As this year’s legislative session quickly approaches, the Juneau Board of Education is making its priorities clear.
In a meeting Tuesday night, the board’s members approved seven Capitol priorities, including their pledge of support for one of the first bills proposed this year.
Senate Bill 131, proposed by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, would make for a separate budget bill for education, just as there’s a separate capital budget bill and a separate mental health budget bill. It would also identify a deadline for lawmakers to pass that education budget.
School districts are required to submit their budgets by a certain deadline, often earlier than when the Legislature passes its state budget. This gap creates great uncertainty among school districts as they put together their budgets and go through contract negotiations with teachers and staff.
Passing SB 131, the board members agreed Tuesday, could make each school district’s budget process a little less stressful.
“I don’t think 131 is a perfect bill by any means, but I do believe in incremental politics,” board member Emil Mackey said. “If they pass this today, then maybe they can pass something else tomorrow.”
Atop the priority list is the request for a “sustainable, reliable and adequate state fiscal plan,” one that would provide for a long-term approach to funding public education. Board Clerk Andi Story said she doesn’t want to see this generation suffer because of the state’s current fiscal climate.
“We don’t want to harm their education because we can’t figure out how to get the funds,” Story said.
Along those same lines, the board also is requesting that the legislature increase the amount that the state allocates per student, in order to account for inflation. Over the years, board members wrote, the state has “flat funded” schools, not taking inflation into account. The board members wrote that not accounting for inflation is like giving the districts “silent budget cuts.”
According to the Department of Education &Early Development’s website, the base allocation per student has increased slowly since 2009. In 2009, the allocation was $5,480 per student, and it has crept up to $5,930 per student in the 2017 budget. The Juneau Board of Education’s request is that the allocation increased by at least $100 per student this year, according to its list of priorities.
“What we’re trying to communicate clearly here is we’re not OK with this euphemism of ‘fully funding schools,’ which means flat funding,” Board President Brian Holst said, “which means an effective decrease in funding.”
The board also requested that the Legislature support a few different school programs as well. One of the hot topics locally has been how to fund early childhood education, and the board members hope it becomes a topic at the statewide level as well.
Studies have shown that children who are prepared for kindergarten tend to get more out of their education and stay out of trouble in the future. A recent study from the Alaska Department of Education &Early Development revealed that just 38.5 percent of Juneau children are prepared upon entering kindergarten.
The board requested support for the STEAM, formerly known as the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Program. Now, “Arts” has been added to the acronym. This program helps stoke interest in science-related fields and prepare students for careers in the field. In the same vein, the board members also requested the Legislature’s continued funding of Career and Technical Education (CTE) to prepare students for the workforce.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.