Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who was elected partly because of his experiences as a public school educator, proposed a budget this year that would slash more than a quarter of the state’s $1.6 billion education budget.
The proposal has outraged the state’s school officials who say if the budget is passed as it stands now, they will be forced to lay off scores of teachers and cut crucial programs.
“This is a sad day for Alaska public schools,” Tim Parker, the president of the state’s teachers union said in a press release Feb. 13 shortly after the budget was released. “Gov. Dunleavy ran on his background as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. This budget makes a profound statement that our public schools, our educators, and, most importantly, our students’ futures are expendable.”
The state is heavily dependent oil revenue and, because oil prices haven’t rebounded as much as expected in recent years, the state has had to consider ways to reduce its costs. Many of the state’s residents want to keep the state’s Permanent Dividend Fund, which results in residents getting a $1,600 check as a share of oil-related tax revenues this year just for living in the state. In order to protect that fund as he promised to do during his campaign, Dunleavy has said he has to cut elsewhere.
“I want to have effective education. That’s what I want to have,” he said in a recent interview with the Alaska Daily News. “I want an education where all kids can read and do mathematics at least at the algebraic level. That’s what I want. What does that look like? I think we have lots of room for discussion on what that looks like and how we get there.”
District superintendents, who have described the cuts as unprecedented, say the cuts, around $300 million, will have a compounding effect on the state’s schools, especially its many schools in isolated parts of the state. Class sizes will grow, teachers will leave the state, and test scores will ultimately sink, they warn.
Prior cuts to the state’s K-12 spending over the last three years resulted in the state’s education department laying off more than a third of its staff.
Before becoming a politician, Dunleavy served as an elementary school teacher, principal, and as superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, an isolated rural district. He later was voted to serve on the district’s school board.
Most of the nation’s other states have had large surpluses this year as sales, income and property taxes continue to rebound. There’s a scramble amongst public school advocates in those states for politicians to spend those dollars on states’ K-12 systems rather than save them in order to prepare for the next recession.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.