Stop the Slide, Start the Climb: Concepts to Enable Alabama Students to Achieve Their Fullest Potential

In March, the nonprofit Business Education Alliance commissioned PARCA to provide research describing the unprecedented challenges and opportunities in education faced by the state in this moment.

For more than a year, schools have coped with the Covid-19 pandemic: reshuffled learning environments, the unknowns of delivering education digitally, and the disruptive and unequal effects that those conditions have had on student learning.

Meanwhile, the schools are working to meet the demands of the Alabama Literacy Act, the 2019 law that requires all children to be reading at grade level by the end of third grade in order to be promoted.

At the same time though, to meet those daunting challenges, the state and federal governments are making an unprecedented amount of money available. For that investment to pay off, the money must be spent with care and forethought if Alabama is to seize this generational opportunity,

Read the full Business Education Alliance report here: Stop the Slide, Start the Climb: Concepts to Enable Alabama Students to Achieve Their Fullest Potential


2020 Kids Count Data Book provides roadmap for helping Alabama children

VOICES for Alabama’s Children recently released its 2020 Alabama Kids Count Data Book last month. This annual statistical portrait is meant to provide a roadmap for policymakers who seek to improve the lives of Alabama’s children. PARCA provides research support for the project.

The Data Book can be used to raise the visibility of children’s issues, identify areas of need, set priorities in child well-being, and inform decision-making at the state and local levels.

See how children in all 67 counties of our state are faring in education, health, economic security, and more.

View the 2020 Alabama Kids Count Data Book here.


Proposed Statewide Amendment Analysis for November 3

When voters go to the polls on November 3, they will not only be voting in the primary race for President, Vice-President, one U.S. Senate seat, seven U.S. House of Representatives, multiple state judicial positions, and various other state and county offices, but voters statewide will also be asked to vote on six new amendments to the Alabama Constitution of 1901. An additional 36 amendments to the state constitution will appear on the ballots of individual counties across the state.

As always, PARCA provides a high-level analysis of each statewide amendment. We study the ballot wording, but also the authorizing legislation behind the language. We do not make recommendations or endorsements, rather we seek to understand the impact of the proposed changes and the rationales for them.

The Alabama Constitution is unusual. It is the longest and most amended constitution in the world. There are currently 948 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. But Alabama’s constitution also delves into the minute 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. An amendment from a few years ago, Amendment 921, granted 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.

Read the full report here.


Alabama First Class Pre-K Research Gains National Exposure

The National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University has recognized research on the persistence of the impact of First Class Pre-K.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, PARCA, ThinkData, and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education published a peer-reviewed article in the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy showing the persistence of gains in math and reading for students who received First Class Pre-K. This article is the culmination of several years of work involving five cohorts of students over time.

First Class Pre-K students in Collier Elementary School in Mobile County public schools. al.com, March 7, 2019

The article, written for an academic audience, offers a detailed statistical analysis of recent findings of the research team already shared with policymakers and pre-K advocates in Alabama and authored by UAB, the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, and PARCA.

Results indicate that children who received First Class Pre-K were statistically significantly more likely to be proficient in both math and reading compared to students who did not receive First Class Pre-K. Further, there was no statistical evidence of fadeout of the benefits of First Class Pre-K through the 7th grade, indicating the persistence of the benefits into middle school.

You can read the published article here.

To read previous research about additional academic benefits of Alabama First Class Pre-K, especially as it pertains to educational equity, click here.


Alabama Public Opinion Survey 2020

PARCA’s 2020 Public Opinion Survey, completed before the onset of the COVID-19 in the U.S., hints at the challenges state policymakers will face in responding to the pandemic.  

The survey finds, once again, aversion to certain taxes, support for public education, and mistrust in state government. At the same time, the survey finds a lack of consensus in how the state should respond to other critical issues facing the state.

Taxes

Alabamians have a strong aversion to taxes but may not fully understand their tax burden.

  • 57% believe they pay the same or more taxes than people like themselves in other states.
     
