.” Oyez, 3 Oct. 2018, www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18.
[2] Stempl, Jonathan. U.S. appeals court finds Alabama abortion law unconstitutional. Reuters. August 22, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alabama-abortion/us-appeals-court-finds-alabama-abortion-law-unconstitutional-idUSKCN1L71ZP
[3] Ala. Code § 13A-13-7
[4] Cason, Mike. “Amid Census Controversy, Alabama Launches ‘Maximum Participation’ Effort,” Tribune News Services, http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/tns-alabama-ivey-census.html
[5] A member of the State Board of Education sits, ex officio, on the Alabama College System Board of Trustees for the two-year college system. See https://www.accs.cc/index.cfm/board-of-trustees/
[6] See https://www.billtrack50.com/BillDetail/914457; University of West Alabama Board of Trustees, https://www.uwa.edu/about/boardoftrustees
[7] In Arkansas, the Superintendent of Public Instruction is the board president and votes as a tie breaker, like U.S. Vice President does in the Senate.
[8] College and University Trustee Screening Commission https://www.scstatehouse.gov/CommitteeInfo/Universities&CollegesScreeningCommittee/Univ&CollScreening.php
[9] HB 2115 http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2115
[10] Gattis, Paul. “’No logic’ to Alabama’s special elections, which may be outlawed anyway.” AL.com March 2, 2018. https://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2018/03/no_logic_to_alabamas_special_e.html
[11] How vacancies are filled in state legislatures, Ballotpedia.com https://ballotpedia.org/How_vacancies_are_filled_in_state_legislatures


K-12 Education Ranks as the #1 Priority Among Alabama Voters

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

  • Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
  • Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
  • Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

This summer and fall, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#1: K-12 Education

What is the issue?

K-12 public education is the highest concern for voters in Alabama. Seventy percent said they were very concerned, and this issue cuts across all political parties as a major concern. Eighty percent of Democrats indicate they are very concerned, followed by 60% of Republicans and 66% of independents. The key concerns cited by voters included funding, teacher preparation, class size, and low student achievement.

Funding

Forty-four percent of voters said that funding was their top priority related to education.

Alabama ranks 39th among the 50 states when it comes to per-pupil spending on K-12 education. According to data from the Alabama Department of Education, there is a wide disparity between spending in Alabama school systems, ranging from over $12,000 per student in Mountain Brook to $7,615 per pupil in Autauga County.

In 2015 Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates (APA) was commissioned by the Alabama Department of Education to study the adequacy and equity of school funding in the state.

To determine adequacy, APA looked to see what successful districts in Alabama spend per student. They also formed fifteen panels of school representatives from across the state tasked with estimating the resources needed to educate any student in Alabama and meet state standards. Chart 1 shows that the expenditures of state and local funds per student across the state in 2013 was considerably less than the estimated expenditure per student needed to provide an adequate good education, as estimated by the two approaches used by the APA study.

These actual and estimated expenditures of state and local funds per pupil are from 2012-13. Actual expenditures per pupil in 2015-2016 were $7,900 per pupil, still below what is recommended.

In addition to concerns about adequate funding, there is concern about the equity in the distribution of state school funds.

Alabama’s funding formula essentially treats all general education students the same, regardless of whether they need extra assistance, which costs money.

Differences in local property wealth enable wealthier districts to spend more on education and potentially create unequal opportunities to learn. A number of analytical studies have shown that Alabama’s school finance system has not met accepted equity standards.

Teacher Preparation

Surveyed voters expressed concern over teacher preparation, with 24% indicating it is their greatest concern related to education.

PARCA has documented the importance of teaching quality in developing student success. Effective teachers can produce gains of 1.5 grade levels, compared to gains of only a half grade among teachers at the bottom of the pool.

In September 2018, the Alabama State Department of Education issued report cards for the state’s teacher training programs, the   Overall, new teachers scored on knowledge of teaching methods, but teacher candidates at a number of colleges fared poorly on mastery of the subject matter they planned to teach. In some cases, only 25% passed these subject matter exams on their first try, though most did pass by their third attempt.

Also included were results from a survey of school principals assessing the degree to which first-year teachers in their schools showed promise as effective teachers.  The pie chart below shows that the majority (59%) entered the profession as effective teachers, with 41% still emerging and needing support, and a small percent needing more corrective remediation.

These are mostly encouraging results as research shows that new teachers learn and grow and become better with experience. Still, state policies surrounding teacher certification vary, and there is debate on what aspects of teacher training are most important. Knowledge of teaching methods and human development continues to be highly valued, but critics in the field argue that more time needs to be spent actively learning through practice teaching in the field with a mentor observing and providing meaningful feedback. Studies are also showing a strong connection between teacher subject matter knowledge and impact on student learning.

Class Size

Class size was identified as a concern by voters in Alabama, and 10% said it was the issue about which they were most concerned. In Alabama, mandated class sizes are established through a teacher-pupil ratio, which provides for smaller classes in earlier grades. Established ratios in Alabama include Grades K-3: 1-18; Grades 4-6: 1-26; and Grades 7-8: 1-29. When districts have to cut their budgets, teachers are let go and class sizes rise.

Support for reducing class size came from research that found small classes could have a positive influence on student achievement. Other researchers have warned that caution is needed, finding that teachers do not necessarily change their instructional practices when class size is reduced and that some subjects may be taught equally as well in larger classes.

Still, it does appear that very large class-size reductions of 7-10 fewer students per class can have significant long-term effects on student achievement. The academic effects seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, for subjects focused on hands-on group activities, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds. They may also be largest in classrooms of teachers who are less well prepared and effective in the classroom. This leads critics to point out that concentrating on developing effective teachers is the best approach since effective teachers can help students learn in both large and small classes.

Student Achievement 

Student achievement was identified as an important issue and was the top concern of 16% of voters. In reality, each of the concerns identified in this brief are justified as concerns primarily in how they affect student achievement or student learning, the primary goal of schooling in most settings. Ultimately student achievement is influenced by a number of factors. Research has found that the education level and income of a student’s parents are the most influential factors shaping how a student performs in school and their later success. At the same time factors at the school and teacher level can make a difference:

  • High-quality expectations for all students
  • A rigorous and relevant curriculum
  • Extracurricular activities that encourage student personal growth
  • High-quality teaching that encourages student investigation, active learning, and methods that appeal to students with different learning styles
  • Enriched use of new technology in teaching and learning
  • Effective use of small classes
  • After school support, tutoring, assistive technology, and more intense individual support as needed
  • Effective instructional leadership
  • Quality leadership, culture, and resources

Why Does Education Matter?

Education is important to a number of people because it will impact their future and the future of their children. Research shows that education has a positive impact on employment, lowers cost for crime, and improves personal health.

Employment and Economic Development

In 2017 the median wage for college graduates was more than twice that of high school dropouts and more than one and a half times higher than that of high school graduates. The unemployment rate was three times lower than for high school drop-outs and two times lower than for high school graduates. Eeducation supports economic development and helps build communities that draw businesses and strengthens cultural institutions.

Lower Crime

Research has found that schooling significantly reduces the probability of incarceration. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56% of federal inmates, 67% of inmates in state prisons, and 69% of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Education becomes a strategy for reducing crime, personal tragedies, and the economic costs associated with crime.

Impact on Health

Finally, among many other outcomes, education is positively associated with good health. In the US, adults without a high school diploma can expect to die nine years sooner than college graduates. In today’s knowledge economy, an applicant with more education is more likely to be employed and land a job that provides health-promoting benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and retirement. Conversely, people with less education are more likely to work in high-risk occupations with fewer benefits. Furthermore, education is positively associated with the likelihood of eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.

How Does Alabama Compare?

Unfortunately, Alabama’s education system has consistently ranked among the lowest in the nation, and low among other southern states. Education Week, a highly recognized national publication, annually publishes a ranking of state educational systems using rigorous methods focused on 1) student chance for success (family income and education, enrollment in pre-K, enrollment in postsecondary education); 2) adequacy and equity of educational funding; and 3) student achievement measured by math and reading performance, high school graduation and results from AP testing. Their ranking continually places Alabama between 43rd and 45th among the states, with a grade of D- or C- overall. Where Alabama ranks best is in “chance for success” (grade of C )[i].

Ed Week gives Alabama’s education funding a D+ overall. On various spending indicators it gets an F. Alabama’s education spending is low when compared to other states and the nation. But when spending is adjusted for cost of living differences, it is comparable to other southern states, though still below national averages. For equity, it gets a B+, which raises a few eyebrows. The state share of all education funding is relatively high in Alabama and in other southern states, as well as the amount generated by Federal funds. This creates equity. It is in the capacity of local districts to raise funding through property taxes that inequities occur. Still, the relationship between per-pupil spending and district wealth in Alabama is comparable to other southern states.

Ed Week’s rankings gave Alabama an F for the current status of student achievement, though the state received a D+ for improvement over time and a B for lower achievement gaps between low- and high-income students.  There clearly are large differences in scores on state tests between the wealthiest and poorest districts in the state, and performance appears to be correlated with wealth. At the same time, PARCA’s report on student achievement in 2017 found both high poverty and low poverty students in Alabama scoring low when compared to national averages on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). NAEP provides standardized tests in math and reading that serve as benchmarks for comparing Alabama to other states. Chart 2 compares the percentage of students in Alabama and the US scoring proficient or above on those tests.

