Alaska needs a plan to save education
On Oct. 4, the Anchorage School Board convened to discuss how to address the Anchorage District’s $68 million budget shortfall. A meeting of numerous counties, many from the vicinity of Government Hill. Young immersion students at Government Hill Elementary School testified in fluent Spanish asking the board not to cut the immersion store program, while others spoke of fearing they would have to close the school grounds altogether.
Reboant witnessing the views of students and parents. I myself am a lifelong Alaskan and a proud product of Anchorage School District, Inlet View Elementary, Central Junior High (now Central Middle), and West High (Go Eagles!).
What I see is that the big budget brief has us all in the mindset of “Lord of the Flies” – we’re rushing to debate where Anchorage schools should get fewer resources. But we must talk about how the pie grows.
To end the educational uncertainty, a comprehensive plan is needed to preserve education in Alaska. Rather than fighting over the bugs in school board meetings, we should be discussing the issues with retention and the teacher.
Specifically, there are four broad changes that need to be made to our education system;
Increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA) to account for growth. Until this year, the BSA had not been updated since the 2017 fiscal year. At that time inflation rose to more than 10%. For years we have been flat-funding education, leading to sizable teachers and large student class sizes. We cannot pay less in education and expect more from it.
The end of the debt moratorium school bond. Prior to 2015, the State of Alaska was helping local school districts like Anchorage’s by replacing between 60 percent and 70 percent of the bonds that help repair critical school infrastructure. State aid stopped, and now the Anchorage School District is stuck with hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred school maintenance. Every day, students attend school indoors with leaky roofs, broken heating systems and structural damage that violates the Anchor School District’s own standards.
Reduce the defined benefit plan for teachers and other public employees. Currently, Alaska is the only state that does not provide pension or social security for employers. Now our best teachers are burned out and leaving Alaska for states that offer quality education and investment in their careers. As a result, it is difficult to attract and retain quality educators in our schools. It’s also expensive for taxpayers: Teacher turnover costs Alaska schools $20 million per year, according to a study by the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Social and Economic Institute (ISER).
Finally, we need to explore changes in the District Factor Price BSA in addition to increasing the BSA. When the BSA formula was created, Station was among the least expensive areas of the state to provide living in schools. The relative cost in Anchorage was then reflected in the District Cost Factor, a BSA component that ranks funding among regions around the state. Changes in the cost of living in various places in Alaska can mean, however, that students—perhaps with students in other states—are spending much less than they deserve. It was years ago when the last cost-of-living measurement study was conducted. We need to get another study on the Cost Factor District and act to ensure that school districts receive a fair share of education funding.
With these four tables, we can save our education system and let our students fall behind. The Legislature has to act on these changes, and I think the way forward if elected to office. For our students, and for ourselves, we must invest in education.
Cliff Groh He is an Alaskan Life, co-creator of the Endowment Fund, a veteran attorney, and a candidate for House District 18 in North Anchorage.
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