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Alaska Editorial: School funds: Governor offers some help but not enough

Posted: January 30, 2014 - 12:28am

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed increases in the base student allocation marked a departure from his flat-funding policies of the last three years but for the Anchorage School District those increases wouldn’t prevent teacher layoffs and other cuts.

Even the total of Parnell’s stepped increases over the next three years — about $200 per student — wouldn’t cover the shortfall in Anchorage this year.

According to the School District, the base allocation would have to rise about $250 per student next year to maintain the status quo.

In addition, while the governor clarified that he is not linking more public school funds to a constitutional amendment allowing public money for private schools, he is maintaining some link to his package of reforms. It’s not clear how that will work out as lawmakers consider his reform bill.

Gov. Parnell and lawmakers should separate these issues. Fund our public schools so that we don’t have to lay off teachers next year. Layoffs mean larger class sizes, less individual attention, more stress and a tougher environment in which to teach and learn.

That’s not how Alaska should meet its constitutional obligation to its public schools and students.

Parnell’s proposal brings to mind an old joke about conservatives and liberals. A man is drowning 10 feet offshore. The conservative shouts, “Keep your head up, man!” The liberal throws him a 5-foot rope.

Either way, the man drowns.

Parnell is the liberal in this comparison, offering too little to make the difference that the state’s school districts need. Our schools will be weaker.

If the governor wants to put his brand of school reform front and center this session, fine. Let’s have those debates and vet his proposals.

But let’s also keep our public schools operating at least at their current levels, without teacher layoffs, extra periods or cuts in supplies. That means more than what the governor has offered — in the case of Anchorage, about three times more next year.

Much talk goes on about what’s wrong with our schools, how they are failing us, not performing as they should. Less mentioned is all the great work that goes on in our public schools, day after day, by some good people who care about our kids — their students.

If we let these cuts stand, we won’t improve anything. What we will do is cut some of that great work. That’s a policy we should change for keeps.

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