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UA Report Details Plummeting Enrollment in Black Belt Schools

(Montgomery, AL) - A new report released by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center shows that Alabama’s Black Belt faces a continued decline of enrollment in its public schools as families move away, searching for better jobs, quality of life, and more healthcare options. As a result, the Black Belt faces a potential spiral of less tax revenue for local governments.

Enrollment in public schools in the Black Belt’s 24 counties fell from 139,739 to 106,801 in the last 25 years. The population shift into suburban and city centers will ultimately play a large role in the Census being conducted and where federal dollars flow. Black Belt counties end up getting even less money than in years past due to the population decline.

“The migration shift of residents from Alabama’s rural Blackbelt areas to more suburban areas where resources and supports such as hospitals, larger and new schools, tranquil parks, community recreation, plentiful job opportunities, and other quality of life factors exist is a real threat to the continued sustainability of rural Alabama” Dr. Jacqueline A. Brooks, Macon County Superintendent said in the report.

Another potential obstacle to growth in the Black Belt is the failing school label placed upon 34% of all Black Belt schools. AL Daily News reported that Rep. Terri Collins, chair of the House Education Policy Committee, is open to changing the definition due to the fact that the lowest 6% of schools will always be labeled as failing, regardless of their growth.

In a statement to the EPC, Alabama State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey commented: “[the] success of the Black Belt is important to all Alabamians. We are glad to see the University of Alabama research and analyze the needs of the Black Belt so we can continue to improve and provide better educational resources to help the students of these communities.”

One factor that may keep families in the Black Belt has been the large investment the State is making in rural broadband. By incentivizing and using federal CARES Act money to pay for broadband infrastructure, businesses could be attracted to the low cost of living in rural Alabama. Additionally, hospitals and doctors can utilize telemedicine over broadband, thus allaying any fears of lack of healthcare options for Alabamians in rural areas.

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