Rally urges lawmakers to preserve state education funding

More than 100 people gathered in Anchorage's Cuddy Midtown Park on Saturday, May 20, 2017 to urge lawmakers to preserve education funding. (Photo by Josh Edge/Alaska Public Media)
More than 100 people gathered in Anchorage’s Cuddy Midtown Park on Saturday, May 20, 2017 to urge lawmakers to preserve education funding. (Photo by Josh Edge/Alaska Public Media)

More than 100 people, many clad in rain jackets, braved a cool, overcast Saturday morning and gathered in midtown Anchorage’s Cuddy Midtown Park, urging lawmakers to support public education funding.

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The senate is proposing a $65 million cut to education, while the house wants a slight increase.

The crowd listened to local business leaders, like Anchorage Community Development Authority head Andrew Halcro, emphasize the importance of public education to Alaska businesses.

“Over 92 percent of the students in this state go to public schools,” Halcro said. “That’s 92 percent of workforce; that’s 92 percent of the people who graduate and go out into the marketplace and come into my business and apply for a job.”

Alaskans concerned about potential cuts to education funding write postcards to lawmakers on Saturday, May 20, 2017. (Photo by Josh Edge/Alaska Public Media)
Alaskans concerned about potential cuts to education funding write postcards to lawmakers on Saturday, May 20, 2017. (Photo by Josh Edge/Alaska Public Media)

The rally focused on urging lawmakers to support a sustainable fiscal plan, preserving education funding well into the future.

“Alaska needs a culture of education, from pre-K through university system, we need a strong educational system for current businesses to be able to recruit employees from IT people, graduating from university, to high school graduates going straight into the workplace and also for future innovation,” Deena Mitchell, with Great Alaska Schools, said. “It’s so important.”

Great Alaska Schools organized the event.

While a series of speeches kicked off the rally, the main event was opportunities for those attending to immediately appeal to lawmakers – specifically those in the senate majority, who are proposing a 5 percent cut to education to make up a portion of the state’s $2.5 billion budget gap.

Jillanne Inglis has deep ties to public education in the state. She is a product of Alaska’s public school system, as are her daughters, and she said she has family members who work in public schools.

Inglis is addressing a postcard to Senator Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican, because she’s concerned about the effects of continued cuts.

“Well, it has an impact on class size, the number of teachers that we have, and the ability to educate our kids properly, that’s the impact,” Inglis said.

Postcards weren’t the only avenue for rally attendees to contact lawmakers. Volunteers stood around the park holding large poster boards adorned with pictures of state senators, their names, and office phone numbers.

Alaskans call lawmakers' offices, pushing for support for education funding on Saturday, May 20, 2017. (Photo by Josh Edge/Alaska Public Media)
Alaskans call lawmakers’ offices, pushing for support for education funding on Saturday, May 20, 2017. (Photo by Josh Edge/Alaska Public Media)

Close by were other posters with suggested talking points for those who chose to make the call.

“Hello, this message is for Senator Shelley Hughes. My name is Deborah Pierce, I’m an educator with Anchorage School District. I’m calling to let you know that we will not tolerate cuts to public education, and we would like you to create fiscal certainty with long-term fiscal plan, and we definitely support broad-based funding for our public education and our kids. Thank you very much.”

Deborah Pierce is an assistant principal at Mirror Lake Middle School in Chugiak. This is her fourth year with the Anchorage School District, and she said she’s been displaced twice in that time. She said it’s been unsettling, and is a disruption to her family, other educators, and – of course – the students.

“It’s heartbreaking that every year there seems to be this happening in April and May and it’s a shame that Alaska kids are put through this,” Pierce said. “I mean not just speaking as a teacher and as a mom, but, I mean, these kids deserve the best that we can give them, and I don’t think that the state is doing that for them.”

Camden Galvin is wrapping up his junior year at Stellar Secondary School in Anchorage. He said Steller has already lost a teacher – and could lose more – and extracurricular activities have been cut back as well.

“We used to have like a music program that had a choir, but that class was taken away and then it became a club, but then the club got taken away, because just the money isn’t there to support all these things at the school,” Galvin said.

Galvin said he’s worried that eventually all extracurriculars and electives will be cut, and students will only be left with core classes.

“And it’s just like, how much more can we lose at this point?” Galvin said. “It just, it’s terrible.”

Deena Mitchell, with Great Alaska Schools, said the state is in a fortunate position to have the ability to address its fiscal issues, and she claims it can be done without more education cuts.

“We need to innovate, we need to expand and diversify our economy, and we do that through education,” Mitchell said.

To cap off the rally, the crowd joined the band in singing the Alaska Flag Song before departing, many with a list of other senators to call.