How can the City of Birmingham grow population and prosper when parents feel compelled to flee the city when their children reach school age?
I have a question for parents with school age children who live/work in the Birmingham area.
What if you had the opportunity to live in an affordable home close to your job; and that you could send your children to a public school that not only provides a good education, but guarantees them a full college scholarship to any two or four-year public college in Alabama, as long as they were accepted?
Sounds pretty compelling, doesn’t it?
I recently overheard a conversation between a young couple who have preschool children and live in the City of Birmingham.
They were panicked because their oldest child is getting close to school age and they are unwilling to send their children to Birmingham City Schools.
They complained it is near impossible to find affordable housing in municipalities reasonably close to Birmingham with good public schools.
They are evaluating a move to Shelby County to a city like Wilsonville, Helena, or Chelsea.
It seems kind of zany that the City of Birmingham covers a land area of 150 square miles, some of which could be developed at a reasonable cost, and yet, this family feels compelled to move 20 or 30 miles away.
Recently I attended a presentation by Dr. Mark Sullivan, the Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools (BCS), and was quite impressed.
Dr. Sullivan reminded us that the Birmingham City School District is the only public school system in the State that offers the Birmingham Promise.
Birmingham City Schools offer full college scholarships to all high school graduates
The Birmingham Promise guarantees high school graduates of Birmingham City Schools a full college scholarship to any two or four-year public college in Alabama, as long as they are accepted for admission.
College scholarships are offered to all families no matter their economic status.
Students are required to apply for all available scholarships and Birmingham Promise makes up the difference.
According to the Birmingham Promise website, “The program is funded by a combination of private and public donations, and it is designed to make college accessible to all BCS students, regardless of their financial background.
“To be eligible for the Birmingham Promise, students must:
- Graduate from a BCS high school
- Enroll in a two- or four-year public college in Alabama within one year of graduating from high school
- Maintain a full-time course load and a minimum GPA of 2.0
“…All Birmingham Promise scholars are guaranteed to have their tuition covered.
“The Birmingham Promise program has been a huge success since its launch in 2020.”
According to the Birmingham Times, “Since its creation in 2020, Birmingham Promise has provided $5.5 million in tuition assistance to 1,000 graduates of Birmingham City Schools.”
Also, the Birmingham Promise Internship Program “offers opportunity for seniors in Birmingham City Schools to work in local businesses, develop job skills and get paid.
“Seniors in Birmingham City Schools who have at least a 2.0 grade point average are eligible to apply for internships. Previous participants have successfully completed internships at banks, law firms, utilities, media outlets, healthcare institutions, nonprofits, colleges, construction firms, sports organizations, food vendors, tech firms, public relations firms and many other local businesses.”
Dr. Sullivan explained that Birmingham City Schools are well-funded and offer a variety of programs for students with disabilities, English language learners (ELLs), and gifted and talented students.
The burning question becomes if Birmingham City Schools have all these offerings, why aren’t many parents willing to send their children there?
Are parents avoiding Birmingham City Schools because of race?
Race is not the problem.
The young couple I overheard wishing to escape Birmingham schools is African-American.
In the 1960s and ‘70s there were 60,000- 70,000 students enrolled in Birmingham Schools.
Today Dr. Sullivan says there are about 20,000 students.
According to the Alabama Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama most of the decline in the past 20 years has been in the number of black students.
This is not just white flight—it’s black flight.
Bad news for families wishing to move to Shelby County
There’s bad news for the young couple considering a move to Shelby County.
According to the Birmingham Lede, typical homes in Wilsonville are $323,452; Helena, $346,441; and Chelsea, $325,477–having appreciated 40-50% in the past five years.
And if this family chooses to move to Shelby County’s Indian Springs Village then their home would likely cost more than a home in Vestavia Hills who has the 2nd most expensive homes in Jefferson County–behind Mountain Brook.
It’s clear that Birmingham City Schools have issues: poor test scores—and fear of crime are just a couple.
If only BCS could find a way to restore its reputation, then more parents would choose Birmingham City Schools and then Birmingham and Jefferson County could have a greater opportunity to grow and prosper.
Can Birmingham City Schools save Birmingham?
We can hope.
You might enjoy this article about a Ramsay High student who earned a double degree and was hired by one of the world’s top-four financial services and accounting firms.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. 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 for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.