NAEP tests are highly demanding, and students in the highest performing states generally do not score beyond 50-60% proficient or above. On a positive note, though Alabama’s results on NAEP have not substantially changed in recent years, results show significant improvement over the past 12-15 years.

What Can Alabama Do?

Strengthen student-based funding

The Augenblick and Palaich report recommended that Alabama consider adopting a student-based funding model that recognizes differences in student needs. This model would seek to spend funds strategically to help each student reach their potential. Another related approach is to adopt a zero-based method focused on estimating costs for meeting state standards that would account for student differences.

Other proposals for improvement focus on setting a long-term plan for achieving adequacy in funding and increasing local funding as a percent of total funding. One approach is for the state to provide a match for local funds with extra fund devoted in low-wealth communities. Both solutions require more funds devoted to public education. One frustration is that increasing funds for education does not always lead to better schools, teaching, and student achievement. While a fair, base amount of funds is critical, other issues get in the way, such as how districts and schools use their funds and the degree to which high performing teachers are motivated to teach in particular communities or schools. Still, studies have demonstrated that when local funds are strategically targeted at supporting students who have been flagged for needing assistance, a positive impact on learning can occur.

Improve Teacher Effectiveness 

Alabama’s report card for teacher training program indicates that new teachers would benefit from greater expertise in subjects they will be teaching. A review of varying approaches to strengthening knowledge of subjects being taught is merited.

Practice in a live classroom setting is essential for new teachers. Alabama already assesses classroom performance in the credentialing process, but attention should also be paid to giving prospective teachers experience in a variety of settings including high-poverty and high-risk schools.

Research has also shown value in pairing prospective teachers with experienced teacher coaches and mentors. Moreover, once teachers enter teaching, it is important that they continue to be supported by access to high-quality, standards-aligned instructional resources and curriculum-based professional learning.

Decisions regarding class size reduction should be made strategically and combined with professional development.

The substantial expenditures required to sustain smaller classes must not only be justified by the impact on student learning by itself but also weighed in regard to other interventions that impact learning.

Research has identified conditions under which small classes and class size reduction is most effective. Rather than mandating across the board reductions or increases in size (in response to budget cuts) districts and schools might benefit from having the freedom to strategically maintain small classes where they are most needed and increasing class size where they are less likely to make a difference.

Furthermore, not all teachers are prepared to take advantage of the benefits of a small classroom. Implementation of small classrooms needs to be accompanied with professional development on how best to maximize learning in a small class.

In addition to the Alabama Reading Initiative, expand access to high-quality Pre-K educational support.

The early years of school through the 3rd grade are critical points in brain development and in shaping a child’s educational and life experiences. Learning to read in the early grades, as promoted through the Alabama Reading Initiative – is an essential part of early development.

But even before that, a stimulating and supportive environment during the preschool years provides a foundation for sustained success.

Pre-school services in Alabama are offered through a diverse delivery model that includes public school systems, childcare centers, Head-start centers, university-based labs, and community organizations such as the YWCA.

To improve the quality and availability of Pre-K education, Alabama nationally recognized First Class Pre-K program provides training, materials, and financial support through the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (DECE), Office of School Readiness (OSR). Continued investment in the spread of quality Pre-K is warranted as many families and children are still on waiting lists for attending First Class Pre-K programs

Strengthen the capacity of local school systems to collect, analyze and use performance data aligned with college and career readiness.

Alabama has made progress in setting standards for college and career readiness that can serve as benchmarks goals for helping students learn and grow. Assessment data can be used to measure the impact of school and classroom interventions on student learning. Effective assessments that produce fine-grained data identify students who need assistance. Support can be targeted at helping these students through after-school programs, tutoring, study skills workshops, personal counseling and mentoring, and individual reading support. Currently, a number of districts lack the capacity to effectively engage data in this way and assistance through regional centers, universities, or organizations like PARCA is needed.

Experimenting with School Vouchers for Low-Income Students

School vouchers provide funded scholarships that allow students to attend a private school of the family’s choice, an option otherwise unavailable to low-income families. After reviewing research some analysts have surmised that vouchers are not likely to increase or reduce student learning, but that competition induced by vouchers has led to improved public schools. This needs to be studied further.

The Alabama Accountability Act provides for a form of vouchers through a program which distributes scholarships to low-income students in Kindergarten through 12th grade to use in participating non-public and public schools. Through the scholarships, parents can choose school environments they perceive as being better equipped to help their children succeed as well as develop attributes and values that go beyond academic test scores.

Recent research conducted by the University of Alabama Institute for Social Science Research found that students receiving scholarships performed similarly to public school students on standardized tests.  The study did not compare scholarship recipients with students attending the public school they would have attended without the scholarship, but rather compared them with public school students across the state. Continuing attention should be paid to assessing the results on for students benefiting from scholarship and the impact on of the scholarship program on public schools.

Conclusion

Developing an education system that helps all children learn is good for Alabama. Low performance and unequal opportunity to learn in public education are often described as “wicked problems” because they are highly resistant to being resolved. PARCA believes Alabama can do better. With effective Pre-K, the growing belief that all students can learn, and new economic development led by strong leaders – Alabama’s educational goals are within reach – and this gives us hope.

[i] Ed Week (2018).  State grades on K-12 Education: Map and rankings.  Quality Counts 2018https://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/quality-counts-2018-state-grades/report-card-map-rankings.html

To read the full PDF brief, including tables and charts, click here.


Healthcare Ranks #2 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

  • Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
  • Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
  • Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

This summer and fall, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#2: Healthcare

What is the issue?

Alabama voters rank healthcare as the 2nd most important issue facing the state, with 65% of voters saying they are very concerned. Majorities of every demographic group and political party say they are very concerned about healthcare. Healthcare is the #2 issue for Democrats, #3 for Republicans, and #4 for Independents. When considering ideology, healthcare is the #3 issue for conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Healthcare is the #1 issue for low-income and middle-income voters and #4 for high-income earners. Those who are self-employed or employed less than full-time are even more likely to say they are very concerned. In this survey, men placed a greater priority on healthcare than did women. Those with lower levels of education also showed more unease related to healthcare. Finally, though there were few differences between African Americans and whites, minorities did voice a greater concern for the current state of healthcare. In a follow-up question, voters indicated their top concerns about healthcare were cost (51%), expanding Medicaid (17%), rural access (16%), and cost of prescription drugs (12%).

Why Does it Matter?

A 2017 study of state health outcomes finds Alabama ranks 42nd in primary care physician access, 43rd in cancer deaths, 44th in physical activity, 46th in frequency of physical distress, 47th in frequency of mental distress, 48th in rate of low-birth weights, 49th in cardiovascular deaths, 49th in diabetes prevalence, and 50th in access to mental health providers. These factors, along with the state’s comparatively low number of primary care providers, mental health providers, dentists, and other healthcare professionals per capita earned Alabama 47th place in the nation for overall health and well-being concerns.[1]

Why does this matter? At the individual level, health and well-being is a critical component to quality of life. At the societal level, a healthy population is a critical component of economic vitality, productivity, and reduced public expenditures. Simply put, healthy people create a healthy, vibrant economy and community.

How Does Alabama Compare?

Healthcare is a very broad topic with many aspects. This brief will explore two core concepts – healthcare coverage and healthcare access.

Healthcare Coverage

Alabamians find themselves in one of four healthcare coverage situations: 52% are covered by a commercial insurer such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, United, or VIVA through an employer or by self-pay; 19% are covered by Medicaid, 15% are covered by Medicare, 11% are uninsured.[2]

The Affordable Care Act has helped increase the number of people with healthcare coverage. Data suggests the number of insured people under age 65 in Alabama (10% in 2016) matches the national average, but the rate trails a number of states with rates as low as 6%.[3]

Essentially, all Alabamians age 65 and over are covered by Medicare. Policymakers at the national level continuously tweak Medicare, and there are long-term concerns about the program’s viability. Medicare is not a major component of current healthcare policy debate.

In contrast, Medicaid has been at the center of the healthcare reform debate since 2010. Alabama, like 26 other states, chose not to expand its Medicaid program. However, since 2014, nine of those states have reversed course and expanded Medicaid. Three more are currently considering expansion.[4]As currently structured, Alabama Medicaid serves the visually impaired and those with disabilities, as defined by the Social Security Administration, children under 19 living in families earning less than 146% of the poverty rate, adults over 65 in poverty, and other adults, frequently for maternity services only. Save very few exceptions, Medicaid does not cover able-bodied adults, without children, regardless of their income.

Healthcare Access

Healthcare coverage does not necessarily mean healthcare access. Structural barriers like service availability and viable transportation,[6] as well as more individual barriers like job flexibility and the affordability of deductibles and copays, are critical factors in accessing healthcare, regardless of a person’s insurance status. Access to care has been identified as the number one healthcare priority.[7] Only 28 of Alabama’s 67 counties have reached an optimal level of healthcare accessibility, though these counties continue to need special outreach and services to low-income communities.[8]

Further complicating access is the number of healthcare providers. As noted above, Alabama suffers from a lack of primary care providers. The number of primary care providers is a nationwide challenge driven, in large part, by the economics of the healthcare industry – as a society, we prioritize, and thus pay more for, specialty care and treatment rather than prevention and health maintenance. Thus, there are economic disincentives to practice primary care. This helps explain why Jefferson County, the county with the highest number of healthcare professionals in the state, is cited as a Healthcare Provider Shortage Area for low-income residents with only 25 physicians providing primary care to low-income residents in the county.[9]

A second, and increasing, barrier to access is the continued closure of rural hospitals. Since 2010, six Alabama hospitals have closed, tying Georgia with the 3rd highest number of closures in the country.[10] Currently, eight Alabama counties have no hospital. Hospital economics are complex, affected by cost inefficacies, decreasing populations, changing patient preferences, state regulations, and change to federal reimbursement structure.

