How Alabama Democracy Compares

In recent years, Alabamians’ rate of participation in elections has lagged behind other states as electoral competition has decreased and as the state has failed to adopt measures other states have that increase the convenience and access to voting. According to political scientists, Alabama “cost of voting” is among the highest in the country, ranking No. 46 among the 50 states. Meanwhile, most other states now provide measures like early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee voting, measures that correlate with increased participation.

A new report by PARCA, How Alabama Democracy Compares, provides a detailed comparison of Alabama’s approach to voter registration, access to ballots, and democratic participation with those of other states.

This report is an installment of PARCA’s yearlong series on the unfinished work of reforming Alabama’s Constitution. This project is supported, in part, by the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR) Foundation.

Alabama has a history of limiting participation in the democratic process. The state’s 1901 Constitution disenfranchised blacks and poor whites for more than half a century, until, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. Congress and federal court swept away discriminatory barriers to voting.

In 2022, Alabama adopted a revised and reorganized state constitution, deleting the last written relics of the original discriminatory language on voting rights. However, the report makes clear that Alabama has not kept pace with other states’ adoption of measures that make it easier and more convenient to register and vote.

In addition to the report, PARCA’s data dashboard includes interactive versions of the charts, with information drawn from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the University of Florida Election Lab.


Most Alabama Cities Grow; Losses Moderate

After being hit hard with declines during the Covid-19 pandemic, Birmingham and Mobile saw an ebb in population declines, while Huntsville and cities in Baldwin County, along with Auburn-Opelika and Tuscaloosa, continued to grow at a rapid pace. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates released this month point to widespread growth in cities in the northern tier of the state, and in the Wiregrass.

Printable PDF available here.

Populations in smaller towns of the Alabama Black Belt, and west and central Alabama continue to decline modestly, according to the estimates. The population also dropped in Montgomery. The capital city didn’t lose as many people as Birmingham in the first year of the pandemic but has seen steady losses over the past three years.

Montgomery’s estimated population decline of 1,657 was the largest drop among Alabama cities and compares to a decline of 695 in Mobile and 243 in Birmingham.

That allowed Birmingham to return to No. 2 in population among Alabama cities. Huntsville continues to move farther into the lead, with a population now topping 225,000.

In terms of metro area population, Birmingham is still more than twice as large, but growth there is occurring away from the central city.

Close-in suburbs Vestavia, Mountain Brook, and Homewood saw population declines, but farther from the city center, Shelby County cities like Chelsea, Pelham, and Calera saw growth.

Despite declines in Montgomery, Pike Road, Prattville, and Millbrook saw increases.

While Huntsville added the most people, adjacent Athens and not-too-distant Decatur and Florence are continuing to see population growth.

Though Mobile County cities are experiencing some population declines, it is clear that the growth in nearby Baldwin County is coming from domestic in-migration. Far more people are arriving in cities like Fairhope, Foley, Daphne, and Gulf Shores than the population declines in Mobile County would produce.

When looking at the entire country, it is plain to see that whatever population change is going on in Alabama pales in comparison to the movement in other parts of the country. New York City’s population declined by over 77,000 in 2023 according to the estimates. Meanwhile, Texas cities like Fort Worth and San Antonio passed more than 20,000 new residents apiece. Closer to home, Atlanta added over 12,000, Charlotte over 15,000, and Jacksonville, Fla, over 14,000.



Please consider supporting PARCA. A contribution to PARCA is an investment in our state’s future. As a 501(c)3, charitable contributions allow PARCA to maintain its independence and ability to provide non-partisan support to communities throughout the state. All donations are tax deductible.


Graduation and College and Career Readiness

More Alabama high school students graduated ready for college or careers in 2023, according to data recently released by the Alabama Department of Education.

Printable PDF available here.

