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Point-Counterpoint: It's time for Alaska to fund its public schools

Gov. Parnell has kept the funding for education the same per student for the last three years. Now he is offering an increase for this year of $85 per student, an amount that barely covers 2013 cost of living increases. He has also allied himself with the legislative bill allowing vouchers for private and religious schools. It seems that the goal of our government is to let public schools flounder then offer vouchers as their means of improving school performance. I think it is time to make our public schools a priority by funding them as if they really matter.

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) publishes a report every few years that ranks states according to their reading and math assessment scores. In the 2011 report, Alaskan eighth graders ranked 44th in the nation in reading and 26th in math. The state with the highest scores was Massachusetts.

In fact, Massachusetts eighth graders ranked sixth in the world in math and second in science lead only by Singapore according to a 2011 ranking by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). The United States as a whole came in 9th in math and 10th in science.

Are these important statistics? As a guy at a Lego League robotics competition said, "Nerd is a four letter word with a six figure income." If we want our children to do well in our increasingly technological world, if we expect them to be able to go to college and get jobs that pay well, then we need to give all children the appropriate tools in our elementary and secondary schools. If the current administration gets its way, the schools will be hamstrung by rising operating costs, outdated material, fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, leaky roofs, and anything else that festers in a school system that is underfunded. The only children that will be left standing are those whose families are able to provide the support they need or who opt for the vouchers.

So how does Massachusetts' school funding compare to Alaska's? According to data compiled by the Anchorage School District for fiscal year 2011 comparing spending in the nation's 100 largest school districts, Boston spends 20 percent more per student than Anchorage. As part of their commitment to improve school performance, Massachusetts made the decision to spend more money on public education. It seems to be working, not only for the richest schools, but for almost every public school in the state. They severely restricted vouchers and charter schools, and they did not close low performing schools.

The governor's approach, to date, of telling schools to do better with the money they have, recognizing that schools will have to cut programs and lay off teachers, is akin to telling a 12-year-old that you have decided to keep their food allocation the same for the next several years. They've been able to get by on this much so far, so it's good enough. If they fail to thrive then it must be their own fault. If the governor is interested in helping Alaska children to grow into adults able to find work and function successfully in our increasingly technological society, then he needs show it by funding public education.

Providing a good education is complicated and funding is part of a bigger story. But when we refuse to give the public schools the money they need to maintain their current level of education, we tell the students that their education is not important. When we opt for financing more vouchers that potentially take funding away from public schools, we turn our backs on the majority of the students in Alaska. It is time Gov. Parnell and our legislative body prove they value education and give the schools the money they need to educate our students in the manner they deserve.

Amy Johnson has a child in the Anchorage School District and she wants to make sure he gets a good education.



BY AMY JOHNSON