The Birmingham City Council today took a big step toward fulfilling the promise of Birmingham Promise by funding apprenticeships and scholarships for students of Birmingham city high schools.
By unanimous consent, council members authorized the mayor to execute a project agreement between the city and Birmingham Promise in which Birmingham Promise will administer a program to, among other things, increase postsecondary opportunities and economic prosperity of graduates of Birmingham schools.
The city will provide $10 million during the next five years – $2 million per year – subject to extension in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Students must be enrolled in city schools in order to qualify for the apprenticeships.
Josh Carpenter, director of the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, said the aim is to make sure students have access to quality job pathways, through either apprenticeships or scholarships, in the city’s growing industries.
“This is a big step forward in making sure our students have the tools that they need to get jobs in a growing and demanding economy,” Carpenter said after today’s meeting.
“Right now, the average Alabama graduate has about $31,000 in student debt. We’re one of five states where average household debt exceeds average household income.
“This allows us to stand arm-in-arm with students and with families and say, ‘As the cost of preparing for jobs increases, we’re going to help reduce those barriers to make sure students and families have the best shot to get the jobs they need in the Birmingham economy.’”
Birmingham Promise Inc. will implement the apprenticeship and scholarship programs, beginning in January 2020.
“Apprenticeships are for anybody who is a junior or senior at one of the Birmingham City’s high schools,” Carpenter said. “We’ll have 110 spots this winter, beginning in January. We’ll also have the summer apprenticeship program and fall apprenticeship program. Each of those students will have a chance to get those jobs if they’re at one of those schools. They’ll have a chance to earn and learn.”
The criteria for the scholarships, beyond being students at Birmingham City Schools, will be determined by Birmingham Promise Inc. The director of the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity said the city can’t legally determine how the scholarships will be structured.
Council Approves Non-Smoking District
In another matter, the council passed a resolution establishing a non-smoking Health District on the city’s Southside. Smoking will be prohibited on public property, including city streets and sidewalks, within the Health District.
Representatives of several partner agencies were on hand for the action, including Children’s of Alabama, Cooper Green Mercy Health Services, the Jefferson County Department of Health, Southern Research, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine, and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
“This makes the area around these healthcare organizations smoke free,” said Dr. Susan Walley, a pediatrician with UAB and Children’s hospitals. “This makes all the public rights of way smoke free in order to protect people that live, work, play and take care of patients. Patients who are recovering can have a smoke-free environment.”
In passing the law, Council President Valerie Abbott expressed concern about its enforcement. Healthcare officials focused more on changing the culture, getting people to stop smoking. That, Walley said, takes time.
“These organizations really want to focus on making sure that we’re providing smoking cessation resources for tobacco users,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re changing the culture, that we have a right to a smoke-free environment.”
The current smoking ordinances in Birmingham do not include vaping instruments. A return to the council to close that hole in the law is likely.
Council denies appeal for ministorage building
Council members also heard about dozen people speak about an appeal of Morningstar Storage’s application to construct a ministorage building and commercial building at 1905 Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard. The action would have gone against the city’s moratorium on storage buildings.
After much discussion, the council denied the appeal on a vote of 5-2-2. Councilmen John Hilliard and Hunter Williams voted no, with councilmembers Crystal Smitherman and Steven Hoyt abstaining.
Michael Brown, the attorney for the developer, expressed disappointment after the vote.
“I think we did what we could do,” he said. “We had the right arguments and the right position. The difficult thing is when you have a $2.7 million investment, the opportunity to get that money back is very limited. This property was purchased for a lot less than that … about $500,000. And we made about another $2.2 million investment in the property. That money is really not coming back.”
Residents and councilmembers cited city plans to revamp Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard as it passes the Vulcan statue, providing sidewalks and cycling lanes. “This is a major entrance to our city, and it is important for us to uphold the moratorium,” Abbott said.