A school nurse weighs in on education funding in Alaska

The budget cuts that Governor Parnell, is forcing upon school districts around this state are an abomination. Calling the bill to increase the base student allocation the “ultimate giveaway” is the ultimate slap in the face to those of us who are working so hard on the front lines to educate the children of the state, which are truly our greatest resource (not oil, as you may have thought). Our governor is calling for “results” and “anything transformational within the system.” Under the current system, our education leaders have to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy annually trying to determine what to cut instead of focusing their energy on educating children.

Let’s talk about the children for a minute. Governor Parnell is well aware of the domestic violence and sexual assault statistics in our state, and I appreciate his efforts to address this problem. He is also aware of the lasting impact that exposure to violence and assault has on a child’s developing brain. These children are the silent victims of this statewide epidemic, an epidemic in which Alaska leads the nation in violence against women and sexual assault against children. Little wonder they are having a difficult time focusing on the three R’s when their life outside school is lived in chaos. What do these children need in order to produce “results?”

Another area in which Alaska leads the nation is in the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of children are significantly enough affected by prenatal alcohol exposure to require special education. In our schools across this state we need to assure that these children are given the tools to succeed to the best of their ability.

Our school counselor has a support group for children whose parents are going through a divorce. She reports a growing need. When the two people you love most no longer love each other, your world temporarily falls apart along with your ability to produce “results” in the classroom.

We live in a society in which the majority of children don’t go outside and play. Just look around your empty villages and towns and recall what your childhood was like. Multitasking children spend the bulk of their after school hours watching television, surfing the net, and playing video games. In one recent study of 8- to 18-year-olds, one in four said they felt “addicted” to video games. Teens who watch 3 or more hours of television daily are at especially high risk for poor homework completion, negative attitudes toward school, poor grades, and long-term academic failure. This negatively affects the teacher’s ability to produce “results.” Providing after school activities for younger students used to be budgeted, helping working Alaskan families have options for their kids other than electronic babysitters. These programs have been dropped.

The following are all examples of programs affecting Alaskan children that are on the chopping block around the state due to this present funding climate.

• Music and art to feed their soul and possibly be the reason they stay in school long enough to graduate.

• Nurses and counselors who have the colossal job of patching them up physically and emotionally so they can return to class to learn.

• PE and athletics to give them endorphin-boosting exercise that will increase their well-being and cognitive function.

• Cultural educators. In Alaska, the local culture should be welcomed and valued in our schools.

• Summer school to keep skills up over the break in students who are at risk of falling behind.

• And most of all, teachers whose classroom size enables them to give the individual attention and skills to help the child succeed.

And, by the way, graduation rates ARE increasing statewide, which is a transformational result! Let us continue to work together on this path instead of working in opposition. Costs do go up and so should the BSA to keep pace with the rising cost of doing business in Alaska.

• Hall is a Registered Nurse (and Republican) who oversees the health and safety of 410 students and the staff that educates them at Mendenhall River Community School in Juneau.


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