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My Turn: Speak up for education

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

It began as a growing sense of concern, three and one half years ago, when my son entered kindergarten in the Juneau public school system. All seemed fine at first as my wife and I shared both excitement and pride for our young son's start down America's educational pathway. It was not long before our idealism was tempered by reality as realizations dawned that numerous problems lurked the school hallways.

Our son's class size seemed to have no end to it's growth, approaching 30 students by the end of the school year. Parent helpers in the classroom were a rare commodity as most were busy at their day jobs. Teacher aide positions were slow to be filled even when it was evident that some classes were completely unmanageable by a lone teacher. Personally, I often struggle to balance the needs, desires and demands of my two children at home. My respect for our superhuman teachers has grown exponentially.

I soon learned that my son's classroom was not the only one in need. Stories from the classrooms of friends' children began to reach my ears - stories of crowded classes, of teachers spread too thin to address a diversity of needs and of a lack of teaching materials. These stories were from three years ago, but are told much more frequently today in revised editions. The situation has not improved, but has only become worse. Additionally, Juneau is not alone in grappling with such problems, but shares the same burdens with many school districts across Alaska. It appears that this is not just a capital city issue, but an Alaskan issue, one currently generating deep concern amongst hundreds of parents in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and elsewhere.

Out of this concern has grown a citizen's action group, a "public voice" known as Alaska Kids Count. Statewide, branches of Alaska Kids Count parents, educators and community members are turning their concerns about education funding into action. Alaska Kids Count strongly believes that current levels of educational funding are completely inadequate and that cuts proposed by the state are both alarming and unacceptable. At risk is the very essence and intent of the public school system: the right to a free, high-quality and comprehensive education for all children. At risk is the future of our children.

Alaska Kids Count believes that parents and concerned citizens, working collectively and speaking out from across the state, are the most effective lobbying tool to effect change in funding for education. Now is the time for your voice to join others. Bills are presently making their way through the Legislature and may have a tremendous impact on the makeup of our children's classrooms for years. Impacts of current and proposed education funding cuts will have far-reaching effects, in many cases further challenging schools already burdened by years of inflation, retirement costs and budget cuts.

It is time for all parents and concerned individuals to stand up and be heard. Only three weeks remain in this legislative session and no funding increases have been finalized. Bills are still on the table and numerous committee meetings and hearings present tremendous opportunities to become involved, be it in person or through a written statement, phone call, fax or e-mail. Public involvement throughout the course of these final legislative weeks is crucial. Our legislators must know that Alaskans consider education a top priority. Ask for increases in the per-student funding level, increases that will cover the costs of teacher retirement programs, account for inflation, provide competitive salaries, offer adequate busing services and bring funding levels up to date. We must share personal stories of overcrowded classrooms, overburdened teachers. Education funding has a lot of catching up to do.

Send an e-mail to info@alaskakidscount.org and williwaw@earthlink.net and ask to receive important updates and alerts, e-mail addresses and fax numbers of legislators, and additional details on how you can help Alaska Kids Count. Check the Alaska Legislature web site at www.state.legis.us for hearing information regarding the numerous bills making their way through the Legislature. Talk to your friends. More importantly, talk to your legislators. They must hear from you.

• Andy Romanoff is a father of an 8-year old boy in second grade at Harborview School and a 4-year old girl not yet in the Juneau school system.



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