It’s a proud day when Alaska makes a policy statement such as that found in our constitution that the state “shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children…” Today, after a half century as a state, Alaska has established and maintained a system of 500 public schools open to nearly 130,000 children. That is a mission worth supporting.
The challenge we face as public educators is to build on the progress we are making each day in every classroom and with every child. One classroom may be in Chevak, another in Chugiak. One child may be an honors student; another may be hungry and homeless. We take all children. That is a mission worth supporting.
Because the job of public education is as complex as our citizenry, judging the system on aggregate information is problematic. If the yardstick is the graduation rate, we have students who don’t fit the ideal four-year cohort but who nonetheless are working hard toward a degree. If the yardstick is the foundation formula, we have schools across the state devoting huge portions of their budgets to escalating costs for heating classrooms, paying for insurance, health care benefits and transporting students. None of those fixed expenses put knowledge in the brain of a child.
Measured against perfection, Alaska public education has a long way to go. But our schools are making progress each and every day. It is a mission worth supporting.
Recently, Gov. Sean Parnell has been quoted as saying he does not plan to ask the Legislature to increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA) in the foundation formula for public schools because “no tangible benefits” were produced by increases in 2008-2010. I disagree for several reasons:
• Three years of “forward funding” were critical to the ability of elected citizen school boards to plan investments in students and instructional programs.
BSA increases from 2008-2010 resulted in expanded offerings at many high schools and middle schools (foreign languages, music, creative and practical arts, drama, technology and vocational education).
• The 2011 statewide graduation rate was 68 percent, an increase of 5 percentage points since 2007. We can improve this success rate with investments in early childhood development, career and technical education, and technology.
• The Alaska Statewide Mentorship Program resulted in a 91 percent retention rate for first-year teachers statewide in 2010.
• The Alaska Performance Scholarship requires a planned investment in curriculum requirements if the class of 2014 is to be eligible for college or trade school financial assistance.
In about two months, the governor will unveil his proposed state budget for the next fiscal year. As the state’s chief executive, he has a duty to public school students across Alaska. I am inviting him to invest in their future and make Alaska proud.
• Rose is the executive director of AASB. This article is based on remarks he made to the North Pole Rotary Club on Oct. 5.