We actually kinda do agree, Alabama (and education tops our to-do list).

Divided. That’s what we hear today: we’re so bitterly divided. About some public-policy issues we are . . . but not so much as we might think.

Last week, al.com ran a story about a new Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) study that shows how deeply we aren’t divided. And the main thing that Alabamians aren’t divided about: education, which ranked as the number-one priority. That al.com story also shares this fact about our not-so-dividedness:

Nine of the top 10 issues for African-American voters matched those of white voters. The exceptions were higher education, ranked as the No. 5 concern for African-Americans but not in the top 10 for whites, and improving the state’s image, ranked as No. 10 for whites but not on the list for blacks.

Going to PARCA’s The Priorities of Alabama Voters webpage reveals that 70% of respondents of are “very concerned” about K–12 education. Other prominently discussed priorities are: healthcare at number two, poverty at number five, jobs at numbers 6 and 8. Of course, these priorities are inextricably connected, and as we approach the 2018 mid-term elections this fall, here’s what PARCA wants us – the voters – to understand [bold text included]:

The data suggest four implications.

  1. Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial or generational lines.
  2. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  3. Policymakers have a two-fold opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  4. Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.

This research suggests that elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

Delving deeper, into the full report, we read this about Alabamians’ ideas about K – 12 education:

The number one issue for voters is K–12 education. With a mean of 4.378, about 70% of respondents say they are very concerned about K–12 education. Large majorities of every group say they are very concerned, including about 60% of Republicans, 66% percent of independents, and over 80% of Democrats.


Pluralities of every partisan stripe prioritize funding.

Alabamians might get into our daily little squabbles with friends and family about “red” versus “blue,” “liberal” versus “conservative,” but when we are asked what we really think: almost everybody knows that our education system is in bad shape, that funding is insufficient, and that we’ve got to fix it. (In Figure 3, on page 9, we can see that a portion less than 10% are “Not Concerned At All” about education. I can’t even imagine what those folks don’t understand.)

So, what are we, the people of Alabama, going to do about it? Though it would be a great start, simply showing up to vote isn’t enough. Southerners have a long history of voting based on name recognition and mudslinging, but we need for Alabamians to show up this time with a fact-based understanding of candidates, issues, policies, and history. (To gain that understanding, I highly recommend PARCA’s reports as a place to start.) Voting our incumbents back into their offices will not fix our current problems. Likewise, simply voting out all incumbents and replacing them with a bunch of newbies won’t either. We need to keep and elevate the conscientious, solution-oriented leaders we’ve got – of both parties – so we can have their knowledge and experience, and we need to vote out the stalwarts, the self-promoters, the do-nothings, and the obstructionists, and replace them with solution-minded people. It’s going to mean that voters have to do their homework, learn the facts, and know the difference.

In a previous post, I wrote about the connections between the PARCA’s Spring 2017 survey and the findings in the 1994 book Disconnected, which details Alabama’s tendency toward voting against its own values. But we Alabamians can change our own trajectory— as a matter of fact, we are going to have to. As the old adage says: one definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. A lot of people already think we’re crazy down here, and I’d prefer not to prove them right (again).

Additional reading:

The Alabama report from Education Week‘s Quality Counts 2018 (Grade D+ and ranked 44th)

The Alabama report for The Nation’s Report Card for 2018, published by NAEP

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