Recent news of the Permanent Fund's depleted earnings reserve account, and the possibility that there could be no dividend next year, is having a profound effect on Alaskans. We used to listen to debates about Alaska's fiscal gap and think to ourselves this, too, shall pass. The possibility of losing our dividend makes it real.
It has also, I believe, exposed the true value of bonding (borrowing) over time to address current and future school construction. Proposition C does just that. The GO bond proposition for education would fund, over 20 years, a significant portion of the backlog of K-12 needs. An affirmative vote on Proposition C would implement a separate debt reimbursement plan for areas of the state with taxing authority. It also funds University of Alaska infrastructure.
Bonding is about Alaskans who have come together to say that all kids are entitled to an education - the best we can provide. It is about friends and neighbors who recognize the need for a quality university system to help create a vibrant Alaska.
Unwittingly, we have created an education system that doesn't treat kids the same. In 1999 Superior Court Judge John Reese ruled Alaska's method of funding school facilities violated the educational clause of the Alaska constitution and violated federal civil rights laws. "Because of the funding system," said Judge Reese, "rural schools are not getting the money they need to maintain their schools."
Prop. C provides the first step to ensure all kids, wherever they reside, have access to a safe, warm, dry learning environment and the opportunity to receive a quality education.
The issue is so important to our nation that on Jan. 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This federal education law will challenge Alaska's K-12 education system. There will be increased pressure to perform.
As a state we are in the process of implementing this mandate even as federal regulations and guidelines are emerging. Not only will it require facilities that are up to the challenge, it will require alignment with state plans for curriculum, instructional methods, and assessments. It will change the way we look at our schools and our teachers.
The intent is noble. NCLB was truly created not to leave any child behind. It is designed to ensure we are doing all we can to provide every child the opportunity to excel in our schools and become productive citizens.
History will show, when the pressure is on, Alaska has responded. We will respond positively to NCLB. The question is: Will we do this because it's mandated? Or will we do it because it's the right thing to do? Proposition C poses the same question: Will we vote YES because it is the right thing to do? Or will we vote YES because a court order threatens to mandate it upon us? I say we do the right thing and pass Proposition C.
Carl Rose is executive director with the Association of Alaska School Boards and serves as the treasurer of Education First, a group of education advocates organized to support Proposition C.