How Do Alabama Counties Compare?

When Alabama counties are compared, there is considerable variation in essentially every health statistic. Comprehensive county comparisons can be found at http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/alabama/2018/overview. While Alabama’s overall uninsured rate was 12% in 2015, the rate ranged from a low of 8% in Shelby County to 18% in DeKalb County. Uninsured rates among minorities in Alabama is between 10% to 28%.[11] There is also considerable variance in healthcare access. The ratio of primary care providers to population ranges from 1:10,461 in Lowndes County to 1:940 in Jefferson County. Nationally, the ratio is 1:1,030. A majority of Alabama counties, 39, had ratios greater than 1:2,060.[12]

When considering outcomes, Shelby County enjoys the highest health outcomes and health factors rating, followed by Madison, Baldwin, Limestone, Colbert, and Lee counties. Shelby County reports the highest in lifespan, quality of life, and access to clinical care. Wilcox County ranked lowest in lifespan, Greene ranked lowest in quality of life, and Conecuh ranked lowest in access to clinical care.[13]

What Can We Do?

Alabama has much room for improvement in healthcare. Robert Wood Johnson’s County Health Ranking and Roadmaps[14] lists several hundred policy recommendations across a broad range of healthcare topics, including access, outcomes, and behaviors. Recommendations can be searched by population, geography, decision maker, and more. This resource, along with community health assessments prepared for the state and each county every five years provide a wealth of recommendations for state and local policymakers.

Changing health outcomes is not easy, but it is not impossible. States like Florida and Utah were able to achieve meaningful change in just one year, changes that resulted in their national average improving by four positions.[15] By improving health behaviors, clinical access, community and environment, and policy, Alabama could see similar changes.

Drafted by Cassidy Clevenger, graduate student, Department of Social Work, Samford University, and the staff of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

Read the full PDF Healthcare brief here.

[1] America’s Health Rankings Annual Report 2017, (2017) United Health Foundation. https://assets.americashealthrankings.org/app/uploads/ahrannual17_complete-121817.pdf.

[2] “Health Coverage: State-to-State: 2017,” America’s Health Insurance Plans, https://www.ahip.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/StateDataBook_2017.pdf.

[3] “Health Insurance Coverage of Nonelderly 0-64.” (2018) Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/nonelderly-0-64/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.

[4] “Status of State Action on the Medicaid Expansion Decision” (September 11, 2018) Kaiser Family Foundation, https://www.kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/state-activity-around-expanding-medicaid-under-the-affordable-care-act/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D#note-1.

[5] “Who Does Alabama Medicaid Serve?”  Alabama Medicaid Agency, http://www.medicaid.alabama.gov/documents/2.0_Newsroom/2.3_Publications/2.3.5_Annual_Report_FY16/2.3.5_FY16_Who_Does_Alabama_Medicaid_Serve.pdf.

[6] “Access to Care,” (August 23, 2018) Alabama Department of Public Health. http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/healthrankings/access-to-care.html.

[7] State of Alabama Community Health Assessment, (2015) Alabama Department of Public Health, https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/accreditation/assets/CHA2015_Final_RevAugust_R.pdf.

[8] “Access to Care,” (August 23, 2018) Alabama Department of Public Health. http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/healthrankings/access-to-care.html.

[9] “HPSA Find,”  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources & Services Administration, https://data.hrsa.gov/tools/shortage-area/hpsa-find

[10] Ellison, Ayla, (March 26, 2018), ”7 states with the most rural hospital closures,” Becker’s Hospital Review https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/7-states-with-the-most-rural-hospital-closures-032618.html, and July 13,2018) “9 hospital closures in 2018 so far” https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/9-hospital-closures-in-2018-so-far.html.

[11] Givens, M., Jovaag, A., & Wilems Van Dijk, J. 2018 Alabama State Report University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/rankings/data/al.

[12] Givens, M., Jovaag, A., & Wilems Van Dijk, J. 2018 Alabama State Report University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/rankings/data/al.

[13] Givens, M., Jovaag, A., & Wilems Van Dijk, J. 2018 Alabama State Report University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/rankings/data/al.

[14] “What Works for Health,” University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute,  http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/take-action-to-improve-health/what-works-for-health.

[15] America’s Health Rankings Annual Report 2017, (2017) United Health Foundation. https://assets.americashealthrankings.org/app/uploads/ahrannual17_complete-121817.pdf.

 


Government Corruption and Ethics Ranks #3 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

  • Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
  • Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
  • Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

This summer and fall, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#3: Government Corruption and Ethics

What is the issue?

Government corruption and ethics is the 3rd most important issue for Alabama voters. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, 65%, indicated that they were very concerned about the issue. On a scale of 1 – 5 where 1 is “not at all concerned” and 5 is “very concerned,” respondents on average rated corruption and ethics 4.24.

By comparison, only 47% of voters indicated they were very concerned about the issue of tax reform and only 56% were concerned with jobs and the economy.

Majorities of nearly every demographic or political group are concerned, but there are some differences among partisan identifiers: a majority of Republicans are very concerned, while two-thirds of independents and over 80% of Democrats are very concerned.

For Republicans, Government Corruption and Ethics ranks 7th in the top ten issues; for both Independent and Democrats, it ranks as 3rd.   Conservatives rank it 5th; moderates, 2nd; liberal, boomers, and the Greatest/Silent generation, 3rd. For Gen Xers and for millennials, government corruption and ethics ranks 4th, behind K-12 education, healthcare, and mental health or poverty and homelessness, respectively.

The issue of corruption has drawn a great deal of attention in Alabama’s media for decades as the result of several high-profile scandals involving state officials. Alabama’s most eminent historian, Wayne Flynt, recently noted that three of the last six elected governors have been removed from office due to some form of corruption.[1] The previous Speaker of the House, several legislators, and community college administrators have been convicted on corruption charges, as have some local officials, such as those involved in the scandal surrounding the Jefferson County sewer system.

The key feature of corruption is the diversion or use of public resources for private use, whether to an official or to the official’s supporters, businesses, friends, family, or others. Self-dealing is a common feature, with bribery and corruption usually spoken in the same breath, while graft is also used to describe various kinds of illegal side payments. While bribery, a quid quo pro arrangement with a public official for an official act, is almost universally illegal, there are loopholes and legal blind spots that allow some behaviors to avoid legal sanctions.

Why Does Corruption Matter?

Empirical studies[2] have correlated public corruption with numerous negative outcomes, including:

  • bureaucratic inefficiency
  • low business investment
  • poor health outcomes
  • weakened civil and political rights
  • slower economic growth
  • higher income inequality and poverty
  • loss of political legitimacy
  • expansion of black markets or shadow economies
  • “brain drain”
  • fiscal deficits
  • weakened education system

The economic effects could perhaps be seen in Alabama’s slower than average economic recovery after the Great Recession, which also meant that Alabama’s education revenues were among the slowest to recover as well, creating a vicious cycle of poor performance.[3] These factors may chase off educated people and deter highly-skilled people from considering moves to Alabama.

Corruption diminishes opportunities for economic and social advancement, causing highly skilled people to leave, resulting in a brain drain and diminishing the economic vitality of the state

Voter concern about government corruption in Alabama is cause for concern for policymakers. People outside Alabama can be deterred from investing in Alabama, and highly-skilled people in Alabama may emigrate to other states, as many of the state’s college-educated residents tend to do.[4] Fortunately, there is also a great wealth of research on how to minimize corruption. Most of those methods involve removing the opportunity to engage in corrupt behavior. Of course, resistance to reform is typically most intense by those who benefit from lax controls and private gains from the status quo.

How Does Alabama Compare?

Some practices, typically prohibited in other states, have long skirted ethical boundaries in Alabama. Activities such as dual office holding, nepotism in employment, revolving doors between legislators and lobbyists, as well as legal but questionable practices, such as allowing sheriffs to pocket monies intended to feed inmates have drawn scrutiny. Until the passage of the 2010 ethics law, fees paid to legislators for referring people to lobbyists were not considered illegal. Instances such as these have been highlighted in Pulitzer Prize-winning news reports and commentaries by reporters for Alabama newspapers and frequently provided leading stories for Alabama radio and television stations.[5]

Alabama has also received attention from organizations that are specifically focused on government corruption. The Center for Public Integrity has produced two 50-state studies, under the banner of State Integrity Investigation: one in 2012 looking at 14 specific categories of state government and a slightly modified follow-up in 2015 looking at efforts to fight corruption.[6] Alabama earned a C- minus in 2012 and a D+ in 2015.

Although Alabama’s grade declined from a C+ to a D- between the two studies, the ranking of Alabama actually improved as so many other states also declined in their rankings. In the 2015 study, Alabama scored well in executive accountability and internal auditing but had problems with public access to information and political financing. Other areas of concern included judicial accountability, state civil service management, procurement, and lobbying disclosures.

