Developing a Civic Infrastructure

Posted by on February 3, 2006

[posted from Public Education Network newsblast]


Four years ago, voters in Mobile County, Alabama, approved a property tax linked to public education, the first successful tax increase for public schools in more than forty years. Schools in Alabama are chronically underfunded, due to constitutional limits on the state’s ability to levy taxes, writes Carolyn Akers. So the local tax levy was a significant victory for those in the county who believed that education had been shortchanged for years. The passage was not considered a mandate, however. Voters expected to see results for those additional tax dollars. They expected to see changes in how the school system operated in the future. The demand for accountability increased. In the same year the property tax was passed, the Mobile Area Education Foundation (MAEF) was named one of five national sites for the Standards and Accountability grant awarded by the Public Education Network. The overall goal of the community effort was to create a deep willingness across the community to support changes that would ensure a quality education for all students in Mobile County, regardless of where they lived or which school they attended. The story of Mobile County is one of a true grassroots campaign in which the citizens voiced that not only did they need to do something about the county’s schools, they wanted to. An intensive public engagement effort, coupled with a specific reform strategy, began the momentum for change. As a result, a new public story is emerging about Mobile County schools — and about the community’s role in improving them. Over time, the development of civic leaders and of civic stakeholders will be the vehicles that will mobilize the ongoing political will of the community to fund a high-perfoming public education system. In this way, a civic infrastructure is being built.

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