Students and Parents are mobilizing in Anchorage to fight possible education cuts and legislation that proposes a constitutional amendment allowing public funds to go to private schools.
High School Junior Mae Vaordaz spent her lunch period Friday handing out stickers to fellow students at West High School in Anchorage.
“This is a label that says: ‘Don’t make us a profit center. Public Funds for Public Schools.’ And so this is something that we’re handing out to all students,” Vaordaz said. “This is just helping get the word out as to what we’re doing because students will ask us, ‘why are you guys wearing labels?’ and we’ll tell them what’s going on.”
Vaordaz says she handed out about 500 of the stickers to raise awareness about the proposed budget cuts in the Anchorage School District. She says other students at schools across the district are passing out the stickers and planning their own protests.
ASD officials rolled out the proposed 2014-2015 budget recently. Under the plan, the district would cut more than 200 positions and high school schedules would have seven periods, instead of six to save money. Governor Sean Parnell has offered to increase the Base Student Allocation, or the funding per student, by $200 dollars over three years, but ASD officials say that’s not enough to make up for several years of flat funding.
Junior Laura Gorden created the bar code stickers. She says they send a message.
“We used a bar code because we want to show that as students we’re not just money that can be pushed around,” Gorden said. “That we are in fact people who deserve education and the quality of that education is a complex thing that is not a basic political issue.”
Gordon says the “Students with a Voice” group got going after she and friends heard Governor Sean Parnell’s “State of the State” address and became concerned about budget cuts and legislation aimed at creating a constitutional amendment that would allow public funds to go to private schools, including religious ones.
Parents are organizing too. Becca Bernard, who has a child at a district-approved charter school has joined a group of parents that are meeting to fight the cuts.
“Well I think parents are really important in this whole issue. I think things are just going to continue on the was they are unless parent come forward and really speak up,” Bernard said. “And talk about how important it is to them that public schools be funded adequately and that they remain as strong as they are. Parents need to come forward and speak just as loudly as they can so that the legislature and the governor know how strongly people feel about this.”
Tina Bernoski is a high school counselor at Bartlett High School and has two children in the Anchorage School District. She’s helping Bernard coordinate the parent group.
“We want people to come with ideas. We’re definitely hoping to write legislators and not just your own legislators, but those who hold the purse strings, so to speak – the House Finance Committee – letters to the editor,” Bernoski said. “And we’re hopefully going to organize a rally letting legislators know that we’re serious and we really want to connect the dots and make this not only about the Anchorage School District but about Alaska.”
Bernard and Bernoski say they’re working with parent groups in Juneau and Fairbanks. They’ve set a rally for February 22nd at 1pm at Loussac Library in Anchorage. They’re also circulating a petition to increase the BSA by more than the Governor’s proposed $200 dollars.