OPINION: Remember who voted for — and against — school funding

Alaska educators and families owe a sincere shout-out and heartfelt “thank you” to the 39 Alaska legislators who championed the cause of public school funding with their courageous “yes” vote to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of Senate Bill 140 (SB 140). These votes were cast after listening to overwhelming testimony supporting public education from students, families, and the communities they represent.

Unfortunately, 20 other legislators voted “no” and upheld the governor’s veto by a single vote. Now, once again, our public schools face a grave threat as a result of their actions. Without the provisions outlined in this bill, students will have fewer academic options, families will have less support, and the resilience of every community in our great state will be diminished.

Their failure will result in thousands of students grappling with larger class sizes and the continuation of inadequate staffing, two primary contributors to poor academic performance.

I am well aware of the rhetorical escalation and emotion that SB 140 has generated, but I believe it’s warranted. Without strong public schools, we will continue to lose families to other states, we won’t be able to attract new businesses, and our economy will continue to struggle.

SB 140 was anything but perfect, but it did represent a good-faith effort by our elected leaders to compromise and address some real issues. So, let’s be clear about what was actually in the bill.

SB 140 would have:

• Established a permanent statutory increase in the Base Student Allocation for every public school student in Alaska; every community, every school (including charter schools), and classrooms across the state would have benefited from this action.


• Increased school districts’ ability to offer competitive salaries to all teachers, counselors, nurses, related services personnel, and education support personnel.

• Increased funding to support the Alaska Reads Act.

• Increased the Department of Education and Early Development’s ability to support parents who wanted to start a new charter school.

Sadly, all of this is gone. Alaska is left with the status quo, leading to more educator layoffs, more school closures, larger class sizes, and diminished support for dedicated teachers and education support professionals who choose to stay. Those who voted to uphold the governor’s veto frequently cited “outcomes” as justification.

I can tell you with near certainty that students who don’t have access to their teacher because they are competing for attention with 30 or more other students will not achieve the “outcomes” these legislators desire.

Our wonderful educators are leaving Alaska because other states provide more competitive wages, benefits, and working conditions in their public schools. Their compensation package isn’t built on three years of teacher bonuses, as Dunleavy has proposed. It’s built on real investment in public education, allowing all educators, certified and classified employees alike, to work with their employers for competitive compensation.

Right now, no district in the state can keep up with inflation, provide competitive wages and provide affordable health care at the same time.

I implore the Legislature to regroup, remember their oath to uphold the Alaska Constitution, and pass a bill as quickly as possible to provide for Alaska public schools, students, families, and educators. The majority of Alaskans recognize there is a crucial need for a significant investment in our public education system.

I for one will remember in November, those who chose to act.

Corey Aist is president of the Anchorage Education Association.

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