State should invest in our kids' learning

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The school year is nearly over as the Legislature deliberates the funding levels that will affect our children next year. Among these decisions are: the size of their classes, the supplies they will (or will not) have, and whether they will have art or one or two days of physical education per week.

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As a father of two school-age children, I take the quality of our schools seriously. As a member of the Great Alaska Schools Coalition, a nonpartisan statewide citizens coalition that works to make a positive contribution toward Alaska schools, I closely follow the legislative process.

Funding for Alaska schools was flat for many years. Inflation eroded the purchasing powers of those dollars and the quality of Alaska education declined. Only recently has the Legislature stepped forward to increase support for education. The amount allocated for each student (the base student allocation) has increased about 8 percent per year the last four years. Most of the increase has gone toward covering retirement obligations and inflation effects, but a small amount has reached the classroom to improve our children's education each year.

This year the Legislature is considering various measures to support Alaska schools, including accounting for geographic cost differences among districts and separating retirement and education funding. We applaud these efforts, as they help provide children in all parts of the state with the same basic education. Nevertheless, the Legislature also has proposed to reduce the base student allocation, reasoning that the money for geographic cost differences and retirement must come from somewhere. Unfortunately some school districts face budget reductions.

Great Alaska Schools is requesting that, instead of decreasing the base student allocation, that the allocation be held constant while addressing geographic cost differences and retirement costs. This approach will provide a floor of support for all school districts and continue the Legislature's recent history of providing incremental improvements that reach classrooms each year.

Children have only one shot at a good education. We urge the Legislature to invest in our children's learning, an investment that will benefit Alaska for decades to come.

Mike Sigler


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