Institute for Corruption Studies (ICS), an independent research institute within the Department of Economics at the Illinois State University, produces a Corruption Convictions Index which tracks the number of public corruption convictions per 100,000 state employees. In 2015, Alabama had 4.12 convictions per 100,000 state employees,[7] 11th highest among the 50 states. However, in 2006 it was 11.02 per 100,000, the 3rd highest total; and in 2007 11.13 per 100,000 the 2nd highest. Those high rankings came in the wake of convictions concerning the Jefferson County sewer system and the two-year college system.  Again, this is a lagging indicator of corruption as cases may take years to build and the number of defendants may be quite large for some instances of corruption involving multiple people colluding.

In 2018, ICS ranked Alabama as the having the most perceived corruption in the United States based on data from its fourth Corruption in America Survey done in 2017. The map below combines the aggregate scores for both types of corruption in all three branches. Alabama’s combined aggregate score was the highest in the United States.

What Can We Do?

The historical absence of strong structures to monitor and prevent corruption have resulted in attempts to shore up the legal foundations for prosecuting corruption, with one such legislation passed in 2010. In 2011, the legislature also provided a guaranteed budget to the Ethics Commission.  The 2010 law, together with subsequent reforms, also made it illegal for public officials and employees to accept most gifts valued at $25 or more. Subsequent to passage, the commission began a training program to ensure that officials and employees knew details of the ethics laws.

Spend Money Where it Matters

Electing “better people” has almost no empirical foundation. Watching people who are elected more closely has a great deal of empirical support, especially when transparency about their activities is accompanied by vigorous enforcement and sanctioning capabilities.

Eliminating opportunities for corruption by eliminating the conditions for self-dealing has been effective in stopping corruption as well.[8] To stop corruption, there have to be independent eyes and ears in the field, with the capacity to review records and investigate reports of wrongdoing. Local news reporting has been shown to reduce the costs of local government as a result of their presence.[9] Auditors and inspectors general almost always produce a high return on investment.[10]

One of the key functions of the Alabama Ethics Commission is to educate public officials on the ethics law. Ironically, at least one of the same legislators who passed ethics reform has been convicted of violating the new law. Would training have helped? What evidence is there that ethics training reduces the incidence of corruption?  These are questions that need to be answered. Some experts are not convinced.

“Certainly there is a place for ethics training, but it will not do the work of a reasonable set of internal controls, and everything is off the table without good leadership.”[11]

While it is difficult to mandate good leadership, spending more money on monitoring and enforcement would probably do more to change behavior than explaining rules to officials about things that they should not be doing in the first place.

Transparency and Open Data

One of the most efficient ways to deal with corruption is to require transparency and open data to the public.  This is increasingly less costly than it has been in the past as technologies have improved and prices have dropped. Nevertheless, the way that information is packaged can make it difficult for anyone outside agency staff to access information. One obstacle to searching ethics disclosures in Alabama is that there is no way to browse the records. One must know the name of a specific individual to find any document. One tried and true way to obscure access to information is to require requestors to know highly specific information to make the request.

Information systems that lock up data behind queries give the impression of releasing information but are actually obstacles to access to information. The ability to download entire databases of public records is the best practice in this regard. The Sunlight Foundation, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government, has published guidance on how to provide open access to government data, for better public engagement and access at https://opendatapolicyhub.sunlightfoundation.com/.  Policies developed with the Civic Commons provide additional guidance on good policies: http://wiki.civiccommons.org/Open_Data_Policy/.

A Systemic Response

Just as many symptoms can emerge from a single problem, often the right answer is not one thing, but many things. Unfortunately, when corruption is perceived as isolated and unique, the response is also isolated and unique. This is displayed during every legislative session as local acts  are passed to address matters that are truly statewide in scope.

For example, the response to Jefferson County’s sewer system debacle was addressed with a narrowly focused legal remedy specifically for Jefferson County, leaving the rest of the state unprotected from an identical scenario. The Jefferson County bankruptcy was an unnecessary opportunity for corruption on a grand scale – and one whose lessons have not been fully learned.

For the full PDF summary brief, click here. 

[1] 2018 Brewer Tolbert Award acceptance speech to the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, September 20, 2018.

[2] Eugen Dimant and Guglielmo Tosato “Causes and Effects of Corruption: What has Past Decade’s Empirical Research Taught us? A Survey,” Journal of Economic Surveys, January 2017, p. 13.

[3] Crain, Trisha Powell, “Alabama K-12 education spending third worst catching up to recession cuts,” AL.com, Posted Dec 4, 2017 https://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/12/alabama_k-12_education_spendin.html

[4] Quoctrung Bui, “The States That College Graduates Are Most Likely to Leave,” The New York Times, Nov. 22, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/upshot/the-states-that-college-graduates-are-most-likely-to-leave.html

[5] Brett Blackledge of The Birmingham (AL) News, http://www.pulitzer.org/winners/brett-blackledge; John Archibald of Alabama Media Group, Birmingham, Ala., http://www.pulitzer.org/winners/john-archibald-alabama-media-group

[6] For additional discussion of the methodology and rankings, see State Integrity Investigation 2012 at https://www.publicintegrity.org/accountability/state-integrity-investigation/state-integrity-2012; and State Integrity Investigation 2015 at https://www.publicintegrity.org/accountability/state-integrity-investigation/state-integrity-2015

[7] “Corruption Convictions Index,” Institute for Corruption Studies, http://greasethewheels.org/cci/

[8] It is worth noting that one governor’s conviction for corruption involved a board that issues certificates of need to hospitals, a practice that does not exist in 12 states, including large states like Texas and California. See “CON-Certificate of Need State Laws,” National Conference of State Legislatures. http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/con-certificate-of-need-state-laws.aspx

[9] Gao, Pengjie and Lee, Chang and Murphy, Dermot, Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance (August 10, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3175555 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3175555

[10] John Hudak and Grace Wallack. “Sometimes cutting budgets raise deficits: The curious case of inspectors’ general return on investment.” Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings, April 2015.  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CEPMHudakWallackOIG.pdf

[11] Mark Funkerhouser, “Why Ethics Training is a Waste.” August 9, 2012. http://www.governing.com/gov-institute/on-leadership/col-corruption-waste-abuse-ethics-training.html


Mental Health and Substance Abuse Ranks #4 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

  • Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
  • Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
  • Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

This summer and fall, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#4: Mental Health and Substance Abuse

What is the issue?

Alabama voters rank mental health and substance abuse as the 4th most important issue facing Alabama, with 56% of respondents indicating they were very concerned about the issue. A plurality of Millennials and majority of voters of every other generation are very concerned about the issue. These findings are in keeping with the State’s Community Health Improvement plan, which found Alabamians rank mental health as the second greatest health concern.[1]

Mental illness includes a range of mental health conditions from mild anxiety, treatable with counseling, all the way to major psychiatric issues requiring psychotropic medication and long-term hospitalization.

An estimated 43.6 million Americans from all backgrounds suffer from mental illness or substance abuse. If current trends continue, by 2020, there will be more people suffering from mental and substance abuse disorders than people suffering from all physical diseases worldwide.[2]

Mental illness and substance abuse disorders share some underlying causes, including changes in brain composition, genetic vulnerabilities, and early exposure to stress or trauma.[3] Individuals that suffer from drug addiction frequently experience one or more symptoms of mental health issues.[4]

Experiencing both mental illness and substance abuse, what professionals call a dual-diagnosis, is very common.

Why Does it Matter?

Mental illness and substance abuse can alter reasoning skills, coping mechanisms, emotions, and behavior. This can have a profound impact on the individual and family, but also on the broader society.

Serious and untreated mental health concerns, including substance abuse, can place a strain on the communities by increasing unemployment, crime, and healthcare costs. Substance abuse alone has been estimated to cost $504 billion in direct and indirect costs, including lost productivity, in 2015 alone.[5]

Left untreated, mental health and substance abuse disorders can hinder an individual’s ability to live a healthy, confident life, and the ability to be productive members within the community. Untreated mental health and substance abuse issues can be significant contributing factors to job loss, homelessness, criminal behavior, and premature death. Suicide and drug-related deaths have increased in the nation in recent years with suicide ranked 11th in 2014 as the leading cause of death.[6]

More than one in four adults living with a severe mental health issue is also struggling with substance abuse issues. The effects on the communities can have direct and indirect consequences. “Direct consequences can include injuries, social and legal problems, impaired health, overdose, deaths, and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Indirect consequences include higher health care costs, the spread of infectious diseases, drug-related crime, interpersonal violence, unintended pregnancy, and stress within families.”[7]

How Does Alabama Compare?

Mental health care and substance abuse are critical issues in Alabama. In 2014, Mental Health America ranked the fifty states and Washington, D.C. in a number of mental health categories.[8] Overall, in the composite ranking of 15 mental health metrics, Alabama ranked 41st, ahead of neighboring states South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, but behind North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Georgia led all Southeast states at 26. Alabama ranked 27th in overall adult mental health and 28th in overall youth mental health. Looking at individual components, Alabama ranked:

  • 30th in the number of adults suffering from any mental illness;
  • 18th in the number of adults suffering from acute suicidal ideation;
  • 9th in the number of youth suffering from a major depressive episode in the previous year;
  • 42nd in the number of adults diagnosed with any mental illness without insurance, representing 20.8% of the adult population; and
  • 48th in overall access to care, ahead of only Texas, South Carolina, and Mississippi.

