The more than 30 speakers at Monday’s Save Our Schools hearing were preaching to the choir; that is, the Alaska House and Senate Democrats who called it to bolster their fight for increased public school funding.
Minority members say they’ve been getting hundreds of emails and other comments from frustrated parents, teachers, school administrators and education boards asking for the same.
They want money for pre-kindergarten programs, inflation proofing for the Base Student Allocation, and no constitutional amendment to allow public dollars to flow to religious and private schools.
Anchorage parent Matt Johnson spoke at the end, summing up two hours of testimony:
“We really need to fully fund our public schools and our pre-K early learning programs. I don’t think money’s always the bottom line, but I think it’s a proven fact that early education saves everybody money. Saves our state money, saves our society money. I strongly oppose any voucher system for our public schools, and strongly oppose any tinkering with out Alaska constitution. And finally I would say that I believe we are one of the wealthiest states in the union if not the wealthiest. What kind of a people can’t fund their public education system but can hand over billions to the oil companies.”
Johnson was alluding to the bill moving through the legislature that would reduce taxes on Alaska’s oil producers. The latest fiscal note indicates the state would lose between $4.5 billion and $5.8 billion dollars in revenue through 2019.
Only two speakers at yesterday’s hearing took the opposite stance, including
John Thomas, of the Mat-Su region. He agrees with many in the Republican-led legislature who say public schools aren’t wisely using the money they get.
“The answer is ‘throw money at it, throw money at it. The children; education is untouchable, this is our primary responsibility.’ We’ve tried it that way for decades, people. Now it’s time to tighten our belts and get with the program.”
Democrats are a small caucus in the legislature and their Republican colleagues were not at yesterday’s hearing.
And, the Democrat’s legislation to inflation-proof the Base Student Allocation (HB 95) is not moving. The BSA is the formula used to calculate the per-student cost of education. It’s remained $5,680 dollars since FY 2011. According to the Legislative Finance Division, the BSA would be worth $5,569 dollars in the upcoming fiscal year, due to inflation.
Republican chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees say proposed increases in education funding are not likely to gain traction in these last three weeks of the session.