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Senator Lisa Murkowski,
Senator Dan Sullivan,
Congressman Don Young,
The legislative session is approaching the 90-day scheduled end point, and a long term fiscal plan that is fair to regular Alaskans is looking increasingly unlikely.
I became a member of the House Majority Coalition to put politics aside and do the right thing by passing a complete plan which shares the burden fairly through difficult budget cuts and broad-based revenue measures. I am disappointed that the Senate has blocked all of our efforts to this end, instead supporting a Permanent Fund-only plan. This would effectively tax lower income Alaskans at a rate of twenty times that paid by the wealthy, and leave highly paid out-of-state workers and multinational corporations untouched. I will not violate the trust you placed in me by supporting such a plan.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that public school students shouldn’t suffer because there are not enough legislators who support prudent economic policies rather than “trickle down” economics. We can’t give up just because times are tough. I am working doggedly as chair of the House Education Committee to do everything I can to move forward with ways to help school districts save money and operate more efficiently, and I am very excited to report that many members of both the House and Senate, and of diverse political persuasions, are on board with the effort.
We all understand that we can’t tell parents of a fourth grader that in a few years fourth grade will be better and to send their student back then. Lost opportunity is lost for life.
SAVING MONEY AND OPERATING MORE EFFICIENTLY
There are several innovative solutions that I am excited to be working across the aisle on which will save us money on education, and help us spend the money we do have in effective ways to allow young children to grow into healthy adults with good jobs that grow the economy.
HB 406 and SB 216—School Funding for Consolidated Schools
HB 221—Workforce & Education Related Statistics Program
SB 104—Cost Savings through School Curriculum Sharing
HB 287—Funding Education on Time
FLAT FUNDING EDUCATION IS CUTTING EDUCATION
Children have a right to reach their potential and get the best education possible. I am cosponsoring House Bill 339 to lessen the impact of some of the inflation-adjusted classroom funding cuts the legislature has adopted in its school budgets since 2014. Students shouldn’t be harmed because some legislators think cutting 40% of the state budget, hitting schools and basic services hard, isn’t enough.
Education should be more than crowd control. Adjusted for inflation, classroom funding for teachers and support staff has fallen by $90 million since the 2014 legislative session. That’s why Alaska, which once had some of the best schools in the nation, has lost well over 500 teachers and other school staff; increased class sizes; cut programs; inadequately funded English as a Second Language classes in an increasingly ethnically diverse state; and, damaged academic opportunity for many children.
In Cordova, students are only offered chemistry every other year. If they miss it as a sophomore, then it’s not available until they are a senior. That can affect a student’s chances of getting into college.
On the Kenai Peninsula many schools don’t have “frills” like music classes. Education is more than sitting in an overcrowded classroom learning basics. A good education includes courses and activities that excite and inspire students. In some Bristol Bay schools, grade levels are now being combined to save money.
In the Lake Iliamna region, school has been cut by 20 days to avoid laying off teachers, and that is likely to happen in Nome if we keep giving schools less support than they need. In Kodiak, the district lost 18 positions last year, and they are on pace to lose 16 more next year with flat funding, funding that again falls behind inflation.
Class sizes are going up from already excessive levels, from Juneau to Anchorage to Fairbanks and if a school doesn’t cut teachers, they cut courses, or school days, or other student activities. Right now, many students in rural Alaska take online courses that involve no teacher interaction, just written materials they read on their computer.
We. Must. Do. Better.
I have pushed for a quick and efficient legislative session. As we approach the voter enacted 90-day limit, I am increasingly hopeful that we will wrap up business on time. We are waiting on the Senate to pass the budget before we can enter those end-of-session negotiations.
I have heard from school districts, the business community and industry leaders that it is vitally important to pass a timely budget. An on-time budget helps instill confidence in Alaska’s economy. The House budget improves funding for public safety and education. These investments will protect Alaska’s families from crime and continue building the economy into the next generation.
WHAT DOES A TIMELY BUDGET LOOK LIKE?
The budget is not just a financial document. It is a moral document that must reflect the values and priorities of all Alaskans. Our budget:
Thank you for reading my update. As always, please call or email with any thoughts, ideas, or concerns.