Education has been the subject of intense debate at the Legislature this year, and for good reason. In Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks, hundreds of teachers are getting laid off as a result of classroom funding cuts. For the sake of Alaska’s economic future, now is the time to reverse those funding cuts and reinvest in public education.
For good reason, local Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Commissions have weighed in to support education funding. They have said that the business community needs a good public education system.
A good public education system is the foundation of economic growth. When businesses are deciding where to locate, they almost always consider the quality of the local workforce and the caliber of the local school system. Businesses need well-trained workers, and their employees want to live in an area with good schools for their children. Sadly, Alaska has been falling behind because of cuts in education funding.
For the duration of the Parnell administration, classroom education funding has been frozen, and that means a 7 percent funding cut when taking inflation into account. Democratic legislators proposed stopping those funding cuts, but the Republican majority stopped those bills from passing. Gov. Parnell even called classroom funding “the ultimate giveaway.”
In some ways, things have gotten worse this year. Parnell threw his weight behind SJR 9, a resolution to change our Constitution and allow vouchers. With vouchers, public funds would be spent on private religious schools, further draining our public schools of resources. Rep. Tammie Wilson also proposed a bill (HB 245) that would end the local funding requirement. Even her Republican colleague Paul Seaton criticized this proposal, noting that if the state didn’t backfill funding, we could lose $200 million in education funding.
Vouchers, budget cuts and bills to reduce education funding requirements: Our education system is at risk, but as citizens we can do our part to protect it. Legislation introduced by Sen. Berta Gardner would ensure classroom funding keeps pace with inflation. Even Gov. Parnell proposed a small funding increase, though it falls far short of catching up with recent budget cuts. If you’re concerned about teacher layoffs, now is the time to contact your legislator and the governor and support restoration of education funding.
In addition to restoring lost funding, we must stop some politicians who would take away money from public schools and hand it out to unaccountable private and religious schools. Taking strength and support from public schools and replacing those classrooms with for-profit institutions that will not be regulated is not a solution to the many problems of making all of our children the best they can be.
An America that does not stand together as one for all of our children will soon be no America at all. Do not think for-profit schools will not discriminate to optimize their student selection. Such discrimination would be critical for their success.
For good reason, no other state has allowed vouchers for the entire school population. Making for-profit schools does not in any way mean better schools. Parents can be attracted to for-profit schools by misleading advertising and kickbacks. Parents in churches will be under plenty of pressure to send their children to the church school to make the school and the church more viable.We need to maintain the spirit de corps of teaching. We need to rebuild the community pride that comes with good local schools. Our teachers, our students, and our business leaders are committed to good public schools. Will our elected officials listen, and restore funding for public schools? Or will they accelerate the loss of resources by passing a reckless voucher bill that tampers with our Constitution?
• Rod McCoy is a retired Anchorage teacher and volunteer for the Alaska Democratic Party.