OPINION: If Dunleavy cared about Alaska’s children, he’d fund their public education

I find myself increasingly concerned about the future of Alaska’s education system.

I am a proud product of the Juneau School District. I attended Auke Bay Elementary School, then Floyd Dryden Middle School, then Thunder Mountain High School. I did not seriously consider attending college in-state because even going to the (unstable) University of Alaska Southeast would have been more expensive than attending the University of Idaho, which had offered me a full-ride scholarship. Today, I am in my final semester at Yale University.

My relationship with Alaska’s education system has ended, but my family’s has not. My mother works today as an administrator at Mendenhall River Community School. My sister, a ninth-grader, attends Thunder Mountain High School. I remember, four years ago, delivering testimony before the Alaska State Legislature’s Education Committee and realizing that nobody in that room was interested in a serious conversation about the Base Student Allocation. I left the room feeling like my morning in the State Capitol Building would have been better spent trying to drain the ocean with a 5-gallon bucket. Indeed, the Base Student Allocation has only increased by $30 (half a percentage point) to $5,960 since 2017. To have the same purchasing power as it did in 2017, the Base Student Allocation would have to be $7,531 today.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s refusal to consider an increase in education funding is an indicator that he doesn’t care about Alaska’s children. He doesn’t care about the elementary schoolers my mother helps feed, who had their hot breakfast program cut and are offered only low-nutrition cereals in the morning because the Juneau School District cannot afford better. He doesn’t care about my sister, whose opportunities to take enriching and exciting courses and try a wide array of extracurriculars are limited by understaffing, underpayment and under-resourcing at her high school. He doesn’t care that the Anchorage School District plans to cut programs, staff and funding for activities and supplies to navigate a $98 million shortfall next year. Or that the town of Sleetmute’s school, on the Kuskokwim River, has been condemned.

Underfunding means a lower quality of education. I was less prepared for college-level academics than my peers at Yale who grew up in places where education was a government priority. I believe this failure of preparation is one that even my most dedicated teachers would not have been able to solve without more resources. Yet, instead of investing in the improvement of Alaska’s education system, we have decided to simply lower our standards for Alaska children and call it a day.

My understanding of Alaska’s public education funding issues makes it shocking to me that leaders back home pretend not to know why we struggle to keep Alaskans in-state and draw in labor and talent from elsewhere. How can you ask people to stay in or move to a place that neglects their dreams and their children’s futures?

If we want to improve Alaska’s education system, charter schools are not the answer. This suggestion is a reflection of a political agenda disinterested in good education for all Alaska children, not just those whose parents can pay for it. Dunleavy operates in bad faith when he refuses to stamp bills passed by Alaskans’ representatives to fund schools or chastises local governments for funding schools using their own resources.


Funding public education may be expensive, but it is an investment that works. It increases student test scores and college attendance. It helps Alaska’s poorest find stable and well-paying jobs. It makes Alaska competitive in a national and global economy. It keeps good teachers in-state and focused on their work.

Dunleavy, who touts his experience as an Alaska educator, certainly must understand what it takes for public education to be successful. Those who care about Alaska’s schoolchildren do not use the full extent of their power to minimize education funding. Instead, they demand proper investment in their learning. Dunleavy should join the latter camp. It’s what our youth deserve.

Keenan Miller grew up in Juneau and attended public schools in the Juneau School District. He is a senior at Yale University.

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