Students in the Class of 2023 made gains on all measures, bouncing back from the setbacks suffered during the pandemic and closing the gap between the percentage of students receiving a diploma and the percentage of students meeting the definition of college and career readiness: 91% of seniors graduated, 84% of seniors were college and career ready. That’s the highest readiness rate ever recorded.

The results show progress toward a goal established by the state Legislature and adopted by the State Board of Education that all students demonstrate college and career readiness in order to graduate.

More seniors graduated in 2023, even though this cohort of seniors was smaller than the Class of 2022. Alabama’s college and career readiness rate (CCR) increased by five percentage points over the levels recorded in 2022.

In percentage terms, student readiness increased on every measure. However, college readiness, as measured by scores on the ACT, is still lower for the Class of 2023 than it was for graduating classes before the pandemic.

Still, improved performance on the ACT accounted for the biggest gains in the number of students reaching the CCR benchmark. Follow this link for PARCA’s analysis of ACT Scores for the Class of 2023.

Close behind were big gains in the number of students earning the CCR by successfully completing career-oriented courses taught at high schools, vocational centers, or community colleges, courses known as career technical education. Also, the number and percentage of students earning a career-ready score on ACT’s WorkKeys test increased. A deeper dive into 2023 WorkKeys results is available here. The number of students earning credit through dual enrollment courses at community colleges or universities also increased.

Alabama’s high school graduation rate is among the highest in the country, though that is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 2012, Alabama’s high school graduation rate was 75%, trailing the national average of 80%. By 2018, Alabama’s graduation rate had climbed to 90%, exceeding the U.S. rate of 85%. In 2022, the most recent available year for comparison, Alabama’s graduation rate was tied with the U.S. at 88%.

With the sharp rise in the graduation rate came concerns that some students were being awarded diplomas but weren’t prepared for the next step. In 2018, despite that 90% graduation rate, Alabama’s college and career readiness rate was still at 75%.

Pressure to close that gap between graduation and college and career readiness has been building. Last year, the Legislature passed a requirement that by 2026, all students, in order to graduate, must have met one of the Alabama Board of Education’s definitions of college and career readiness. The Legislature subsequently provided $25 million in FY 2024 to support schools in expanding opportunities for college and career readiness. Last year, Gov. Ivey’s Commission on Teaching and Learning recommended allocating $25 million in ongoing support for the grant program.

Students can demonstrate that they are ready for college or the workforce in several ways:

  1. Achieve a benchmark score in one subject on the ACT. Benchmarking on the ACT indicates that a student is likely to succeed in a college class in that subject.
  2. Earn a Silver Certification or above on the ACT WorkKeys test. WorkKeys is a test of knowledge, communication, and comprehension as they are applied in the workplace. Scoring Silver or above indicates a student is ready to enter the workforce in most career fields.
  3. Earn college credit through Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses taken in high school.
  4. Earn college credit through dual enrollment. A high school student can complete courses at a community college or university while in high school. These can be academic or career-related courses.
  5. Complete a progression of Career Technical Education courses in a field.
  6. Earn an Industry Recognized Credential as part of a career technical education course.
  7. Participate successfully in an In-School Youth Apprenticeship Program approved by the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.
  8. Successfully enlist in the military.

While progress is being made, gaps remain.

In 29 school systems, all graduates were college and/or career-ready. In 20 of those systems, more seniors were college and career-ready than graduated.

On the other hand, in six school systems, the CCR rate was 20 percentage points lower than the graduation rate, indicating that 20% or more of the students who received diplomas hadn’t demonstrated readiness for college or the workforce.

The gaps in graduation rates between subgroups within the school population are relatively narrow: 93% of White students graduate compared to 89% of Black Students and 87% of Hispanic students. Gaps are wider when it comes to college and career readiness: 89% of White students graduate college and career-ready, but only 76% of Blacks and 79% of Hispanics do. Looking at the individual CCR measures, the gap between Blacks and Whites is highest in the percentage of students benchmarking on the ACT. It’s narrowest in terms of the percentage of students earning credit through career technical education. In that category, Black and Hispanic students have a higher CCR rate than Whites.

