ANCHORAGE, Alaska — School district officials from across the state are on a field trip to Juneau, trying to explain to lawmakers how extra help from the state would help avoid some painful cuts -- but some legislators think they've already done enough.
Although most districts visit their lawmakers in Juneau annually, this time there's an added sense of urgency. Educators who visited the state Capitol came with a message that a vision without funding is just an illusion.
“I think most of us across the state, you will see, are facing some pretty major budget shortfalls,” said Lon Garrison with the Sitka School Board. “Costs continue to increase; I know in Sitka we're looking at a 20, 25 percent increase just in our health care costs -- that's pretty phenomenal.”
Utility costs are rising too, as are employee wages.
“I was talking to the Fairbanks superintendent and the Juneau superintendent and we're all having challenges, and I'm sure the Mat-Su superintendent will be saying the same thing,” said Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau.
In an effort to avoid layoffs and program cutbacks, educators across the state are seeking at least a $100 increase to the amount of funding that the state provides for each student. There are bills to do just that, but some lawmakers who have passed similar increases in recent years aren’t convinced the latest proposal is such a good idea.
“In my own personal opinion, we're going to have a little bit of a tough time increasing funding to school districts, until we can start seeing something better than what is advertised as a 40 percent dropout rate across the state,” said Kodiak Rep. Alan Austerman.
The schools argue additional money keeps up with inflation, and will allow them to expand -- or in some cases, simply maintain -- programs which nurture struggling students.
“The end goal is, provide an end product that does not necessarily grow government,” Garrison said. “What can we do on our own?”
“If we don't see progress being made, and we may be a little impatient for that, but if we don’t see progress being made, it would be very difficult to continue an operation,” said Fairbanks Sen. Joe Thomas.
The state has the money, but lawmakers who control the budget say they still need time to decide if another education increase is worth it. Some of them think local governments and municipalities need to step up and do whatever they can before the state gets involved.
Gov. Sean Parnell says he's not looking to dramatically increase funding and would rather provide incentives, like his performance-based scholarships, to give students reason to succeed.
Contact Ted Land at firstname.lastname@example.org