Every since Gov. Parnell declared the current legislative session to be "the education session," many arguments have been made from both sides regarding a raise in the Base Student Allotment. Now, as the legislature reaches the final days of this session, the House has passed HB 278, a vital piece of legislation concerning Alaska's public school system.
How will this affect the BSA? First of all, the bill would eliminate the $25 million in flat funding that Alaska school districts have been receiving since FY2011, and that $25 million would be moved from the operating budget into the BSA (the equivalent of a $100 BSA increase per student). Thus, though the result may appear to be a $185 increase ($100 plus the governor's proposed $85), in reality the increase remains at a paltry $85, leaving school districts with the original proposal. HB 278 would also provide a one-time $30 million increase ($121) to be distributed using the State Foundation Formula for FY15, but it would not be put into the BSA because this money would not continue to roll into the following years.
Rather, the BSA would receive a mere $4 million for FY16 and FY17 ($58 per year), leaving school districts with less funding than they would be given in FY15.
HB 278 in its current form will not be able to sustain the current and growing costs due to inflation, especially those related to health care --the main cost driver -- and the price of natural gas in Anchorage (heating and electrical), both of which continue to go up.
As someone who has been a constant supporter of increasing and inflation-proofing the BSA, I have heard many arguments as to why funding for the BSA should not be increased. Among these is the position that the BSA has already seen a substantial increase over the past ten years. Indeed, this appears true if you only look at the BSA from 2004-14. However, you must take into account that the BSA funding from 1998 -- when the BSA was first implemented -- to 2001 remained the same ($3,940), as did funding from 2001-03 ($4,010); throughout that same period, Anchorage's Consumer Price Index (prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services) rose, respectively, from 147.0 to 151.9 and from 156.0 to 163.9.
Today, we find ourselves in the same situation as ten years ago, advocating for increased investment in our state's future, and it is equally frustrating and disheartening to see that some of our legislators continue to refuse to make education a priority.
As a current high school student in the Anchorage School District, I have had the privilege of having truly dedicated teachers throughout my school years. My teachers have chosen a profession that will never make them rich, requires long hours grading assignments, and involves them spending their work days with sometimes less-than-grateful teenagers. These are the people who possess one of the most influential careers, for they have a direct and long-term impact on the individuals who will one day be in charge of Alaska.
Unfortunately, the underfunding of our schools over the past several years has harmed their ability to teach for the greatest benefit to the students. I have personally witnessed the detrimental impacts that underfunding our schools has had on myself, my peers, and my teachers: overburdened counselors find themselves unable to assist their students beyond the generic template recommendation while teachers end up spending much of their free time grading papers because of increased class sizes. And in the end the students -- the individuals for whom the public education system exists -- are the ones who suffer the consequences.
As our legislators head into the last days of this session, they ought to keep in mind that we students are the future voters, and that the quality of education that we receive will determine the direction in which this state and this nation heads.
Maeva Ordaz is a high school student in the Anchorage School District.
By MAEVA ORDAZ