Using the tabs and menus in the visualization, you can explore the results for individual schools and school systems.



Please consider supporting PARCA. A contribution to PARCA is an investment in our state’s future. As a 501(c)3, charitable contributions allow PARCA to maintain its independence and ability to provide non-partisan support to communities throughout the state. All donations are tax deductible.


Huntsville and Baldwin Continue Population Gains, Birmingham Remains in Top 50 of U.S. Metros

The Huntsville area and Baldwin County continue to add more new residents, while growth in Shelby County and St. Clair County helped the Birmingham Metro Area return to positive growth after two years of population loss. That’s according to new estimates of population change in U.S. counties and metro areas published by the U.S. Census Bureau. The new estimates identify population totals and components of population change as of July 1, 2023.

Printable PDF available here

In addition to the growth in Shelby and St. Clair, Birmingham’s metro population got a boost from an accounting change. In the 2022 estimates, the Birmingham-Hoover MSA ranked No. 50 in population among metropolitan areas and seemed destined to fall out of the top 50 metro areas.

However, in 2023, Walker County was re-added to the Birmingham metro, which boosted the Birmingham MSA population by almost 65,000 and allowed it to climb to the 47th most populous metropolitan area.

Metro areas are clusters of counties where a significant percentage of the population moves back and forth across county lines for work and commerce. According to the most recent data, about 26% of Walker County’s resident workforce commuted to work in Jefferson County or other counties in the MSA. That’s above the 25% threshold that triggers inclusion in the MSA. Walker was historically part of the MSA.

Consisting of 7 counties with a population of 1.2 million, Birmingham is the state’s largest metro area. Huntsville’s MSA, comprised of Limestone and Madison Counties, is second with 527,254.

Trends

As observed in the PARCA’s analysis of state-level estimates released earlier this year, the decline in deaths related to the Covid-19 pandemic improved baseline conditions for population growth. In the 2021 and 2022 estimates, deaths far outnumbered births. In 2023, the number of deaths in Alabama continued to drop, though, due to an aging population and lower birth rate, deaths still outnumbered births.

International immigration to Alabama remains low, but domestic immigration continues to accelerate, according to the estimates. Alabama netted 30,744 new residents through domestic in-migration in 2023, building on an upward trend.

Domestic in-migration is powering population growth in hot spots like Madison, Limestone County, and Baldwin, as well as in suburban counties around Birmingham and Montgomery. In the latter cases, the central county is losing population while suburban counties gain. Across Alabama, 38 of the 67 counties are seeing more people moving into the county than moving out.

Calhoun and Etowah counties, home to Anniston and Gadsden, respectively, are showing population growth after years of decline. Mobile County also grew, breaking a streak of decline. In fact, all of the state’s metro areas posted population gains except for the Columbus, GA—Metro Area, which includes Phenix City and Russell County.

Rural counties, particularly in Alabama’s Black Belt, continued to lose population. The biggest drop in percentage terms was Bullock County, where the population declined by 2.4%, or 246 residents, according to the estimates. Hale County was the exception to the Black Belt trend. Hale added 289 residents, which amounts to a 2% population increase in a year.

In numeric terms, Jefferson County lost the most people, with a decline of 2,186. That is less of a loss than in 2021 or 2022. Deaths were down, births were up, resulting in a positive natural change of 394. International migration added 818, a slight increase over the year before. However, domestic migration remained a drain, with 3,417 more people moving out of the county than moved in, according to estimates.

Montgomery County also continues to see significant domestic outmigration, but a slight rise in international migration and births and a drop in deaths helped offset the outmigration. Montgomery County’s population has decreased by 1,321. Autauga, Elmore, Chilton, and Lee counties grew.

Mobile County grew with a smaller net decline in domestic migration, a slight increase in international migration, and a return to positive natural change (more births than deaths). According to the estimates, Mobile County posted a net addition of 242 residents.

