Tim James, the Republican candidate in the Alabama gubernatorial race, has come up with the gem of a political issue. At issue- at least, in his mind- is the cost-saving benefits of having the driving tests in Alabama only in English because "we speak English here." (I am afraid most Brits and many Americans would have a giggle at that claim. )
On a more serious note, it may be helpful to take a closer look at a real problem- as opposed to the phony one James has presented. That problem is education and literacy in the state. Every day, 29 students - a full classroom's equivalent - drop out of high school in Alabama.The graduation rate is just 61 percent, ranking the state 43rd in the nation, according to Education Week Magazine.
Alabama's high school dropout rate is the biggest threat to the state's long-term economic growth and a large reason why people here earn less than the average American, a nonprofit education advocacy group states in a report being released today.
The Southern Education Foundation, based in Atlanta, commissioned a study that concluded almost 60 percent of the state's income gap with the rest of the nation can be blamed on Alabama's lower levels of education.
So if English is the language of Alabama, why isn't the candidate discussing the problem of illiteracy? But, why is literacy important?
- 43% of adults with low literacy skills live in poverty.
- 40% of children entering fourth grade are unable to read at grade level.
- 50% of welfare recipients do not have a high school diploma or GED.
- 70% of Alabama’s inmates are functionally illiterate.
- 75% of small business owners in Alabama report that many applicants for job openings do not
have basic reading, writing and math skills.
- Alabama’s Level 1 functionally illiterate rate is 25%. In other words, one out of four people function at the lowest literacy level in Alabama.
- Rates in West Alabama: Tuscaloosa County – 23%; Fayette County – 24%; Bibb County – 27%; Pickens County – 35%; Hale County – 41%; & Greene County – 51%.
Sources: Alabama Adult Education & Family Literacy Plan; U. S. Department of Education; The Literacy Council of Central Alabama.
According to an article by Associated Press, six of the eight candidates for governor of Alabama were asked their views on funding education in a forum before Alabama school superintendents. Lawmakers who opened the 2010 session face possible Draconian cuts in the education budget because the recession has caused tax revenues to drop.
“The truth is the cavalry is not coming,” Greenville businessman Tim James said of the funding crisis. Another candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, agreed: “The problem is we are broke. We could continue to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic and it’s not going to help.
And yet, it appears that James has more important topics to address.