Katie McKenna stood on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol and spoke forcefully into the microphone. She wanted to make sure Gov. Mike Dunleavy heard her.
“Your budget plan abandons us,” the Juneau-Douglas High School junior said, pausing as a crowd of more than 400 people applauded. “My generation wants to know, do you have children? Are you OK with how you’re valuing young people across Alaska? We students feel you view us as a writeoff cost.”
McKenna was one of nearly a dozen speakers who stood in the Saturday sunlight and urged those in the Capitol to prioritize education. The rally, called Fund Our Future, brought together hundreds of students, educators, advocates, lawmakers and community members in opposition to hefty cuts to education in Dunleavy’s budget proposal.
The event leaned heavily on student speakers, including McKenna. Fellow Crimson Bear Arias Hoyle, a senior, also spoke, as did Thunder Mountain High School student Kaylani Topou. As the high school students stood on the steps, younger students surrounded them and held up signs. Topout pointed to another sign, one that hung on two of the columns at the Capitol that depicted hands reaching upward.
“This is exactly what we’re doing,” Topou said. “We’re reaching for the governor, we’re reaching for everyone to give us the education that we need, and all we’re asking is that you take our hand and that we can walk to the future together.”
Dunleavy’s budget proposal calls for a reduction in funding of $300 million from school districts across the state, according to the Department of Education and Early Development. That includes a cut of $10 million to the Juneau School District. The House of Representatives’ budget proposal, passed this week, does not propose those deep cuts and even seeks to guarantee funding for the next fiscal year as well.
Speakers at Saturday’s rally — including education advocate and former U.S. Congressional candidate Alyse Galvin — were passionate as they spoke to the crowd, but none spoke with quite the energy of Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks. Hopkins was vehement about the importance of education in his life, going as far to name off the elementary school teachers he had to prove how he still thinks of them.
The rally was organized by Great Alaska Schools, thread Alaska, the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children, National Education Association (NEA) Alaska, and the Juneau Education Association.
Multiple speakers, including Dzantik’i Heeni teacher Amy Lloyd, brought up Dunleavy’s propensity to carry a red pen. The pen is meant to symbolize his veto power, which he said he would use if the Legislature passes a budget that he doesn’t agree with. Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said no teacher or former teacher like herself is afraid of a red pen.
Lloyd spoke along the same lines, saying teachers wield a red pen when they’re correcting papers and providing feedback.
“When we pick up a red pen,” Lloyd said, “it is to grow Alaska, support our students and brighten our future.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.