Next-door neighbor Baldwin County added 6,976 people, mostly because of people moving to the coastal county. In percentage terms, the Baldwin County metro area, officially the Daphne-Fairhope-Foley MSA, grew faster than any of the state’s other metro areas.

However, the Huntsville MSA netted the most new residents, with Madison County adding 8,995 and Limestone County adding 3,786. Adjacent North Alabama counties like Lauderdale, Morgan, Marshall, Jackson, Lawrence, and Cullman grew.

The Dothan-area Wiregrass counties also saw population growth, as did counties on the Alabama-Georgia Border like Cleburne, Randolph, and Cherokee.  

Most counties bordering Mississippi lost population. The median age in rural counties tends to be higher, which correlates with higher death rates.

Those counties also tend to experience more people moving out than moving in.

Use the tabs and menus to explore the estimates for counties and metros you are interested in. If you want to see how Alabama compares with the rest of the United States, visualizations of the population estimates and change are available for counties and metros across the country.

Similar stats are available for metro areas as well. Use the controls to zoom in on areas of interest.


More Students Workforce Ready in the Class of 2023

The number and percentage of high school seniors graduating workforce-ready rose with the Class of 2023, according to the results of ACT’s WorkKeys Assessment, a test of skills given to public high school seniors. The results are another sign that student performance is recovering from post-pandemic lows, though the recovery is not complete.

Printable PDF available here.

The WorkKeys test measures practical math, reading, and graphical literacy skills as they are employed in the workplace. That’s different than the ACT, which tests for knowledge and skills needed in a college classroom. In 2023, 72% of seniors took the test statewide, and 62% of those tested scored at or above the silver level of workforce readiness.

Figure 1. WorkKeys Results, Statewide Trends

WorkKeys is optional, and school systems vary in the percentage of students tested. WorkKeys was given to all seniors through 2019, but the State Department of Education stopped mandating the test. Some systems still test all seniors. Some systems make the test an option for students who haven’t demonstrated college and career readiness by another measure. WorkKeys is one of seven options for demonstrating college and career readiness.

Figure 2. Numbers and percentages of participation and passing the workforce-ready benchmark

In addition, a student’s score on WorkKeys can be a recognized credential in the job market. Some businesses, particularly industrial employers, build WorkKeys into their hiring practices. Working with ACT, those employers have determined what level of proficiency, as measured by WorkKeys, is needed in particular jobs. Depending on their test performance, students earn a platinum, gold, silver, or bronze National Career Readiness Certificate. A student scoring Silver or above has the foundational skills for 67% of jobs that ACT has profiled, and that student is considered college and career-ready by the Alabama Board of Education.

Figure 3. Percentage of all students workforce ready (scoring Silver or Above), by system, 2023 (Pictured are systems in which 90% of students were tested. Adjust filter to see other systems)

In Figure 3, the school systems are shaded by the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in each system. In general, systems with higher poverty percentages tend to have lower percentages of students scoring workforce ready. However, on WorkKeys, the correlation is not nearly as strong as it is with other measures, like the ACT college readiness test. WorkKeys seems to provide a more even playing field for comparative performance.

However, the 2023 WorkKeys test results do show a pattern similar to other assessments in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. After dropping in 2020, 2021, and 2022, WorkKeys results rebounded more strongly among nonpoverty students in 2023. In contrast, students from low-income backgrounds have been slower to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Figure 4. Percentage Workforce Ready by School, 2023

The visualization below presents the results in a more detailed fashion. Each color represents the percentage of tested students scoring at each level: platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and no certificate earned. Use the menus to adjust the comparison and use the various tabs, to explore different aspects of the data.

Figure 5. WorkKeys Results, by level of certification, by system, 2023

Alabama ACT Scores Climb

ACT Scores for Alabama public high school students improved in 2023, bucking a downward trend nationally and providing another clue that Alabama schools began recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic more quickly than schools nationally. Students in the graduating class of 2023 were in ninth grade when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S.

