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Mallott rolls out education program in news conference

Richard Mauer
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott talks about his education priorities Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 at a press conference near West High School in Anchorage. Behind him, from left: Anchorage school board member Patrick Higgins, Democratic House candidate Marty McGee, and state Sen. Hollis French, Mallott's running mate. Richard Mauer / Alaska Dispatch News

Byron Mallott said Saturday that if elected governor in November he would lower the state’s student loan rate and forgive education loans for students who stay in Alaska.

At an outdoor news conference near West Anchorage High School, Democrat Mallott also said he would push “forward funding” of education so local school districts could better plan their programs. He said he would promote technology and high-speed Internet in state schools.

“Education has been my highest priority as a gubernatorial candidate,” Mallott said, his voice barely audible above the noisy traffic passing by the school.

Mallott’s campaign also announced Saturday it had picked up the endorsement of retired Anchorage School District superintendent Carol Comeau.

The news conference, on a sidewalk across from West High near the Hillcrest Drive overpass, was attended by a cluster of supporters, including Mallott’s wife Toni, a retired elementary school teacher, Mallott’s running mate state Sen. Hollis French, Anchorage school board member Patrick Higgins and Democratic House candidate Marty McGee. Two reporters showed up.

Mallott’s aides handed out written material on his education program that criticized Republican Gov. Sean Parnell for polices that “hurt kids and classrooms,” but in his remarks, he spoke without notes and didn’t mention Parnell’s name.

In his written statement, Mallott noted that state education loans were running at higher interest rates than those for cars or homes -- between 7.3 and 7.8 percent. Democratic lawmakers tried to bring down those rates in the last two years, but they couldn’t move the Legislature.

In response to a question, Mallott said he would push to fully fund the state’s base student allocation, the per-student allocation provided to local school districts. The BSA was a major issue in the last legislative session when Republican majorities in the House and Senate produced the first raise in the allocation since 2011, but which still fell far short of catching up to inflation.

Mallott said education funding should be the top priority of state government even when faced with lean budgets. “It’s just critical to build Alaska, building our leadership, creating success both in life and in work for every Alaskan,” Mallott said.