In spite of all this, less than half (43.5%) of adults in Alabama living with mental illness have received any form of treatment.[9]

Alabama now faces the daunting task of combating the opioid crisis. In 2013, Alabama had the highest per capita number of opioid prescriptions in the country – 141.1 per 100 compared to the national average of 79.3 per 100 people. Since then, the rate has dropped to 120.3 per 100 in 2015 – but this number still represents 1.2 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in Alabama.[10]

While Alabama ranks 34th in deaths from drug overdose, the number of overdose deaths continue to climb: from 169 in 1999 to 756 in 2016, a 347% increase.[11]

Lack of accessible care and lack of sufficient insurance coverage for substance users exacerbates the issue. There is a high correlation between availability of preventative mental health services and mental health treatment. Alabamians have less access to mental health services than do residents of many other states.

What Can We Do?

Access to Care

One of the most significant factors facing mental health and addiction treatment in Alabama is simply the lack of access. Alabama has one mental health provider for every 1,180 people. Mental health providers include psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists, and advanced practice nurses who specialize in mental health. However, at the county level, the ratio ranges from 270:1 (Macon County) to 33,840:1 (Chambers County).[12] Focusing on just substance abuse, statewide, there are 505 beds for residential and high-intensity residential substance abuse treatment – and these beds are located in just 13 counties. There is a waiting list of 319 people.

Individuals without insurance may wait for months to see a mental health professional. More often than not, this results in a crisis that ends with the individual in the hospital or jail. In effect, Alabama’s hospital emergency departments, jails, and prisons serve as de facto mental health providers. At the same time, while most people know how to access physical health care, people may be less familiar with when and how to access mental health care.

  • The state could expand Mental Health First Aid, described as ‘CPR’ for mental health, and Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement personnel.
  • The state could also explore a waiver, which would allow Medicaid to fund treatment of substance abuse.
  • The state could explore expanding access to substance abuse treatment, particularly residential treatment. There are currently no substance abuse facilities, public or private, in Autauga, Bullock, Coosa, Lawrence, Lowndes, Perry, Washington, or Wilcox Counties.

Mental Health Workforce

Access is largely, but not exclusively, a function of size of the mental health workforce. Alabama faces a growing workforce shortage in many industries, including mental health services. There is a particular shortage for trained professionals serving the elderly. Unaddressed, this shortage will escalate as the senior population is growing faster than other age groups.

  • The state could explore incentives to attract and retain mental health professionals.
  • The state could explore licensure regulations to allow all medical professionals to practice at the highest levels of their training and certification.

Social Stigma

Mental health experts recognize that even if there were sufficient mental health providers, there is still a significant stigma attached to accessing treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues. Moreover, often when treatment is sought, the individual is already in a state of crisis, rather than seeking care earlier.

  • The state could seek to reduce the stigma by promoting and expanding peer programs—mental health services led by, or in conjunction with a person who has experienced mental illness himself or herself.
  • The state could develop an awareness campaign for the general public.

Standards of Care

There are a number of evidence-based and standards of care treatments that could be considered for expansion or modification in Alabama.

  • The use of medication to treat opioid addiction could be expanded.
  • The state could require healthcare professionals who prescribe medication treatment for addiction, do so only in consultation with a trained mental health professional.
  • The number of state-funded residential beds for substance abuse treatment could be expanded.
  • The number of nonprofit or low-cost methadone clinics for those with heroin addictions who suffer multiple relapses could be expanded.
  • The state could create a harm reduction program for opioid users, which includes education, counseling, referrals to treatment, and needle services and which has been shown to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C and increase the likelihood an individual will seek treatment.
  • The state could expand mental health and substance abuse treatment in the corrections system, which could also help reduce recidivism rates.

Drafted by Anita Perry, graduate student, Department of Social Work, Samford University, and the staff of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

Full PDF report available here.

[1] Alabama Department of Public Health, State of Alabama Community Health Improvement Plan (2015), http://www.adph.org/accreditation/assets/CHIP_2015_RevAugust.pdf.

[2] Rosenberg, L. 2012. “Behavioral disorders: the new public health crisis.Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research 39(1):1-2.

[3]  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders” (2017), https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/mental-health-substance-use-disorders.

[4]  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders” (2017), https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/mental-health-substance-use-disorders.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Opioids (2018), https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-generals-report.pdf.

[6] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Opioids (2018), https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-generals-report.pdf.

[7] Walden, Nicole. “The Opioid Crisis in Alabama” Alabama Department of Mental Health, November 27, 2017, http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/alphtn/assets/112717handouts.pdf.

[8] Mental Health America, “The State of Mental Health in America, 2018” (2018), http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america.

[9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Behavioral Health Barometer Alabama, 2015, (2015), https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Alabama_BHBarometer.pdf.

[10] National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Alabama Opioid Summary” (2018), https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/alabama-opioid-summary

[11] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, “Drug Overdose Mortality by State: 2016” (2018), https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/drug_poisoning_mortality/drug_poisoning.htm

[12] Robert Wood Johnson, 2018 County Health Rankings, (2018), http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/alabama/2018/measure/factors/62/map


Poverty and Homelessness Ranks #5 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

  • Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
  • Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
  • Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

In the following months, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#5: Poverty and Homelessness

What is the issue?

Poverty and homelessness is the 5th most important issue for Alabama voters, with 58% of voters indicating they are very concerned about the issue. Poverty and homelessness averaged 4.192 on 1–5 scale where 1 is “not at all concerned” and 5 is “very concerned.” The majority of every demographic and political group indicated they were very concerned about this issue.

Why are Poverty and Homelessness Important?

The standard measure of poverty is the percentage of people earning less than a specific dollar amount: the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line is adjusted for the number of people in a household and is revised annually. In 2018, the federal poverty line for a family of four is $25,100. Although the percent of the population living in poverty is in decline, over 39 million people were still in poverty in the U.S. in 2017. Poverty often creates a vicious cycle that can last generations. Poverty complicates and is complicated by almost every other challenge facing Alabama and the nation.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness, in part, as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence or a primary residence that was not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for people. On a single night in 2017, an estimated 553,742 people were homeless in the United States. Homeless experts and advocates question the appropriateness of the definition and the accuracy of the number, some suggesting the number to be almost double.[1]

Homelessness can:

  • create new health problems and exacerbate existing ones;[2]
  • increase the chances of entering the criminal justice system and increase the recidivism rate;[3]
  • increase substance misuse;[4] and
  • have a negative economic impact on the larger community.

How Does Alabama Compare?

Population in Poverty

The percent of the population in Alabama living below the federal poverty level has declined from 19% in 2010 to 16.9% in 2017, mirroring declines at the national level. However, the percent of people living below the poverty level in Alabama is still higher than that of the nation. In 2017, Alabama had the 6th highest poverty rate in the U.S. and the fourth highest poverty rate among 10 southeastern states.

Poverty sees no color – while black Alabamians are disproportionately poorer, with 27% living in poverty, white Alabamians are deeply affected as well, with 12% living below the poverty line.[5] Approximately thirty-one percent of Hispanics in Alabama live below the poverty line.

Children in Poverty

Similar to poverty in the total population, the percent of children living in poverty in Alabama is consistently higher than that of the nation. During the period 2010 to 2017, childhood poverty declined for the state, reaching 24.6% in 2017. When compared to southeastern states, the percentage of children in poverty in Alabama ranked higher than all states except Louisiana at 28% and Mississippi at 26.9%.

Homelessness

In 2017, there were an estimated 3,793 homeless people in Alabama, a decrease of 7.7% over the previous year and more than 37% since 2010. In the ten-year period between 2007 and 2017, Alabama’s homeless rate decreased at a faster rate than the national average – a 30% decrease in the state compared to a 14.4% decrease nationally. However, Alabama’s percentage change has been lower than a majority of its southeastern neighbors. Also, while homelessness in Alabama is trending in a positive direction, those still struggling with homelessness are sometimes those facing the most profound challenges, including addictions and mental health issues.

What Can We Do?

There is no single solution to reducing poverty or homelessness. As the causes are varied, complex, and differ from region to region across the state, so too must the responses. Private philanthropy and the faith community can do much to assist individuals and families, but the challenge is too large to be left to the private sector alone. Alabama could consider policy responses and interventions that have demonstrated success around the country, some of which are highlighted below.

  • Increased investment in education: in 2016, Alabama was 39th among U.S. states in per student spending.[6]
  • Expanded student and family support for students in Pre-K through 12th
  • Expanded investment in workforce development for under-employed and unemployed adults.
  • Expanded educational opportunities and supportive services for low-income adults.
  • Expanded access to primary healthcare, especially in rural parts of Alabama.
  • Increase family income for those in poverty through expanded employment (24% of survey respondents indicated the number of available jobs was their top economic priority) or increased wages (32% of respondents said increasing the minimum wage was their top economic priority).
  • Implement a statewide housing first model to address homelessness.

Read full PDF report here.       

