No one understands better than school administrators - superintendents, business officials and principals - how difficult it is to balance a budget, and we admire Gov. Murkowski for his courage to propose drastic reductions in state spending. We, too, have experienced the firestorm created by laying unpopular reductions on the table that no one likes, or will support. And so, the dialogue begins.
For a number of reasons, this is not the time to reduce state spending for school districts. Fully funding the school foundation program is laudable. But let there be no mistake - reductions to pupil transportation, to the Learning Opportunity Grants (LOGS), to the debt reimbursement program, and to community schools are reductions to schools. They translate into operating budget reductions, as districts must absorb these costs into their local spending plans, or eliminate the programs. Imagine if your local school district decided to stop transporting students to school or charged for bus transportation!
Learning Opportunity Grants helps schools implement the necessary reforms required to meet higher standards of student achievement. And they are not sufficient to do the job at their present value. The Federal No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) and the State's Quality Schools Initiative both require the infusion of new dollars to be successfully implemented. It is not possible to hold a struggling school accountable by strangling it with insufficient funding to accomplish the changes needed.
Our education community rallied last fall to inform voters of the importance of taking care of the huge backlog of school construction and major maintenance needs. Voters responded with a rousing 2-to-1 approval of the plan advanced by the previous Legislature. To renege on that deal by reducing the percentage of state reimbursement, after some communities have bonded and others are about to consider it, is to tell voters "rules change when convenient." Such a message will surely have a chilling affect at the polls.
In the end, we observe that education is repeatedly used to gain votes; yes, even to get one elected. Now we expect education to be granted the support assured during elections. After all, educating Alaska's students is a constitutional mandate and we call on our elected officials to honor that responsibility, not just in the name but in sufficiency.
Mary A. Francis
Alaska Council of School Administrators