Printable PDF Document Available Here

Figure 1. Alabama Public High School Average Composite Scores, 2015-2023

Alabama’s Class of 2023 still trailed the score levels of classes tested prior to the academic disruptions wrought by COVID-19. The average composite score in 2023 was 17.72 on the ACT’s 36-point scale, up from 17.69 in 2022 but down from 18.58 in 2021.

The percentage of test-takers who achieved ACT’s college-ready benchmark in all four tested subjects – English, reading, science, and math – climbed to 12.8%. According to ACT, students scoring at or above the benchmark on a subject test have a 50% chance of earning a B in an introductory college course in the subject and a 75% chance of earning a C.

Figure 2. Percentage of students scoring at or above the college-ready benchmark in 2023, by subject

The scores of students from low-income households fell further during the pandemic and have not recovered to the same extent as students from non-poverty households.

The percentage of non-poverty students who were college-ready in reading was higher in 2023 than in the graduating Class of 2020. In English and science, the non-poverty students in the Class of 2023 had nearly closed the gap. In math, non-poverty students still have some catching up to do.

In comparison, the percentage of economically disadvantaged students who scored college-ready in 2023 remains significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Figure 3. Comparing Poverty and Non-poverty Students’ College Ready Percentage, by subject, by selected years

Compared to other states

Nationally, a shrinking percentage of students of students were college-ready in 2023. In all four subject areas, the percentage of students scoring at or above the college-ready benchmark was the lowest in recent history. The average Composite score declined by 0.3 points, from 19.8 in 2022 to 19.5. Immediately before the pandemic, the U.S. average ACT composite score was 20.7 in 2019. While Covid led to sharp drops in scores, the national average score on the ACT has been trending down for several years. In 2017 and before, the national average composite was 21.

Comparing Alabama’s average composite score to the national average isn’t appropriate because of the difference in the universe of test-takers in different states. All Alabama public high school students take the ACT. In many states, only college-bound students take the test. Other states focus on the SAT instead, leaving only a small portion of students to take the ACT.

Looking strictly at the states where 100% of students took the test, the average composite score was 18.3, compared to Alabama’s 18 (When it comes to state-to-state comparisons, ACT provides a different state average than the data strictly focused on Alabama public school students).

Data provided by ACT and accessible through ACT’s online dashboard indicates that White students in Alabama have caught up to and scored at the same average as White students in other 100% states. However, Black and Hispanic students in Alabama haven’t regained as much ground. There also appears to have been a steep jump in the percentage of students scoring in the lowest ranges of the test. The percentage of Alabama students who scored 15 or below jumped from 34% to 41% during the pandemic.

Figure 4. Trends in the percentage of ACT test-takers in score ranges US vs. Alabama

Focus on Alabama Scores

Alabama students’ average scores improved in reading, English, and science but not math.

Figure 5. Trends in scale scores by subject

System Level Results

At the school system level, systems with a higher proportion of non-poverty students post higher average scores. Systems with a higher concentration of poverty post lower average scores.

Using the menu options on the right of the visualization, you can adjust variables to see the data through different lenses. Figure 6 presents the average scale score of non-poverty students in each system. Applying this different lens helps identify high-performing systems where higher poverty percentages might affect overall performance. More than half of the students in systems like Brewton, Huntsville, Haleyville, Jasper, and Demopolis are economically disadvantaged. But the Non-poverty students in those systems post average scores that rank them in the top 20 of school systems,

Figure 6. Non-poverty student’s average scores, by system

Meanwhile, Figure 7 compares the average scale score of economically disadvantaged students attending the various systems. Again, this different lens reveals a different set of high-performing schools. More than 40% of students in Satsuma, Saraland, Arab, and Oneonta are economically disadvantaged, and yet economically disadvantaged students there score higher than the all-students average statewide. Economically disadvantaged students make up more than half the student body in Brewton and Winfield, but despite that concentration, the system average for students in poverty ties or beats the state all-student average.