[1] National Coalition for the Homeless. “Current State of Homelessness” April 2018 http://www.nationalhomeless.org/

[2] National Health Care For The Homeless Council. “Homelessness & Health: What’s The Connection?”, Fact Sheet, June 2011 https://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Hln_health_factsheet_Jan10.pdf

[3] Volunteers of America, “Homelessness and Prisoner Re-Entry”, https://www.voa.org/homelessness-and-prisoner-reentry

[4] National Coalition for the Homeless, “Substance Abuse and Homelessness” July 2009. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/addiction.pdf

[5] Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program. (2017). 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. [Data file]. Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_1YR_S1701&prodType=table

[6] “Annual Survey of School System Finances” U.S. Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html


PARCA Annual Survey Addresses Representation in State Government, Public Education and Payday Loans

PARCA collaborated with Samford University to conduct our annual telephone survey of Alabama citizens between June 4 and July 18, 2018. The survey was directed by Dr. Randolph Horn and was under the field direction of Grace Okoro.

The survey addressed topics including the quality of representation in state government, and, in partnership with the Alabama Association of School Boards, questions about public education in Alabama, and, in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, questions about payday loans.

Many trends remained the same from previous years, but some of the results were surprising.

Read the full report here. (PDF)


Jobs and the Economy Ranks #6 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

  • Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
  • Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  • Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
  • Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

In the following months, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#6: Jobs and the Economy

What is the issue?

Alabama voters ranked jobs and the economy as the 6th most important issue, with 56% of respondents indicating they were very concerned about this issue. The issue ranked highly across all subgroups: political affiliations, generations, gender, and  education level, and race. The only substantive difference in subgroups found was in ideology, where the issue ranked lower for liberals than for conservatives or moderates.

Voters were also asked to identify their top priorities regarding jobs and the economy, selecting from the number of available jobs, availability of qualified workers, wage growth, or increasing the minimum wage. Thirty-two percent of respondents selected increasing the minimum wage as their top priority; 24% identified number of available jobs, followed by availability of qualified workers at 22%. Wage growth was found to be least important and was selected by 18% of respondents.

Why are Jobs and the Economy Important?

 A growing economy and a high employment rate support many measures of overall well-being, including household income, health, housing stability, tax revenue, and more.[1]  Economic growth:

  • is the most fundamental indicator of an economy’s health,[2]
  • is an important indicator contributing to poverty reduction;[3]
  • can create job opportunities and hence stronger demand for labor;[4]
  • can improve standards of living and health;[5]
  • can improve educational attainment;[6] and
  • can improve technology and infrastructure.[7]

How Does Alabama Compare?

There are numerous indicators used to determine jobs and economic growth. We consider four of the most commonly used measures, although there is much debate that these measures tell the entire story.

Gross Domestic Product

Economic health is most typically measured by the growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a comprehensive value of all goods and services produced.[8] Like the U.S., Alabama has enjoyed GDP growth every year between 2009 and 2017, although the state has grown at a slower rate than the nation. The state saw its lowest percentage increase of 1.9% from 2013 to 2014 and ranked only higher than Mississippi (1%) among southeastern states. Alabama’s GDP increased 3.3% from 2016 to 2017, exceeding the growth rate in Arkansas and Mississippi, but trailing other southeastern states.

Median Household Income

Median household income is the income figure that divides all households into two equal groups, with half earning more than the income and half earning less. Median income in Alabama increased annually since 2010. In 2016, according to American Community Survey 1-year estimates, Alabama’s median household income was $46,257 – 46th among all states, more than $10,000 below the national average. When compared to other Southeastern states, Alabama fared worse than all except Louisiana ($45,146), Arkansas ($44,334) and Mississippi ($41,754).

Poverty

Poverty is measured as the percentage of people earning less than a specific dollar amount: the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line is adjusted for the number of people in a household and is revised annually. The percent of population in Alabama living below the federal poverty level has declined from 19% in 2010 to 17.1% in 2016, mirroring declines at the national level. However, the percent of people living below the poverty level in Alabama is still higher than that of the nation. When compared to 10 states in the Southeast, Alabama’s poverty rate ranked 5th highest in 2016 and 7th highest among all states.

Unemployment Rate

Alabama’s unemployment rate is also decreasing, as is the national rate. In 2013, Alabama’s unemployment rate was 7.2%. By 2017, the figure had declined to 4.4%. The state’s rates are comparable to that of the U.S. during this same period. Nationally, unemployment fell from 7.4% in 2013 to 3.8% at the end of 2017. Alabama’s unemployment rate (4.4%) ranked 5th lowest among 10 Southeastern states, where Arkansas had the lowest unemployment rate of 3.7% and Mississippi had the highest of 5.1%.

What Can We Do?

The state has numerous options to support a robust economy and a strong job market, including:

  • increased investment in education: in 2016, Alabama was 39th among the states in per student spending;[9]
  • increased investment in healthcare; in 2014, state-level per capita healthcare spending was 9% lower than the national average, suggesting lower levels of insurance coverage and healthcare access;[10]
  • increased investment in infrastructure: Alabama’s infrastructure was graded a C- in a recent study by civil engineers[11]. For more in infrastructure, see PARCA’s 2017 report, How Alabama Roads Compare.[12]
  • developing an adequate, fair, and efficient tax structure: Alabama collects the least amount in state and local revenue per capita of any state in the nation. See How Alabama Taxes Compare.[13]
  • continuing ongoing work to align K-12 and post-secondary education and training offerings with the needs of employers, increasing opportunities for students and workforce quality for employers.

Although we considered four of the most commonly used measures, we cannot ignore the fact that economic growth is difficult to measure or even define. Many studies have shown both pros and cons of using the above indicators to measure growth. For example, authors have argued the validity of using unemployment rate as a measure of growth, considering the increasing number of part-time jobs versus full-time jobs.[14]  Others have argued the difficulty of measuring growth based on indicators such as standard of living, given the lack of, or consistency of data. However, this article seeks only to highlight a snapshot of Alabama’s economy and how the state compares nationally, using consistent data for all states. More comprehensive research should be done to gain more insight into changes in the state’s jobs and economy over time.

Drafted by Kenesha Reynolds-Allie, Ph.D. and the Staff of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama

Read the full PDF report here.


[1] Good Growth for Cities 2017, A report on urban economic wellbeing from PWC and Demos, November 2017. https://www.pwc.co.uk/government-public-sector/good-growth/assets/pdf/2017-good-growth-for-cities.pdf

[2] Bolton, S. and Khaw S., “Economic Growth”, July 2006. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2006/jul/10/ukeconomy.globalrecession

[3] Adams Jr., Richard. H, “Economic Growth, Inequality, and Poverty”, The world Bank, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network, February 2003.

[4] Department for International Development (DFID), “Growth: Building Jobs and Prosperity in Developing Countries” https://www.oecd.org/derec/unitedkingdom/40700982.pdf

[5] Weil, D.N. “Economic Growth”, 3rd Edition, Harlow Pearson Education Limited, 2013. Rivera IV, B., and Currais, L., “Economic Growth and Health Direct Impact or Reverse Causation”, Applied Economics Letters, 6(11), 761-764.

[6] The World Bank (2007), “Education Quality and Economic Growth”

[7] Canning, D., and Pedroni, P., “Infrastructure and Long Run Economic Growth”, Consulting Assistance on Economic Reform II Discussion Paper, 57.

[8] Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Economic Analysis. https://www.bea.gov

[9] “Annual Survey of School System Finances” U.S. Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html

[10] A state-by-state breakdown of per capita healthcare spending. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/a-state-by-state-breakdown-of-per-capita-healthcare-spending.html

[11] American Society of Civil Engineers, “Report Card for Alabama’s Infrastructure”, 2015. https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ASCE-AL-Report-Card-2015-Full-Report-FINAL-web.pdf

[12] How Alabama Roads Compare. 2017. Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. http://parcalabama.org/how-alabama-roads-compare-ninth-edition-2017/

[13] How Alabama Taxes Compare. 2017. Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. http://parcalabama.org/how-alabama-taxes-compare/

[14] Jericho, Greg, “Why unemployment is no longer the best indicator of the economy’s health” https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2016/aug/22/why-unemployment-is-no-longer-the-best-indicator-of-the-economys-health

 


Crime and Public Safety Ranks #7 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

• Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
• Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
• Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
• Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
• Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

In the following months, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#7: Crime and Public Safety

What is the Issue?

Alabama voters ranked crime and public safety as the 7th most important issue among the priorities, with approximately 58% of voters indicating they were very concerned about the issue. The issue averaged 4.10 on a 1 – 5 scale where 1 is “not at all concerned” and 5 is “very concerned.”

Majorities of every racial group are very concerned about this issue. Approximately three-quarters of African-Americans say they are very concerned. Respondents with lower incomes are more likely to say they are very concerned than respondents with higher incomes. While majorities of conservatives and liberals say they are very concerned, only a plurality (more than any other category but not a majority) of self-described moderates holds this view.

Survey respondents were also asked about their top policy responses to crime and public safety. Twenty-seven percent of voters were more concerned about the number of police, 24% civil liberties, and lesser percentages identifying sentencing reform and conditions of state prisons as their top priority.

Why Is Crime and Public Safety Important?

In previous generations, a basic high school education was sufficient for entry into the workforce. Today, an increasing share of entry-level jobs require a level of training beyond a high school diploma. To generate a prepared workforce, there is continued need to improve preparation for and access to two and four-year colleges. However, the demand for advanced training is also being addressed by K-12 schools, where students are increasingly presented with options for earning industry-recognized credentials while still in high school. Certificate programs are being expanded for new graduates and current workers.

