NEWS: Gara: More Teacher Layoffs Won’t Fix Alaska’s Near-Bottom Graduation Rates

Alaska ranks low in state graduation rates, recent education bill doesn’t do enough to help

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 28, 2014

JUNEAU – Today, Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) responded to a recent study that found Alaska ranks near the bottom of state rankings in high school graduation rates. Gara, who joined other Democratic lawmakers in pushing to reverse Alaska’s course of educator cuts, tied Alaska’s slow progress on improving graduation rates to three years of teacher and staff layoffs, a problem the Legislature failed to address this session.

“We fought to reverse the last three years of over 600 educator cuts.  We should champion opportunity, not stifle it,” said Gara. “Instead of moving public education forward in Alaska, as we and parents across Alaska pushed for, Republicans in the legislature chose three more years of school cuts.”

House and Senate Democratic legislators introduced legislation in each of the last three years to increase the base per-student classroom funding, known as the Base Student Allocation or BSA, enough to make up for past cuts. The Democrats’ legislation also would tie the per-student funding to the cost of living increase so that schools do not bear the burden of inflation with cuts in the classroom.

“Our bill would have done what parents and schools needed,” said Gara. “We filed legislation, and voted, to reverse prior cuts and to prevent future ones so students can have the support they need to succeed.”

House and Senate Democratic legislators, schools, teachers, parents, students, and business and community leaders all called for an increase to the BSA of $400 next year and $125 the following two years for a total of $650 over three years. The bill passed by the Republican-led majorities proposes only a $250 increase in the BSA over three years. School district representatives and parents have warned that it will lead to more teacher and staff cuts in coming years.

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PostScript.

After the sending of this release the Municipality of Anchorage raised the prospect of hiking local property taxes to avoid, or partially avoid, one year of layoffs. However, even a property tax hike can’t stop layoffs in years two and three of the GOP “three-year plan,” when any funding increases essentially disappear.

The past three years of staff cuts will resume in 2015 and 2016. It is unclear with a property tax increase whether a one year respite from continuous GOP layoffs can be averted in the 2014-15 school year.