Figure 7. Economically Disadvantaged Students’ Average scores, by system

Examining results at the school level is also important for identifying high performance. Figure 8 presents the average scores of Black students by school. The highest average scores are found in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Huntsville magnet schools.

Figure 8. Black students’ average scores, by school

Use the menus and tabs to explore data on your own, find your school or system, and make comparisons keeping in mind student body socioeconomic composition. Available data options include:


Proposed Statewide Amendment to the Alabama Constitution of 2022


Statewide Amendment 1

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 2022, to amend Section 71.01 authorizing the Legislature to sign and transmit local laws or constitutional amendments before the transmission of basic appropriations.

Proposed by Act 2023-562 (Senate Bill 3, 2023 Second Special Session)
Bill Sponsor: Senator Chambliss

When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, March 5, they won’t just be voting in the Democratic or Republican primaries; they’ll also vote on an amendment to the Alabama Constitution of 2022.

Amendment 1 proposes simplifying the process of moving resolutions and local legislation through the Legislature before the state budgets are passed.

Printable PDF available here

If the amendment passes, a 3/5 vote of the Legislature would no longer be required before considering the passage of a resolution, local legislation, or a local constitutional amendment.

Proposed Amendment 1 is actually a tweak of the amendment championed by Gov. Fob James, which was ratified back in 1984. The amendment was aimed at focusing the Legislature on its most important job: passing the education and general fund budgets. It was designed to make it hard to bring up other legislation before the budgets passed.

Currently, until the budgets pass, every piece of Legislation requires two votes: one for what’s called a Budget Isolation Resolution, which requires three-fifths support to allow consideration, and a second vote on the piece of legislation itself.

While Amendment 1 will ease the process for resolutions and local legislation, the higher vote threshold (required prior to the passage of the budgets) remains in place for general laws, laws that apply statewide. Local constitutional amendments will still require a three-fifths vote to pass. They just won’t require two votes, one for a BIR and a second vote on the measure.

The original purpose of the 1984 amendment was to avoid last-minute scrambles to pass budgets. That didn’t happen. Budgets still tend to be worked on until the waning days of the session. Budgets are complicated and involve a lot of give and take. They are the culmination of a process, but they also are not all-consuming. Legislative action on other matters doesn’t necessarily get in the way of making progress on the budget.

In some circumstances, the BIR procedure does provide a mechanism for blocking or delaying consideration of controversial legislation. If more than one-third of members of either the House or Senate oppose a bill, they can band together and prevent consideration.

That blocking mechanism was more in play when the Legislature was more evenly divided along party or interest group lines. It is less relevant now that the Republicans hold a super-majority in both houses. The BIR can still come into play on bills that cut across party lines, but, for the most part, nowadays, it is simply an extra step in the legislative process.

The proposed amendment’s focus on local legislation stems, in part, from a series of lawsuits that questioned the validity of some local laws based on BIR-related votes. The Constitution requires “three-fifths of a quorum present” to vote on the BIRs. But Alabama House of Representatives rules and practice allowed BIRs to pass if three-fifths of those voting voted yes. Even though the legislative and constitutional fixes have reaffirmed previously passed legislation, proponents want to avoid future challenges by exempting local legislation.

The amendment doesn’t address the more fundamental issue of whether the state Legislature should be voting on local legislation at all. In other states, local governments have more power to conduct their own affairs. In those state the Legislature focuses on statewide policy. In Alabama, in 2023, 30% of the bills passed by the State Legislature applied to a specific county or locality, according to a PARCA analysis of legislative records. Further, the bulk of the Alabama Constitution is made up of amendments that apply to specific counties and localities. That inclusion of local matters in the state constitution helps make Alabama’s Constitution by far the longest state constitution in the U.S.