Alabama has enjoyed an unprecedented run of industrial recruitment and new job creation. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the state has added or announced 138,197 new jobs between 2010 and 2017. In that same time, employment in Alabama has grown from 1,893,169 to 2,081,176 – an increase of 188,007, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8% (December 2017). Recent monthly unemployment rates for the state have hovered between 3.7 and 4.1%, the lowest numbers since at least 1976. Despite the surging demand for labor, Alabama’s population growth has been sluggish, creating a tight labor market and a pending shortage of workers.

How Does Alabama Compare?

Crime has many negative impacts on a community.

Crime and the response to crime create a large economic and social cost, including the direct economic losses suffered by victims and the costs of police protection, legal services, and corrections.

Crime data and perceptions of public safety are widely used in quality of life rankings, which can impact the perceived livability and desirability of a community.[1]

High crime rates deter business. Crime can reduce the size and skills of the labor force. Crime can have a negative impact on education and training, diminishing the long-term creativity and innovative capacity of a community. Crime can deter business investment and location.

The economic, societal, familial, and personal costs of incarceration are immense.

Public safety plays a crucial role in supporting economic growth and vitality by reducing the cost of crime and enhancing the desirability of communities as places to live and locate businesses and has a direct impact on the levels of societal trust and interaction.[2]

How Does Alabama Compare?

The Crime Rate

Alabama reported 532.3[3] violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2016, placing Alabama 8th highest in the nation for violent crimes. Alabama fared worse than most Southeastern states, except Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. The state fared somewhat better in terms of property crimes, ranking 14th in the nation. Alabama’s property crime index for 2016 was 2,947.8 per 100,000 residents but was lower than that of only four Southeastern states. When violent and property crimes are considered together, Alabama ranked 9th in the nation with a crime index of 3,480.1 per 100,000 residents.

According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s annual crime report[4], total crime in the state has decreased from 2011 to 2015 but increased roughly 2% from 2015 to 2016.

However, during this same period, the number of violent crimes increased every year except between 2012 and 2014. Violent crime in the state increased from 405.5 per 100,000 residents in 2014 to 518.2 in 2016.

Although the number of violent crimes increased significantly over that two-year period, the number of crimes cleared has been decreasing.[5] In 2014, 45% of violent crimes were cleared, but that percentage decreased to 39% in 2016. The clearance rate for total crime in the state has also been declining over the same period.

The Incarceration Rate

In 2016, there were 27,799 inmates in Alabama prisons, a rate of 633 people per 100,000 – the 3rd highest incarceration rate in the U.S. The state’s incarceration rate is significantly higher than the national rate of 471 per 100,000 residents and lower than only Oklahoma and Louisiana; 700 and 816 per 100,000 residents, respectively.

The high number of incarcerations makes the state’s prisons the most overcrowded in the country; housing almost twice the number of inmates the facilities were designed to house.

In addition to a high incarceration rate, the ratio of supervising probation and parole officers to probationers, parolees, and offenders poses a significant problem for the state’s system. At the end of fiscal year 2017, the total caseload average per officer on any given day was measured at 169 to 1. When broken down by total and active caseloads, the active caseload average per officer was 110 to 1. The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) recommended caseload is 20 probationers per probation officer for intensive supervision, 50 to 1 for moderate to high-risk offenders, and 200 to 1 for low-risk offenders.

The Recidivism Rate

Recidivism, which refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior and is measured by criminal acts that result in rearrests, reconviction, or return to prison within three years, is a major driver of incarceration rates.

In 2017, the recidivism rate in Alabama was 31.5%, including all cohorts.[6] The high percent of recidivists continues to negatively impact the state’s prison system which is already overburdened. It also sheds light on the need for more effective programs to help released prisoners readjust to their communities and rebuild their lives.

Juvenile Detention

The percentage of violent crimes and property crimes committed by juveniles in Alabama decreased since 2013. As of 2016, juveniles account for 6% of violent crimes and property crimes.

Despite the decline in juvenile crime, the number of detained juveniles is also a cause for concern. Alabama’s juvenile custody rate of 184 per 100,000 youths places the state 20th in the nation. When compared to Southeastern states, the state ranked 3rd with only Arkansas and Virginia having higher rates.

There is a long-term impact on juveniles with criminal convictions that goes beyond the immediate effect to individual and family. A study from University of Pittsburgh found that 52% to 57% of juvenile delinquents continue to offend up to the age of 25, and about 16 – 19% up to the age of 30.[7]

Funding

Like many parts of state government, Alabama’s corrections and justice systems struggle with funding. Alabama spends less on corrections than a majority of states across the country.

According to the Alabama Department of Corrections 2017 Annual Report, Alabama spent $52.07 per day per inmate, compared to the national average of $99.45.

Alabama’s low per inmate spending may be seen as a positive by some. However, it is important to remember that with this level of spending comes a Department of Corrections that is understaffed, pays the lowest of any public safety agency in the state, and which suffers from very high turnover rates. The state’s corrections spending also contributes to legal issues facing the state. Alabama is currently engaged in two different lawsuits concerning the healthcare and conditions of Alabama’s prisons. It is highly likely that the outcome of these cases will result in court-mandated increases in Alabama’s corrections budget.

Beyond funding Alabama’s prison system, Alabama’s funding for judicial, legal and police protection is also low. Based on 2016 expenditure data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Alabama’s justice system expenditures, which include police protection, judicial and legal, and corrections, were low when compared to more than 30 states across the country and most Southeastern states. In 2016, the state spent $2.5 billion, while other southeastern states spent a significantly higher amount (example Florida’s 2016 expenditures totaled roughly $14 billion and Georgia approximately $6 billion).

What Can We Do?

The state has made recent attempts to address overcrowding in prisons, the high rate of supervision caseloads, and the lack of treatment in the community. In 2015, the state passed the Justice Reinvestment Act (Act 2015-185), which strengthened community-based supervision as an alternative to prison, while prioritizing prison space for violent and dangerous offenders. The legislation also took steps to ensure supervision for everyone upon release from prison. Since then, the state’s prison population has decreased by 15%, and more than 100 new probation and parole officers have been hired to help reduce officers’ caseloads.

In June 2018, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced pay raises of 5% for correctional officers at medium security facilities and 10% for officers at maximum security facilities.

Further reductions of the inmate population will be challenging, and additional investment in the prison system will be fiscally and politically difficult – although court orders may leave the state with no choice.

There are additional options the state can explore, including:

  • Continued expansion of day reporting facilities[8] and related programs designed to reduce recidivism;
  • Explore recommendations of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force[9] designed to reform the retention of juvenile offenders; and
  • Expand mental health and drug treatment options both inside state prisons and in local communities.

 

Drafted by Kenesha Reynolds-Allie, Ph.D. and the Staff of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama

View the full PDF report here.


[1] Blair, J.P., “Quality of life and economic development policy”, Economic Development Review 16, 1998.

[2] Keeling, Mary and Mark Cleverly, “Accelerating economic growth and vitality through smarter public safety management”, IBM Institute for Business Value, Executive Report.

[3] Crime index (violent and property crimes) was calculated using 2016 Crime in the United States (CIUS) data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s)  and 2016 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division (https://www.factfinder.census.gov)

[4] http://www.alea.gov/Home/wfContent.aspx?PLH1=plhACJIC-CrimeInAlabama

[5] A clearance is a measure of law enforcement activity whereby enough evidence is found to charge a suspect and take him into custody (an arrest) or when a crime is solved but no formal charges are brought against a suspect (clearance by exceptional means).

[6] Alabama Department of Corrections – FY2017 Annual Report (http://www.doc.state.al.us/StatReports)

[7] Stouthamer-Loeber, Magda, “Persistence and Desistance in Offending” (unpolished report, Pittsburg, Pa.: Life History Research Program, University of Pittsburg, 2010).

[8] Board of Pardons and Paroles, 2017 Annual Report http://www.pardons.state.al.us/Reports.aspx

[9] Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force Final Report, December 2017. http://dys.alabama.gov/images/task_force/AL%20JJ%20Task%20Force%20Report_FINAL.pdf


Job Training and Workforce Development Ranks #8 Among Alabama Voter Priorities

In late 2017, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. PARCA partnered with Samford University to survey policy professionals from across the state including academics, journalists, business and nonprofit leaders, and lobbyists. Their responses provided a list of 17 critical issues facing Alabama. PARCA partnered with USA Polling at the University of South Alabama to ask registered voters about these 17 issues. The voters’ responses generated the Top Ten list of voter priorities. Details about the survey and its methodology can be found in the full Alabama Priorities report.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Key Findings

• Voters broadly agree on the critical issues facing the state.
• Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial, or generational lines. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
• Policymakers have an opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
• Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.
• Elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

In the following months, PARCA will produce summary briefs on each of the top ten priorities chosen by Alabama voters. Each brief will answer four critical questions: what is the issue, why it matters, how Alabama compares, and what options are available to Alabama policymakers.

#8: Job Training & Workforce Development

What is the Issue?

Job training and workforce development is the 8th most important issue for Alabama voters with 51% of voters indicating they were very concerned about the issue. Job training and workforce development averaged 3.9 on a 1 — 5 scale where 1 is “not at all concerned” and 5 is “very concerned.”

The workforce development system is a diverse mix of public and private organizations working to prepare people for the workforce and help those already in the workforce to develop new skills. Workforce development efforts range from organizing large-scale hiring fairs, to designing and delivering industry and employer-specific training, to helping a single mother secure childcare while she takes GED classes.