  • 51% say upper-income earners pay too little. The percent of respondents who believe upper-income earners pay too little has dropped in each of the last four years.
     
  • 49% say lower-income earners pay too much, up from 40% in 2016.
     
  • 48% say they pay the right amount of taxes, compared to 45% in 2010.

Public Education

Alabamians believe education is the most important service state government provides.

  • 78% believe the state spends too little on education, compared to 74% in 2019 and 68% in 2013.
     
  • 69% support increasing taxes to support education, but no single tax increase option garners majority support.

Alabamians value local control of schools.

  • 87% say the local board (45%) or state board of education (42%) should set school calendars, while only 3% say the legislature should decide.
     
  • 59% say local boards of education are best suited to decide how education dollars are spent.

Other notable education findings:

  • 76.5% believe that taxes on Internet sales should be distributed to local schools in the same way as sales tax revenue from brick-and-mortar sales.
     
  • 66% say any potential lottery revenue should be restricted to the Education Trust Fund.
     
  • 59% oppose using state tax credits to fund private school scholarships.
     
  • 49% say charter schools provided expanded opportunities rather than diverting funds from other schools, but almost 25% don’t know or have no opinion.
     
  • 41% say new education funding should be prioritized to increasing teacher compensation.

Trust in State Government

Alabamians’ trust in state government improved slightly compared to 2019 but is still well below rates reported in the early 2000s.

  • 80% support keeping the General Fund and Education Trust Fund separate, down from 82%, but still well above the 69% reported in 2016.
     
  • 66% believe state government officials do not care about their opinions, down from 69% last year. This compares to a low of 55% in 2008 and a high of 74% in 2010.
     
  • 55% believe they have no say in state government, down from 57% last year, but well above the low of 43% in 2008.

Policy Preferences

Alabamians express a wide variety of opinions on pressing policy issues. We asked respondents to choose their preferred policy response or policy action to such issues as prison overcrowding, taxes, education, and healthcare. Each of these six questions offered multiple responses from a range of perspectives. No single policy proposal garnered a majority response. The closest was a proposal to expand mental health services for the homeless, identified as the most important response to homelessness by 45% of respondents.

Download the full report here.


PARCA Roundtable Announces Class of 2020

The PARCA Roundtable Class of 2020 was announced in late December. The PARCA Roundtable is a member-based organization of young, civic and business leaders interested in broadening their understanding of state and local government in conjunction with the work of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

The group meets quarterly to discuss a variety of state and community issues in an effort to increase the involvement of its members in seeking solutions to the state’s problems.

New members of the Roundtable are:

Cliff Bell, CBRE Group

Megan Bell, Shipt

JaTaune Bosby, ACLU of Alabama

Will Bryant, Quantalytix, Inc.

Becky Carpenter, Corporate Realty

Whitney Dachelet, Samford University, Cumberland School of Law

Blair Goodgame, St. Clair County Economic Development Council

Matt Hinshaw, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Chris McCauley, Tech Alabama

Lydia Messina, Protective Life Corporation

Stephen Pudner, Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz

Christianna Rudder, McKinney Capital

Jack West, EnPower Solutions

Whitney Wright, Athena Collective

“Each year, we receive nominations and applications from some of the best and brightest young civic minds in Alabama, featuring a wide array of backgrounds, industry, and expertise,” says 2019 Roundtable Chair Lee Ann Petty. “We are pleased to welcome our new Roundtable members, and we look forward to an exciting 2020 as we learn more about issues affecting Alabama and support PARCA’s mission of seeking solutions for the betterment of our state and local governments.”

Members are chosen through a nomination process from past and current members as well as the PARCA Board of Directors, based on their demonstration of leadership both professionally and in their community.


The 2020 Census: What’s at Stake for the State of Alabama

Alabama is at risk of losing federal funding, a congressional seat, and an Electoral College vote. These outcomes are based on projected results of the 2020 Census.