Another state constitutional amendment is on the ballot March 5, but only in Dale County. Voters there will decide whether mayors in the county are allowed to participate in the state’s retirement system.


The Alabama Constitution Reformed: Is There Still Work to Do?

In 2022, Alabama adopted a “new” constitution, an improved and reorganized version of the Alabama Constitution of 1901. The vote was the culmination of decades of advocacy and was rightly celebrated.

The new Constitution removed the racist and unconstitutional provisions that were relics of the White Supremacist 1901 Constitution.

Printable PDF version available here

It reorganized the document, moving relevant statewide amendments into their proper place in the main body of the Constitution, removing duplicative and repealed provisions, and organizing local constitutional amendments by county to the end of the document.

But is the work finished?

Is Alabama free from the shackles of the anti-democratic and pre-modern Constitution of 1901? Or are fundamental flaws still embedded in our Constitutional DNA?

Despite the new Constitution, we remain governed by the basic operating system established by the 1901 Constitution. And that operating system was recognized as obsolete and an obstacle almost as soon as it was adopted.

Alabama Governor Emmet O’Neal, in a 1914 address, observed, “No real or permanent progress is possible in Alabama until the present fundamental law is thoroughly revised and adapted to meet present conditions.”

Have those revisions been made? In this election year, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) will examine that question.

PARCA was founded to provide objective, non-ideological research to citizens and leaders, supporting the improvement of state and local governments. PARCA research is intended to help governments function efficiently and effectively in hopes that those governments provide equal treatment and opportunity to the people of Alabama.

As the Constitution is fundamental to the functioning of state and local governments, it has been a central focus of PARCA’s work.

Over the next year, PARCA will issue a series of reports examining Alabama’s current constitutional framework, identifying remaining obstacles to a modern constitution and possible paths forward in areas such as education, economy, healthcare, democracy, liberty & justice, finances, and related areas.

The project is supported, in part, by the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR). Both ACCR and PARCA are nonpartisan organizations, and our members and supporters are Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Former Governor Albert Brewer and former Samford University President Thomas Corts, both deceased, were founding leaders in both organizations.

The mission of ACCR is to educate and advocate for an Alabama Constitution that protects and enhances life for all Alabama citizens. To that end, ACCR has two branches:

  1. A foundation that focuses on educating the public about the Alabama Constitution and underlying issues that affect our citizens.
  2. A nonprofit advocacy organization that works to improve the Constitution.

The foundation is providing support for PARCA’s re-examination of the Alabama Constitution. ACCR’s advocacy organization will use the research to recalibrate its ongoing work on Constitutional reform.

Alabama’s Constitution of 2022 is still, by far, the longest state constitution in the United States, three times as long as the next longest state constitution. Though now better organized, it is still complex and contradictory.

It is not a basic template and statement of principles, which should be the ideal. It more closely resembles a law code, with almost 500 pages worth of amendments that relate to localities rather than to the state as a whole.

Alabama voters have finally removed the most noxious provisions of the Constitution of 1901, which was explicitly formulated to strip the political rights of Black Alabamians, but which also disenfranchised poor whites. Gone are provisions that mandated segregated schools. Deleted are provisions allowing for involuntary servitude for those convicted of crimes. The Constitution now recognizes that females have a right to vote.

But other aspects of the Constitution remain unchanged. Power is still concentrated in the hands of the state Legislature in Montgomery. Should that power be more dispersed? Should citizens be able to initiate change and call for referendums, rights available to citizens in other states? Should more decisions be made by local communities rather than by legislators in Montgomery?

Alabama still collects less in state and local taxes than virtually any other state through a constitutionally-embedded tax system that falls disproportionately on poor Alabamians. At the same time, low taxes, particularly on property, reflect voters’ preferences. Are there changes voters would support that could increase adequacy and fairness?

