The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education are unparalleled in American history. Projected learning loss, particularly for our most at-risk students, may be irreversible if we do not maximize the utility of each dollar Alabama receives for the pandemic recovery. Alabama’s students are already near last on the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP), the only national standardized test that all public-school students are required to take in both fourth and eighth grades. It is imperative that Alabama wisely invests these funds to stop the COVID-19 learning loss and begin our climb towards increased student achievement immediately.

Fortunately, due to numerous federal programs approximately $4 billion will be allocated to Alabama’s K-12 schools. Due to this one-time allocation of Federal dollars, the Alabama Workforce Council, the Business Education Alliance and employers statewide recommend and fully support the expenditure of an adequate portion of the federal funding to strategically align Alabama’s Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP) in-demand jobs and career pathways. Doing so will help to close the current 12 percentage point gap between Alabama’s high school graduation rate of 90% and the college and career readiness rate of 78%. Aligning Alabama’s CTE programs and credential readiness indicators to the ACCCP’s list of in-demand jobs will ensure that preparing our students for high-skill, high demand CTE careers remains a vital focus as we continue making progress against Governor Ivey’s attainment goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the workforce by 2025.

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We also fully support the use of these funds to bolster summer and afterschool programs for enrichment in reading, math, and science so our students are prepared for careers in Alabama upon completion of their educational pursuits. All of Alabama’s school districts should invest their allocations of federal dollars toward educational programs to support the strategic initiatives that Governor Ivey and State Superintendent Eric Mackey have previously set forth in Governor Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish strategic plan and Dr. Mackey’s Alabama Achieves strategic plan.

Our organizations stand ready to help in meeting the challenge of ensuring that the billions of dollars our state is about to receive are spent wisely. This is a once in a lifetime chance, and Alabama must wisely leverage these dollars towards ensuring that all students are reading on grade level and on grade level in math by the time they enter the fourth grade, are college and career ready at the time of graduation from high school, and are attaining postsecondary credentials of value for in-demand, high-wage jobs.

Tim McCartney is Chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council. Dr. Joe Morton is President of the Business Education Alliance and a member of the Alabama Workforce Council. For more information, visit www.alabamaworks.com.