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Secure education funding will keep Alaska's kids out of the 'end game'

Byron Mallott

At a robotics event at South Anchorage High School recently, emcee Spencer Lee marveled at the display of ingenuity and perseverance by dozens of students whose inventions were being put to the test. Lee was inspired to offer this observation via Twitter: “Talent is the new oil.”

Our Legislature and governor should remember those words as they fashion the state’s education budget, for certainly the money we invest today in our children and youth will be returned many times over in the future. And that’s why our public school students, teachers and staff deserve to be excluded from the traditional end-of-session horse-trading. Instead education must be viewed as essential to everything else we do as a state and funded exclusively as an absolute priority with a clear vision based on student success and educational system excellence. The cost of education is significant but to short-change the education budget is to short-change Alaska's future.

We all know how the end of session horse trading works works. I’ve been around politics long enough to know that sausage and laws are made the same way. But when it comes to the education of our children, I believe the only end game we should have in mind is graduation.

Last year, we witnessed the Legislature jamming last-minute appropriations into the budget for K-12 education, most of them probably worthy projects. But once again the end game resulted in teacher layoffs and more crowded classrooms due to flat funding of the state’s foundation program.

This year, the Legislature is considering whether to increase the Base Student Allocation to avoid more teacher layoffs. I commend them for doing so. But Alaska’s parents and students should not have to wait until late April to know if the local school budget is balanced and their teacher will return in the fall.

Alaska’s public education system is the only constitutionally mandated service, and as such deserves the scrutiny it receives. The accountability imposed on our neighborhood schools, combined with the work of dedicated teachers, has resulted in improved student achievement and higher graduation rates.

We can and must do better, of course. And we can start with a commitment by our state leaders to move quickly and decisively on the state’s education budget. School districts must have the certainty and the resources to build Alaska's future each child at a time.

Byron Mallott is running for governor as the Alaska Democratic Party nominee.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.