A Mt. Eccles Elementary School Classroom. (Sept. 12, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
A Mt. Eccles Elementary School Classroom on Sept. 12, 2019. File photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith for The Cordova Times

By Barb Jewell 

I am dumfounded by your refusal to increase the Base Student Allocation and sustainable and adequately fund education in our state. As elected representatives your job is to enact the will of the people. You have been presented with fact after fact, data point after data point that indicates a need to increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA) in order to meet not only the needs of individual students and districts, but the state as a whole. This is data that was compiled by organizations that the Legislature tasked with obtaining data, outside research organizations and universities. Not to mention the individual testimony from hundreds if not thousands of educators, parents, and students themselves. Far more people have testified on the need for the increase than against. I know because I have been watching, reading and listening quite frankly for over 10 years. And yet you reject this information and insist that education funding is not in need of increase. You propose solutions that are not supported by research or evidence-based practices. You demand mandates without providing additional funding time and again.  

You were not elected to represent your personal experiences and philosophies. And yet you continue to reject the data based on your personal opinions. 

Data such as: Education funding has not been materially increased in a sustainable way since 2017, and in real dollars Alaska education is funded at the equivalent of 2012 levels. Meanwhile the Department of Corrections had been increased by roughly 40% over the past seven years. Almost all other (if not all) state department budgets have been inflation proofed – except education. If you had to live on your income from 2012 how would you fare? You would certainly not be able to do the same activities, you would not be able to replace your roof or update your electrical system with a 2012 income on 2024 prices. You would not be able to purchase the same food or clothing and you probably would be struggling to pay your mortgage. And yet you expect schools to not only maintain, but improve performance (having added additional mandates and areas of responsibilities).  

I have heard you say you can’t find information about how schools are spending their dollars. Really??? School districts publish their budgets and finances regularly. Our district puts that information out monthly — every dollar, every check, every expenditure. And I do not think we are alone. Not to mention the fact that school districts are audited every year. Every single year. And this information is not only publicly available but submitted to the Department of Education. So how is it that you cannot obtain that information? Perhaps you are choosing not to look.  

I have heard you say you don’t want to add more money to the BSA if you can’t guarantee it will be put toward the classroom. Every school district reports every year on the percentage of dollars put towards instruction versus the amount put to areas other than instruction. The state requires that a minimum of 70% of funding is directed toward instruction. In our district it is 72%. Where else do you think this money is going? It might be going to pay the increased heating bills for the classroom. It might be going to pay the increased health insurance costs and other benefits that it takes to keep teachers in the classroom. It is all going to the classroom. 

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Our high school was identified as the No. 1 high school in Alaska (rising from No. 3). We are good at what we do. And this year, with no increase we will have to cut $1.5 million from our budget — approximately 18%. We have already cut preschool, increased student-teacher ratios and exhausted our fund balance. Now the programs that supported our students in accomplishing what it took to get us to No. 1 in Alaska will have to go — AP classes, extra curriculars, food services….  

Even with a proposed $680 to the Base Student Allocation, we will have to cut $900,000 from a roughly $6.5 million budget. And I know we are not alone — every school district in the state is facing this level of cuts. 

After the veto of HB 140 and the failure to override you spoke of ensuring additional funding and resources for education. Now is the time. 

Failure to sustainably increase funding is a failure to do your duty to represent the Alaskan people and promote the wellbeing of our state. 

Barb Jewell is the chair of the Cordova School District Board of Education.

This story originally ran in the May 10 issue of The Cordova Times. 

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