Lawmakers Look for Teachable Moments on Education
Funding has more than doubled in last eight years
JUNEAU - When it comes to the legislature's funding of education, House Speaker Mike Chenault says the history of the math should earn lawmakers a passing grade.
But Representative Les Gara says Alaskans should not read too much into what the legislature did in the past.
Chenault says the numbers speak for themselves – education funding has more than doubled since 2004.
But Gara says that increase corrected some injustices, and has nothing to do with today's needs.
Chenault says there's a mistaken impression about the base student allocation – also known as “the formula” – which uses student population to determine a large portion of a district's funding.
"It seems like if we increase the BSA, citizens of Alaska think that that money is going for the classroom. In all reality, the majority of that money, if not most of it, is going to pupil transportation, it's going to increased health care costs, it's going to retirement."
Including all funding provided by the legislature, not just the BSA, Chenault says the amount spent per student increased from $6,400 in 2004 to $14,300 today.
Gara says that doesn't mean districts are ahead now.
"Four years ago and five years ago we made up for a very embarrassing history we had of under-funding rural schools and under-funding special ed students. We spent a lot of money to give them equity back then."
Chenault, along with Governor Parnell, is questioning whether virtually automatic funding increases through the formula are the appropriate method for ensuring academic achievement and school accountability.
"If you look at the education graduation rate, it has improved a little bit. But a lot of students still lack the skills to get into college. The university of Alaska says that 53 percent of freshmen have to take remedial classes."
Gara says letting inflation eat away at the per-student funding formula, which was not increased last year, will solve none of the problems with schools.
"And they lose summer school, and they have bigger class sizes, and they lose student advisors, and we have worse academic achievement. If you want to do something on accountability, do it."
On this question, both sides will be put to the test.
The senate already has passed a bill for a three-year increase in the base student allocation.
Gara has criticized the governor for calling that “the ultimate giveaway.”
Asked today if Parnell stands by that description of the senate bill, his spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said yes.