The 22nd decennial census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, begins on April 1, 2020. The census counts every person living in the United States. Business, industry, nonprofits, researchers, and governments use this information to understand and serve the public. The Constitution requires the census. Federal law requires all people living in the U.S. to respond.

The census is always a challenging project, but there are additional complications in 2020.

• The 2020 Census will be the first census administered primarily online.

• Proposals to add a citizenship question have created confusion in many communities.

• Trust of government is at near historic lows.

• The Census Bureau has reported to be behind in hiring field staff.

Regardless, the census results will have a profound impact on every community in America. While ultimately the responsibility of the federal government, the census is important to the states, and most invest substantial resources to promote the census.

As of this writing, Alabama has created the Alabama Counts! taskforce to promote the census and has committed $1.24 million, or $0.25 per capita, to the effort, compared to an average of $1.37 across the country, based on data reported by the National Council of State Legislators.

The stated goal of Alabama Counts! is to increase Alabama’s initial participation rate beyond the 72 percent reported in 2010. This figure represents the number of households that returned a census form by mail. Those who did return a form by mail received a visit from a census worker.

While increasing Alabama’s initial participation rate is a worthy goal, it is worth remembering that the national initial participation rate in 2010 was only 74 percent. A significant increase in the initial participation rate will be difficult and will require concerted effort from local officials in Alabama’s 67 counties and the 460 towns and cities recognized by the Census Bureau.

Even if the efforts of Alabama Counts! are exceedingly successful, Alabama may well lose a congressional seat. Census workers simply cannot count people who are not here. And Alabama is simply not growing as fast as other states.

But how does Alabama compare? What options do we have? Find out the answers to these questions and more in the full report.

Read PARCA’s full report here.


First Class Pre-K lowers discipline rates for students middle and high school years

Children who have participated in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, a voluntary, public early education program are about half as likely to be involved in disciplinary problems throughout their school careers than students who didn’t participate in First Class Pre-K, and the most pronounced differences between the two groups is evident in the students’ middle and high school years, according to new analysis of discipline data.

The analysis was conducted by the First Class Pre-K Research Evaluation Team, a multi-disciplinary group of researchers that includes faculty and staff from the UAB School of Public Health, UAB School of Education, and PARCA. The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education provides grant funding for the research in order to provide ongoing, rigorous assessment of the First Class Pre-K’s effectiveness.

The research team analyzed data provided by the Alabama State Department of Education which included disciplinary records of over 530,000 infractions for three academic years 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017. Data were matched with the records for all individual public school students who were enrolled over the time period. The analysis found that from the time they entered first grade, former First Class Pre-K students were less likely to be involved in the serious disciplinary violations tracked by the state records. The difference in the discipline rates of the First Class Pre-K students compared to other students actually widened in the upper grades. These results were consistent across all three years examined. For a more detailed description of the research, click here.


The Lasting Effect of Alabama First Class Pre-K

Students who attended the First Class Pre-K program in Alabama are more likely to be proficient in reading and math compared to other students — and this academic advantage persists over time.

This is the key finding of an ongoing study of Alabama First Class Pre-K conducted by researchers from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, the UAB School of Public Health, and the UAB School of Education. This research was funded by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

Key Findings

These findings add to previous findings that showed students receiving Alabama First Class Pre-K:

  • demonstrate higher readiness for kindergarten;
  • are less likely to be chronically absent;
  • are less likely to be held back a grade; and
  • are less likely to need special education services in K – 12

All of these measures produce savings to the education system that recur year after year as students progress through school.

Why is Pre-K Important?

The early years of school through the 3rd grade are a critical time in a child’s brain development. These early years provide a window for developing a foundation for sustained success. Problems that emerge during the early years are more difficult to address later on. High-quality pre-k programs provide opportunities to address gaps in early child development and to improve school readiness.

UAB-PARCA Research

The effectiveness of quality pre-k in preparing students for kindergarten has been well

documented. However, recent studies in other states have suggested the impact of pre-k programs fade away once students are in school, especially in the later grades. In response our UAB-PARCA research team, as part of its on-going assessment, specifically examined whether or not this happens with the Alabama First Class Pre-K program.

