Alaska students need history

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

State Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, is disappointed. Her bill to require that high school students take one semester of state history before graduating has been amended to the point of being ineffective.

Kapsner says that too many Alaskans, including some legislators, have big gaps in their knowledge of the state's history and culture.

She is certainly right. When delegates to the state constitutional convention drew up the state's guiding document in 1955-56, they were unanimous in banning dedicated funds. Multiple reasons are outlined in the history of the convention. Yet we have Legislators today who are seeking to dedicate funds in the constitution. The latest is to include in a constitutional amendment that only education and dividends will be paid from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

There is no reason for that, or for a constitutional limit on state spending, except for political pandering. Education is always given priority by lawmakers and their constituents because they all have children to educate. Use of funds from the permanent fund should be up to each Legislature, which represents - and responds to - each generation of Alaskans.

One reason to avoid dedicating funds is that times change. After World War II there was a baby boom that required more classrooms and educators. Now those baby boomers are in mid-life and their children are having fewer children. At the same time, those baby boomers are moving into senior status, which will increase the need for senior care. Appropriations for health care might be difficult to find if a bulk of state funds are dedicated to another single purpose, and if there is a constitutional spending cap on what isn't dedicated.

Or, consider: One hundred years ago no one worried about funds for airports. What will another 100 years bring?

We endorse converting the permanent fund program to paying out up to 5 percent of market value each year. But how the money is spent should be left to future generations, represented by future lawmakers. So should any spending cap lawmakers want to impose upon themselves at the behest of constituents. This generation should not be so presumptuous as to dictate in the constitution limits on future generations when we won't be here to share the burden.

Alaskans have the best spending limit possible - elections.

Anyone researching Alaska history will find these truths.

Our only requirement should be that future generations are exposed to Alaska history. Rep. Kapsner's bill won't cost schools additional money because U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, secured federal funding to develop the curriculum and train teachers to use it.

We owe it to our youth to educate them on the history of Alaska so they can wisely use the flexibility this generation passes to them, and avoid future fiscal crises.

Current lawmakers have a "spending limit." It is June 1. Public opinion, expressed throughout the state and promoted by a barnstorming governor - gubernatorial action not seen since Ernest Gruening campaigned for statehood - demands action on the state's fiscal problem. It must be taken by June 1, the deadline for filing for this year's state elections, or there will be people filing for office who will act.

Those who want to guarantee money for education should look at HB 333, now before lawmakers. That is where such a plan belongs; in the Legislature where future generations can amend it as needs change. It should not be in the constitution, which is almost impossible to change.

HB 333 is by Rep. Dan Ogg, R-Kodiak and others. Ogg is a former University of Alaska regent. If passed, HB 333 conveys 5 percent of future revenue from state land to education - 3 percent to K-12 and 2 percent to the university. The legislation encourages putting more of the state's assets - land - to work for Alaskans rather than raising taxes or diverting earnings of the permanent fund.

Alaska was short-changed in a federal land grant for its university, being 49th among states with 112,000 acres. Only Delaware has a smaller land grant. Other states received up to 1 million acres.

Alaska Legislatures have tried to enlarge the university's land grant by taking acreage from the 104 million acres granted Alaska at statehood. Gov. Bill Egan vetoed the first effort. Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed a land grant of 250,000 acres to the university three times. On the last occasion, the lawmakers overrode the veto but the governor took the issue to court and it now awaits a decision on whether the land grant violates the constitution by creating a dedicated fund.

HB 333 is written to eliminate such challenge, to include K-12, and to put more of Alaska's unused assets to work for Alaskans: something that will be especially appreciated from now to 100 years from now.

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