Is education our highest priority?

As the 27th Alaska Legislature approaches its close, many issues surrounding kindergarten through 12th grade public education remain unaddressed. The current conventional wisdom at the Capitol seems to be that our 500 public schools across the state will be just fine if the state helps with a few extra, one-time expenses for energy and transportation — outside the foundation formula.

Local school boards have testified eloquently to the House and Senate that those fixed expenses, plus increased costs for salaries and benefits, require a somewhat larger investment — but inside the foundation formula. The outside-inside distinction is important because without some ability to plan a budget into the near future, our local school boards can’t build educational programs with certainty and parents and students can’t look forward to stable course offerings.

Many school board members and parents are bewildered that the state can consider creating tax incentives for the oil industry costing $2 billion, and a capital budget approaching $3 billion, and an operating budget over $6 billion. But we can’t see our way clear to providing the youngest members of our society with an opportunity for a well-rounded educational experience.

At this writing bills are pending in the Legislature to improve digital technology in the classroom, help provide a daily school meal to hungry students, and in general treat the teachers and support staff we entrust our children to daily with respect and adequate compensation. To date, we are standing by in amazement at how most of these educational issues are all but ignored or held as bargaining chips.

I realize some Alaskans will look at school boards and label them as a special interest group. The only thing special about a school board is that it is duly elected local citizens providing a volunteer service overseeing schools in which 90 percent of Alaska children are being educated. Together all 53 school districts in Alaska are responsible for investing $1.2 billion a year in programs that directly affect children and youth in our communities. School board members derive little or no remuneration for this important work.

Many of us in the voting public heard that education was the highest priority among candidates in the last election. No doubt we will hear the same in this election year. As we would suggest to our children, “it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.”

We hould ask our public officials to consider these points as education issues are addressed at the close of the 27th Alaska Legislature.

• Rose is executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, a membership organization representing 52 Alaska school districts. He lives in Juneau.

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