The workforce development system serves job seekers and employees in need of developing and maintaining marketable skills, as well as employers, in need of a sufficient supply of future employees with the necessary skills. The system involves educators tasked with teaching basic skills to industry- and employer-specific training. It involves communities focused on talent attraction and retention. And it involves government agencies tasked with managing public funds and providing general workforce development oversight and coordination.

Taken together, the diverse components of the state’s workforce system work to provide a ready supply of labor, a healthy tax base, and a stable economy.

Why Does Workforce Development Matter?

In previous generations, a basic high school education was sufficient for entry into the workforce. Today, an increasing share of entry-level jobs require a level of training beyond a high school diploma. To generate a prepared workforce, there is continued need to improve preparation for and access to two and four-year colleges. However, the demand for advanced training is also being addressed by K-12 schools, where students are increasingly presented with options for earning industry-recognized credentials while still in high school. Certificate programs are being expanded for new graduates and current workers.

Alabama has enjoyed an unprecedented run of industrial recruitment and new job creation. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the state has added or announced 138,197 new jobs between 2010 and 2017. In that same time, employment in Alabama has grown from 1,893,169 to 2,081,176 – an increase of 188,007, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8% (December 2017). Recent monthly unemployment rates for the state have hovered between 3.7 and 4.1%, the lowest numbers since at least 1976. Despite the surging demand for labor, Alabama’s population growth has been sluggish, creating a tight labor market and a pending shortage of workers.

How Does Alabama Compare?

Size of the Workforce

Between 2010 and 2017, Alabama’s net population growth was 2%. Alabama’s population is projected to surpass 5 million by 2025.1 Yet, the Pew Research Center projects it is unlikely that the Millennial labor force will reach the size of the Baby Boomer labor force. 4 The Generation X and Millennial generations are smaller in number than the Baby Boomer generation that is now reaching retirement age. In fact, 2017 Census estimates show that 51% of the working-age population (25 – 64) are older than 45. With the youngest Baby Boomers reaching age 65 in 2029, Alabama’s job growth is projected to surpass growth in its labor force. The University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Development Research (CBER), project a workforce shortage in Alabama as high as 225,320 workers by 2024 with conditions continuing to worsen through 2040.

Skills of the Workforce

By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the United States will require education and training beyond high school. . As of 2017, only 43% of Alabama’s workforce has completed postsecondary education. Data on workers with in-demand credentials and training other than a post-secondary degree is unreliable, but the experience of business and industry leaders suggest that the number of workers with these credentials is insufficient.

Alabama workers face a gap in needed skills.

Alabama’s employers voice the need for improvement in employees’ skills, including basic and soft skills, such as communications and punctuality, needed to properly function in a work environment. A May 2017 CBER report defined six different skill types essential in the modern workforce: basic skills, complex problem-solving, resource management, social, systems, and technical skills. Already, many employers report that simply finding dependable workers with basic soft skills is an increasing challenge.

These challenges are by no means unique to Alabama. However, comparing workforces across states is complicated and ultimately unhelpful.

The Workforce System

State agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Education, Human Resources, Labor, the Community College System, and four-year institutions, distribute funds for workforce development from at least 18 different federal programs managed by three different federal agencies. The state agencies support, collaborate, or direct regional and local efforts, including regional workforce councils, workforce development boards, county and municipal governments, and nonprofits.

This diffuse network is tasked with serving the current and future workforce; including youth aged 14 – 24, adults in need of basic skills or with physical, mental, or financial obstacles, and workers looking for work or additional skills.

This basic structure is in place across the United States. However, the goals, requirements, funding, and schedules of these programs do not necessarily align.

What Can Alabama Do?

Redesigning the Workforce System

Recognizing the sometimes conflicting goals and requirements of the existing workforce system, Alabama has been at work realigning its overarching workforce structure. The Alabama Department of Commerce now includes a Workforce Development Division, composed of the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), the Alabama Workforce Council (AWC), and seven regional workforce councils representing all 67 counties. The role of those components is as follows:

AIDT: Alabama’s workforce training agency assists new and expanding companies with recruitment, assessment and training of potential employees, development and production of job-related training materials, provision of training facilities, and delivery of job-specific services for pre-employment and on-the-job training.5

AWC: The Council is composed of business executives from industries and organizations across the state. It facilitates collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable and skilled workforce. In 2018, the AWC secured $55 million in federal funds for workforce training. These funds are designated to develop workforce training starting with colleges that pair with local industries to meet the demands of the current and future workforce. The AWC allows workforce and education resources to meet specific needs identified by business and industry exclusive to each region.

Regional Workforce Councils: Alabama has replaced its former structure of three workforce regions, with seven regions, each with its own workforce council. Each council supports its local economy by creating a strategic plan and workforce development system. Within each region, local boards are appointed to implement local strategy and to oversee the distribution of state and federal funds.

With the change in structure comes a greater role for business and industry in creating and executing workforce strategy. Previously, educators guided the conversation. Under the current structure, business and industry have a greater voice.

Alabama’s new workforce structure is still in its infancy. There are, however, encouraging signs. With seven regions compared to the previous three, decisions and initiatives can be targeted with greater precision. This structure also creates an unanticipated, but hopefully, productive culture of innovation and competition, with each of the seven regions looking to both learn from and compete with each other.

The work of one workforce region, West Alabama Works, is highlighted in the Business Education Alliance’s 2018 report Leadership Matters, produced by PARCA with guidance from A+ Education Partnership. State leaders can learn from successes in West Alabama Works and the other six regional councils and work to replicate and expand strategies that prove effective.

Focus on Soft Skills

Responding to the identified need for a workforce better equipped with the basic knowledge of how to function in the workplace, Alabama public schools have added career preparedness as a one-credit course required for graduation. Students cover topics including personal decision making, academic planning, career development, and other social and financial skills.

Adding to that, in 2018, Alabama’s Department of Education began seeking applications for Alabama’s Industrial Development Training’s (AIDT) High School Direct Ready to Work pilot program. Ready to Work’s curriculum instructs students on workplace skills as well as expected behavior in the workplace, including the importance of punctuality and teamwork. Through High School Ready to Work, students can earn an “Alabama Certified Worker” certificate widely recognized by industry in Alabama. In addition, those who complete the program earn a tuition waiver for one college course at an Alabama Community College.

Attainment Goals

State and local leaders are beginning to speak the language of attainment – the need for workers to attain the necessary skills and credentials for the jobs and careers they seek. Credentials include traditional two-year, four-year, and post-graduate degrees, but also industry-recognized certification and training earned before, alongside, or instead of traditional academic degrees.

In 2018, the state set a goal to increase attainment. Alabama’s Success Plus plan lays out strategies to help meet the state’s goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled workers statewide by 2025.
Local areas are responding to the call. In Mobile, the Mobile Area Education Foundation has set a local goal of adding 75,000 new credentialed workers to its workforce by 2030.

In central Alabama, the Bold Goals Coalition of Central Alabama has established a goal of adding 125,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.

The new language and measurable goals provide a means to measure progress.

Additional Opportunities

The National Skills Coalition, a national group working to increase the skills of American workers, has articulated four broad policy areas that can expand workforce training: Integrated Education and Training (IET), stackable credentials, job-driven financial aid, and greater alignment of public and private projects.

Alabama has made positive steps in some of these areas, notably through the Ready to Work program and new stackable credentials provided by community colleges, but in no area has the state achieved the recommendations of the National Skills Coalition.

Additionally, state and local leaders can explore options, policies, and procedures to expand and stabilize the workforce, including strategies that:

• Improve retention of older workers;
• Increase the number of career coaches in Alabama schools;
• Expand educational opportunities in lower-income communities;
• Develop support systems for special populations, including veterans and workers with disabilities;
• Improve data sharing between state agencies;
• Align workforce systems with support systems, such as TANF, SNAP, and childcare;
• Remove employment barriers for ex-offenders;
• Expand Alabama’s Ready to Work program, currently offered in 75 locations; and
• Expand efforts to provide soft skills training.

With the demand for 225,000 additional workers by 2024 and an educational attainment goal of 60%, Alabama must be innovative to meet its workforce demand.

Conclusion

The value of developing a healthy workforce is vital for Alabama’s economy and its people. Employed individuals with skills matched to available jobs are more likely to live productive lives that contribute positively to their local communities. Conversely, an unstable workforce fails to support local industry and economic development, and is often associated with more crime, increased costs for healthcare, homelessness, family stress, substance abuse, and other factors associated with poverty. A strategically aligned workforce development system is vital for the success of individuals and Alabama businesses.

Drafted by Natalie Millar and the Staff of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama

Read full report in PDF version here.

[1] Fry, Richard. (2018, April). Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/

[2] Center for Business and Economic Research, The University of Alabama. (2017, May). State of Workforce Report XI: Alabama, Retrieved May 15, 2018, from http://www2.labor.alabama.gov/workforcedev/WorkforceReports/Alabama.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] AlabamaWorks! (2018, April). 2018 Alabama Success Plus Report. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from https://alabamaworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2018.04.30_SuccessPlus.pdf

[5] Center for Business and Economic Research, The University of Alabama. (2017, May). State of Workforce Report XI: Alabama, Retrieved May 15, 2018, from http://www2.labor.alabama.gov/workforcedev/WorkforceReports/Alabama.pdf