NEWS: New Report: 2014 Education Law, 2015 Budget Proposals Lag Education Far behind Inflation Cost Increases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 23, 2015

Juneau – A new legislative research report requested by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) shows that public education funding will fall behind inflation next school year, under either the GOP’s three year plan passed last year, or the Governor’s proposed revisions.  A number of school districts will likely cut teachers and other educational staff under both proposals.  These cuts come on top of the loss of over 600 staff in Alaska’s largest school districts in fiscal years 2011-2014.

“Legislators should think seriously before cutting public education because a year of lost learning opportunity is a permanent loss to a child’s ability to reach their academic potential,” said Rep. Gara. “We also don’t want parents to reconsider whether they want to raise their children in Alaska.”

According to the new legislative research report, in order to keep school funds even with inflation, the statutory “Base Student Allocation” would have to increase by $149 per student for the coming 2015-2016 school year based on the education funding bill passed by the Alaska Legislature in 2014.  If the Governors proposed additional reduction in one-time grant funding passes, then the “Base Student Allocation” increase would need to be $278 for the coming school year to keep even with last year’s level of school funding, adjusted for inflation.

That’s prompted predictions by many school districts that they will have to cut teachers and staff.  The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is facing the loss of 65 educators and many school districts are facing increasing budget deficits.  In Anchorage, the school district will avoid cuts only by dipping deeply into reserves, a practice unsustainable over the long-term. 

“Our budget deficit is daunting and I support the efforts to look at areas of state government that can be cut,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks).  “However, the State of Alaska has a constitutional obligation to properly fund public education and that obligation stays in place even if the state is facing a budget crisis.  We can’t afford to balance our budget on the backs of kids and their educational opportunities.”

In the Mat-Su School District, funds will fall roughly $3 million to $6.4 million short of meeting their needs.  The Superintendent of the Juneau School District has called the prior year’s cuts devastating and noted cuts will follow again this coming school year under the current budget proposals being considered in the Alaska Legislature.

“Schools in Anchorage are only avoiding cuts by spending roughly $20 million in reserve funds,” said Rep. Gara.  “If the Governors additional cuts pass, then Anchorage may see cuts even if they spend the reserve funds.”

Reps. Gara and Kawasaki are sharing the new legislative research report in an attempt to create a more informed discussion on the effects of proposed cuts to public education funding and to explore whether legislators can come together on a plan to avoid them.

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