The Anchorage School District is on life support, and judging by the public testimony I heard about Senate Bill 140, so are the rest of the districts in the state. I spent hours two weekends ago listening to public testimony from parents, teachers, administrators, and other education professionals, explaining and pleading repeatedly that the state’s schools need a $1,413 increase in the Base Student Allocation just to keep up with inflation to make the schools productive and even functional. Senate Bill 140 would increase the BSA by $300, less than 22% of that amount.
Our family currently has three children in elementary school in the Anchorage School District, from kindergarten through sixth grade. We have seen firsthand how the State’s refusal to fulfill its constitutionally mandated responsibility to support public education impacts Anchorage’s schools, teachers, and children. Class sizes have increased consistently. The lack of support staff has left teachers to choose between assisting the most needy children, either academically or behaviorally, and teaching the class at large. The cuts currently proposed by ASD would eliminate even more staff and teachers. Class sizes would get even larger. Parents have been asked in polls if they would rather our schools have sports or art. Unless the State drastically increases the BSA, the Ignite gifted program could be eliminated entirely.
Rogers Park Elementary’s highly gifted program, a needs-based offering, is in danger of losing both of its advanced math teachers, with no in-person instruction replacement. State representatives advocating against further funding inexplicably declare that ASD must first raise its test scores before it receives the necessary funding. The schools are therefore being asked to give better results with what has been proven to result in worse ones. This is not a lack of creativity or “can-do spirit” from the teachers; these are irrational and belittling sound bites from politicians.
I would not withhold a box of colored pencils from my children until they could show me a better rainbow with the old brown and white pencils they currently possess. As parents, we are exhausted. We are constantly looking around the district for the best resources our children can access, and always on the lookout for what may be cut next so we can advocate against it.
Not all parents have the resources or time to advocate for their children, nor should they have to. State officials need to do their duty and adequately fund education so constant vigilance isn’t needed for a basic education.
I have lived in Alaska for more than 15 years and grew up in Pittsburgh during the collapse of the steel industry. Most of my family members worked in the mills or for U.S. Steel in some capacity. Alaska has reached a similar collapse with the oil industry, and we need to acknowledge it and plan a path forward.
Listening to the public testimony on SB 140, and as we plead for the survival of the Ignite program, I can only think of a line from the movie “Braveheart”: “You’re so used to squabbling over the scraps from (the) table that you’ve forgotten your ... right to something better.”
Our children have a constitutional right to a state-supported education, and they certainly deserve better than they are receiving. It’s time to stop squabbling over the scraps and to recognize that Big Oil is not going to support us, just as the steel mills did not rise from the dead and save Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s people and new industries like medical research saved it. Pittsburgh needed its people to stay and heal it, and for that, they needed to be educated.
The State needs to allocate the money necessary to maintain our schools by increasing the BSA to $1,413. Just as vitally, the State needs either to identify or create a revenue stream that is dedicated to public education. If this involves paying a sales or income tax, like every other state in the union, so be it. It’s what our children and state need and deserve.
Kara Sorbel works and lives in Anchorage with her family.
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