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At the root of the current debate about whether Juneau should have one high school or two are sincere concerns for the quality of our children's education. Which choice will give students the most comprehensive curriculum, personal attention and rewarding high school experience? Which will help each child reach their full potential? While we don't always agree on the answers to these questions, it is clear that we all want what is best for our children.
Juneau's children face a much bigger education crisis than the question of whether they'll be housed in one high school building or two. Education is desperately underfunded in Alaska. A recent legislative report shows that it would take an increase in state funding of $253 per student just to regain what has been lost to inflation over the past five years. School districts statewide are reeling as they try to cover retirement program costs that have not been borne by the state. To "cope" in Juneau, we're laying off 26 teachers next year with more layoffs to come, facing class sizes of nearly 30 in elementary schools and nearly 40 in the middle and high schools, eliminating bus routes, restricting high school students' access to electives, cutting specialists who reach the kids who need more than they receive in regular classrooms ... the list of cuts goes on and on. Schools in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Kenai are in a similar or even worse fix.
Juneau's current choice is not between one great high school and two inadequate high schools. Without increases in state education funding, we don't even have one adequate high school (or middle school, or elementary school) in our future. In a state with just 650,000 people and a $28 billion bank account, does this make sense?
I urge each person who cares about Juneau's kids to contact your legislators and the governor - and ask your friends up north to do the same. Demand that the governor and Legislature increase education funding and make Alaska's schools work for children.