Thanks to the Constitution, Alabama still earmarks more revenue than any other state. That limits legislators’ ability to shift revenue toward pressing priorities. On the other hand, voters like earmarks and don’t necessarily trust lawmakers. Is there a way to change the culture of distrust with changes that increase both flexibility and accountability? 

Does the Constitution inhibit economic development and mass transportation? Does it promote public safety and justice? Does it adequately promote the general welfare, health, and education?

Alabama’s Constitution should reflect our values. It should promote engagement in our democracy and free and fair elections. It should provide for equality of opportunity and equal treatment under the law. With the adoption of the Constitution of 2022, the people of the state took a step forward, removing obvious anti-democratic and discriminatory provisions left from a darker past.

But does the Constitution reflect the needs and aspirations of Alabamians today? Does it provide us with the outlines of a modern, efficient, effective, and responsive government? Is there still a need for Constitutional reform? We will explore those questions in the months to come. 


Shifts in Public School Enrollment Seen in the 2023-2024 Fall Attendance Data

Alabama’s public school enrollment is down slightly for the 2023-2024 school year, with a decline in the number of white students enrolled, partially offset by a growing enrollment of Hispanic students. Just over half of public school students, 51% are white, 32% Black, and 11% Hispanic. This year’s enrollment continues a long-term trend. In 2000, 62% of students were white, and the percentage of Hispanic students barely registered.

The percentage of students identified as economically disadvantaged is at an all-time high, with 60% of enrolled students directly qualifying for a free lunch under the National School Lunch program. Qualification is based on having a household income that qualifies for federal benefits like housing, food, or health care support. The percentage of children identified rose substantially after Alabama’s Medicaid program began working with the Department of Education to identify students who qualified for Medicaid and related benefits. Coming out of the Covid pandemic, the number of families and children is elevated. Federal law prohibits states from removing patients from Medicaid rolls during a public health emergency. With the public health emergency now over, Medicaid is reassessing which households remain eligible.

The school systems seeing enrollment gains are generally found in places where the population is growing: north Alabama systems in and around Huntsville and to the south in Baldwin County. Growth in enrollment is also occurring at public charter schools that are starting up or adding grades. School systems offering online or virtual school programs have also shown gains. Read Al.com’s reporting on trends in school populations.

Rural systems saw the largest declines in percentage terms. Large county and city systems in Mobile, Montgomery, Shelby County, and Birmingham accounted for the larger numeric declines in enrollment.

Use the tabs to explore data, for your local schools and systems.


Alabama’s Population Growth Accelerating

Alabama’s population increased by 34,000 last year to 5.1 million, driven by increased domestic migration and a decreasing number of deaths, according to the latest population estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau, covering the period between July 1, 2022 and July 1, 2023.

That’s the 15th fastest rate of growth among U.S. states and ranks 11th in terms of the number of people added. Still, Alabama’s growth rate trails other Sunbelt and Mountain West states, including Southeastern neighbors like Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and South and North Carolina.

Alabama’s death rate fell from the third-highest in 2021 to the sixth-highest in 2023. Still, more people died in Alabama than were born here, according to the 2023 estimates. But the gap narrowed. Births were up by about 150, and the estimated number of deaths in 2023 was down by almost 10,000 from the 2021 peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the population change resulted from people moving in from other states. The state received 30,744 domestic migrants, 2,000 more than moved in the year before. International migration into Alabama increased to 5,364 net new arrivals, or about 1,000 more than the year before.

In 2023, Alabama’s rate of domestic immigration was the 10th highest in the U.S. However, Alabama still has one of the lowest rates of international immigration among states, ranking No. 45.

Texas and Florida added the most people. New York, Illinois, and California saw the biggest declines. All the Southeastern states, with the exception of Louisiana and Mississippi, recorded population increases. That pattern has been consistent since 2020.

Census population and change estimates for counties, metro areas, and cities will be released later in the year. Use the tabs and menus in the visualizations to explore the data.