I was startled when I received the following e-mail from a young Mountain Brook friend…
“How do you think it would go over if I suggested an alternative proposal to direct the proposed Mountain Brook property tax increase to Birmingham City Schools?”
On September 24th Mountain Brook residents will vote on a referendum to increase property taxes to provide additional funds for their schools.
The funding would support future capital improvements at Mountain Brook Schools, which auditors have said could total between $31 million and $87 million in the years to come.
Mountain Brook Schools are consistently ranked as the best in the state while Birmingham City Schools are ranked near the bottom.
My friend’s unconventional idea is clearly not going to happen, but maybe we can make it a call to action.
The City of Birmingham is going through a renaissance, but most families with children will never choose to live in Birmingham with a shrinking school system.
Students continue to abandon Birmingham City Schools
Some folks may argue that Birmingham City Schools are getting better, but the loss of students appear to be unstoppable.
According to Birmingham Watch, the number of students enrolled in Birmingham City Schools has been in free fall for fifty years.
Number of students Birmingham City Schools:
- 1970– 70,000
- 1988– 42,927
- 1998– 39,831
- 2004– 34,099
- 2006– 30,959
- 2010– 26,721
- 2011– 25,091
- 2017– 24,070
- 2018– 23,000
Intercity competition for Birmingham City Schools
First there was white flight, then black flight, and now competition from within.
Birmingham’s first public charter school Legacy Prep, known as STAR Academy, will open in west Birmingham in August with 120 students in kindergarten through second grade. A new grade will be added each year.
The following year I3 Academy, a second charter school, will open in Woodlawn. The new school will offer kindergarten through fifth grade and will have 420 students. Tommy Bice, former Alabama superintendent of education, is board chair.
Holy Family Cristo Rey High School will relocate in August from Ensley to an expanded campus in Titusville offering new technology with classrooms, labs, gym and a cafeteria.
The result is less and less students in Birmingham City Schools.
Birmingham Schools must do something bold
Birmingham City Schools will eventually implode if the status quo is maintained.
Birmingham needs to take some risk and experiment with bold new ideas and initiatives.
The Birmingham Promise is an initiative being considered.
According to the Birmingham Business Journal, “Included in Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s recent budget proposal was $2 million for the Birmingham Promise – a public-private partnership that would offer apprenticeships and scholarships to students from Birmingham City Schools.”
A similarly sized program in Buffalo, New York cost about $30 million. Buffalo’s program has been endowed, and a campaign has been launched to endow it in perpetuity.
The City of Birmingham is conducting due diligence this summer to determine the funding required for Birmingham’s program with an ultimate goal of creating a similar endowment.
Programs similar to the Birmingham Promise have been successful all over the United States.
It’s Birmingham’s time
Birmingham needs to fund this project even if it requires a small property tax increase—just like Mountain Brook.
The leaders in Mountain Brook know how to successfully manage a city by making its school system a priority. This laser focus on education has provided a huge payoff for Mountain Brook residents.
Birmingham, on the other hand, will continue to lose families and students if it doesn’t do something bold.
Has my young Mountain Brook friend lost his mind? He may not have come up with a rational solution, but he understands that an educated Birmingham means a more prosperous region and Mountain Brook.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org