We studied three years (2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17) of student scores on state reading and math assessments, comparing students who received First Class Pre-K with those who did not receive First Class Pre-K.

We also compared the percent of students who were proficient in reading and math to identify differences between pre-k and non-pre-k students over time. We wanted to know if — after allowing for differences in poverty, race, gender, school attended, and general statewide trends — the academic benefit for students who received First Class Pre-K persisted as the students aged.

Study Findings

The UAB-PARCA team found that students who received First Class Pre-K were more likely to be proficient in reading and math compared to students who did not receive First Class Pre-K, and the benefit of First Class Pre-K persisted over time and did not fade out.

Specifically…

  • The percent of students earning a proficient score in reading were 1.6 percentage points higher for students receiving First Class Pre-K than for students who did not receive First Class Pre-K, all else equal, and this difference persisted at least through the middle school years.
  • The percent of students earning a proficient score in math were 3.2 percentage points higher for students receiving First Class Pre-K than for students who did not receive First Class Pre-K, all else equal, and this difference persisted at least through the middle school years.

Conclusion

Studies in other states have suggested the academic effects of pre-k are minimal and decline over time. Our study finds this is not the case in Alabama. Similarly, a new study from Duke University finds long-lasting effects of pre-k in North Carolina. These studies indicate that program design and implementation are key to a successful pre-k program.

Students who attended First Class Pre-K are more likely than other students to be proficient in reading and math, all else equal, and this academic advantage continues into at least middle school. These findings show that by making a positive difference in academic proficiency — something highly resistant to positive change — the Alabama First Class Pre-K program is working.

Print PDF Version Here.


PARCA collaborates on new research showing Alabama’s First Class Pre-K students are performing better on academic assessments than others

Alabama public school students who participated in the state’s publicly funded First Class Pre-K program performed better on academic assessments than those who did not, and the improved performance persists as students progress through the early grades and into middle school.

That is according to newly released findings from the First Class Pre-K Research Evaluation Team. The team, which includes faculty and staff from the UAB School of Public Health, UAB School of Education, and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama – provides ongoing, rigorous assessment of the program’s effectiveness. This research collaboration has been ongoing for the past five years and is funded by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

The findings are important because some studies of Pre-K programs in other states have suggested that that the academic benefits of Pre-K “fade out” after third grade. In Alabama, that is not the case. According to study findings: “Students who received First Class Pre-K were statistically significantly more likely to be proficient in math and in reading compared to students who did not receive First Class Pre-K. … The analyses also indicate no evidence of fade out of the benefits of First Class Pre-K over time.”

The First Class Pre-K classrooms in Alabama are funded through a competitive grant process in which sites must meet specific quality assurances and abide by rigorous operating guidelines. Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program has been awarded the highest quality rating by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) for the past 12 years.

The new research supports previous findings. In 2012, PARCA provided a comparison between students who had received First Class Pre-K and those who did not for the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs, now the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.  That snapshot of results depended on the results of the 2012 Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT) for students in grades three through six.

In general, those comparisons showed that students who received First Class Pre-K performed better than those who did not and that the gap between poverty and nonpoverty students closed, even for students in the 6th grade. Encouraged by that snapshot, a more rigorous research design was implemented to examine multiple cohorts of students over time. UAB researchers provided the statistical analysis that found that the initial cross-sectional observation based on the 2012 snapshot was not a fluke.

“Observed differences in performance of First Class Pre-K students did not change over time and…the positive benefits persist as children age and progress to later grades,” the report states.

Read the briefing here.

More research on Alabama’s First Class Pre-K will be coming soon.

Several media outlets have covered the brief in recent days. Read select articles below:

Former Alabama Pre-K students score better in reading, math

Ivey touts Alabama’s nationally-recognized Pre-K program at conference

Study: Pre-K has long-term results