City adds $1.3 million to education. Here’s how it will be used

Elevate Tuscaloosa’s education initiatives work to eliminate costs associated with public schooling for Tuscaloosa families.

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Camille Black

The Tuscaloosa City Council renewed more than $1.3 million in funding for Elevate Tuscaloosa’s educational initiatives Tuesday.

The Elevate fund, a community investment effort, supports Tuscaloosa’s universal pre-kindergarten program, summer learning academy and a dual-enrollment scholarship for local high school students.

Though Elevate’s work on the Tuscaloosa Riverwalk has often gained more publicity, the education initiatives fit right in with the fund’s mission, Communications Director Richard Rush said.

“One of the initial goals of Elevate was to put money back in our education system,” Rush said. “Any time that you’re looking to elevate a community, education, jobs, the economy and experiences are the top things you want to hit on.”

City data suggests that if a family takes advantage of all three initiatives, they will save over $11,600 on their child’s education over 18 years.

This is the first year Elevate has provided a scholarship fund for dual enrollment students at Tuscaloosa City Schools. The scholarships, available to seniors in the class of 2021, are providing 232 students across the system’s three high schools with free college credit at Stillman College, Shelton State Community College or The University of Alabama.

“Elevate covers tuition, textbooks and fees for these students,” Andrea Markham, coordinator of post-secondary engagement at TCS, said. “It’s a savings in the thousands of dollars.”

Aside from saving families the cost of the dual enrollment program, Markham said that credits earned in high school translate to fewer credits needed in college. The courses can also help students mentally prepare for their college experience.

“[The students] are doing all these classes from the safe confines of a high school setting,” Markham said. “They still have their networks of support … They have their facilitator at their high school to check in with them. They have their counselors supporting them as well.” 

Ebony Wesley, a senior at Paul W. Bryant High School, is part of the pilot group of Elevate scholarship students. Combined, Elevate dual-enrollment students are registered for more than 580 credit hours in the fall semester alone.

“One of my biggest fears when I started high school was that I would never be able to adjust to college,” Wesley said. “But dual enrollment helped me feel more relaxed about college. I’m actually getting a taste of what it’s like to be a college student, and I know I can handle it and make good grades.”

Mayor Walt Maddox provided updates on the educational initiatives in the first of three town-hall style addresses over Facebook Live last week.

Maddox took 30 minutes to speak on the city’s COVID-19 response, expansions to the Riverwalk and the Elevate Tuscaloosa fund before fielding questions from citizens. Questions could be submitted prior to the meeting, and Maddox also responded to several questions in the comments on the livestream.

The city will be hosting two more town halls via livestream this fall: next Thursday, Oct. 29 at 5:30 p.m. and Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. Residents can submit questions here and view the livestream on the city’s Facebook page.

For more information on the Elevate Tuscaloosa fund, visit www.elevatetuscaloosa.com.