OPINION: ‘Education governor’ Dunleavy sure seems determined to deep-six public schools

I came to Alaska more than 50 years ago, when the phrase “North to Alaska” meant adventure, excitement, and a taste of the Old West in what was then modern-day America. Turns out — much to my surprise, given that I loved living in Brooklyn — Alaska was my future. I’m guessing there aren’t many people today who feel that way anymore once they arrive here.

We seem to have blown our pipeline money on every common sense or ridiculous scheme anyone proposed back in the day when the money seemed never-ending. But it did end. And given that we have a Legislature that seems locked into a level of inaction and recriminations that makes Congress look good, I’m not looking to them to fix anything.

I should, though. That’s where the answers should come from. And I know that because I was lucky enough to be educated in this country at a time when public education was seen for what it was — the best and most efficient way to create a strong middle class. I was actually taught how government works — or should work.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy seems to have forgotten this in his efforts to destroy public education in this state, because what could be more important than giving our children the education they need to lead us to tomorrow? Instead, we get cuts that cripple any efforts by even the best teachers to teach efficiently and successfully. And we expect those teachers to teach larger classes with fewer resources and no security for their financial future.

I’m angry about this because I love this state. I wouldn’t have hung in here all these years if I didn’t. It’s not like I’m here for the hot summers and mild winters. What I loved about this state when I arrived was that everyone seemed to pitch in to make it better. No one acted like they were above anyone else.

One of my first sightings of an Alaska governor was on a flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage. I watched Jay Hammond at baggage claim picking up his own bag and heading out the door. I didn’t come from a state where governors did that. I fell in love with Jay Hammond and Alaska at the same time.

But here we are, all these years later, and our governor seems determined to destroy this state by destroying that which made it great — our investment in the future. That’s why, in the past, we put so much money into creating a first-class university here. It’s why, in the past, we put money into our public schools. I never imagined when the bounty ended that we’d find the money to give politicians a raise in Juneau while our teachers went to Good Will to look for classroom supplies.


I sat in a meeting of the North Slope Borough Assembly once when they were deciding about spending a lot of money on a service that would not survive once the money started slowing down. When I mentioned this to one of our many and famed borough consultants, he laughed and said we wouldn’t have to worry about that for at least 20 years, and then it would be someone else’s problem.

Well, the years are up, the money is almost gone, the problem is now ours. Meanwhile, our governor seems unable to accept a fiscal plan that funds public schools to any reasonable degree. And Alaska stumbles along on its way to becoming America’s backwater again.

Teachers leave to find a job with some security and a decent retirement plan. Young people leave because they can’t get the education they need here. And once they leave, they often don’t come back because the jobs aren’t here anymore, and many of those that are offer sucky, sucky benefits.

Throwing money at a problem is not necessarily the answer to a problem, but paying teachers decent wages and giving them a decent retirement plan is not the same thing. Starving something to death and then saying, “See, I knew it was dying,” seems to be Dunleavy’s education policy. Now that’s a problem.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska columnist and author. Her book “Coming Into the City” is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and local bookstores.

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Elise Patkotak

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska columnist and author. Her book "Coming Into the City" is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.