Republican Gov. Sean Parnell called the 2014 Legislature the “Education Session,” and now school advocates are hoping the fall elections will go down as the “Education Election.”
Pat Galvin, a spokesman for Great Alaska Schools, told the Empire Wednesday that their group is distributing questionnaires to all candidates for statewide office in hopes of getting every candidate to open up on education policy issues.
“Our primary purpose is get their positions on education issues on the record so voters will know where they stand on some of the important education policy questions facing Alaska,” he said.
The questionnaire includes questions about how much of an increase in education funding a candidate would support, the state of the Alaska education system and more, like if the candidate would support school vouchers to allow public dollars to go toward private schools.
Galvin and about 20 others who make up the Great Alaska Schools leadership team will be evaluating the results from candidates, and those who answer the 20-question form satisfactorily will be given a “seal of approval” of sorts, Galvin said.
He added that although the 2014 Legislature approved an omnibus education bill that included a large increase in funding for the public school system, substantial reform is still needed.
“Our primary concern has to do with ability of public schools to be as successful as possible,” Galvin said. “The bill that passed did not really help in that regard. It provided some additional funding, but not nearly enough to restore lost value we’ve had in past couple years.
“It also directed a lot of funds to charter schools and other programs that resulted in neighborhood schools not getting what they really needed in terms of funding,” he added.
The legislation — HB278 — ultimately increased the Base Student Allocation (the amount schools receive per student) by $150 next year and $50 each of the two following years. During the legislative process, Great Alaska Schools called for increases of $400 in the first year and $125 in years two and three.
The education funding issue is not a partisan one, Galvin said. He explained that a substantial amount of Republicans — from both the House and Senate — supported more education funding than what was ultimately approved.
“The leadership in the majority caucuses from both houses was not favorable to the amount of funding we thought was necessary,” Galvin said, adding that the questionnaire being distributed outside of session will “allow candidates to speak as individuals as opposed to being confined to the position of their caucuses.”
Great Alaska Schools has asked the candidates to return the completed questionnaires by July 22, and they will be posting all the results on their website prior to the elections.
“Education and education policy should be a high-priority issue for voters as they determine which candidates to vote for,” Galvin said. “It should be at top of their mind if candidates match up with their opinions on that.”
To read the questionnaire, view this story online at juneauempire.com.