OPINION: Alaska students deserve better than House Majority’s education plan

As a lifelong Alaskan, I have had the privilege of attending wonderful public schools, sending my children to wonderful public schools, and getting to work in one. When I was growing up, class sizes were small, and opportunities such as shop and home economics were available to all students in the Anchorage School District. But as time has gone on, all that has changed. Our state lawmakers have abandoned their constitutional obligation to maintain our public education system. With flat funding amounting to cuts with inflation, our elected officials have made it clear that atrophy, not maintenance, is what they want for Alaska schools.

I took the time this past weekend to attend the House Rules Committee hearing on SB 140. Speaker after speaker showed that Alaskans are worried about the future of education in our state. So much of the public comment was hard to listen to, as people pleaded with their elected officials for the funding our education system needs, for the same opportunities being present for people’s grandchildren as were there for them. Alaskans talked about the “tough choices” facing our schools and districts. The reality is that we aren’t looking at “tough choices.” We are looking at devastating ones. Closing schools isn’t a tough choice. It devastates the neighborhood that the school is in. Ending programs that keep students engaged isn’t a tough choice. It is devastating to those students who find community and purpose in those places. Reducing the number of school staff isn’t a tough choice. It is devastating as our profession and communities hemorrhage new teachers with no one coming to take their place.

During the hearing on SB140, Commissioner Deena Bishop made a statement that struck me. When asked about her previous appeals for raising the BSA and her change of heart, Bishop replied, “When you know better, you do better.” So, what do we know about the education of children in Alaska? We know that flat funding in the form of the BSA coupled with inflation is crippling Alaska’s schools and our school districts. When adjusted for real dollars, Alaska has been spending less than other states in our nation. The costs of goods and services for Alaska’s schools bring our “real” dollars to $12,281 from the $18,394 our state likes to boast, per the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute for Social and Economic Research.

We know that class size is the No. 1 indicator of student success. Simply put, students in smaller classes to do better. The state has asked for significant gains in regarding our children. Without an increase in the BSA, classes will not just stay large, they will get larger.

The state has asked districts to connect students to career and technical pathways. What they haven’t done is given the resources that schools, teachers and students so badly deserve. Commissioner Bishop referenced the “what” of education spending in her testimony as more important than the “how much.” Unfortunately, the “what” is people, and people require funding. It takes small class sizes, which means more teachers to help struggling readers bridge the gap. It takes paraprofessionals, front office workers and janitors to help create the schools and services our students deserve.

We know bonuses are insufficient to keep qualified teachers in our state. People stay when they feel effective and supported. A nonexistent retirement system, large class sizes and unfunded state mandates drive teachers out of the profession in droves. These issues will continue to exist even with the big bonuses, and teachers will continue to leave, affecting our students the most.

What we know is clear. Alaska’s children and our families deserve better than the $300 BSA increase in SB140. They deserve better than political grabs at local control of our charter schools. They deserve better than crumbling and understaffed buildings. We know better, so now our Legislature must do better. Invest in Alaska. Raise the BSA.


Michaela Kolerok is a lifelong Alaskan, special education teacher of 10 years, and mother to two children who attend Alaska’s public schools.

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