(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Lawmakers must step up and increase school funding

There’s no excuse for depriving the funding needed to ensure our students’ learning.

  • By Luann McVey
  • Thursday, April 6, 2023 11:10pm
  • Opinion

This week, the Alaska State Legislature is in the process of finalizing its operating budget. After a 39-1 vote in the House to increase education funding by about $175 million for the ’23-’24 school year, members of the House Majority have reneged, leaving the budget without a funding increase. They’ve decided instead to pay for schools out of state savings.

Let me see if I’ve got this right: Republicans in the House believe our schools are worth so little, they’re canceling an increase in education funding, despite inflation’s skyrocketing impact on costs.

There is no excuse for depriving our educational communities of the funding needed to ensure our students’ learning. Alaska must step up and adequately fund our schools now and into the future.

Our state gives away thousands of dollars to each resident every year in Alaska Permanent Fund dividends. We have no statewide income tax and we offer credits and tax cuts to oil companies, effectively paying them to take our oil. To anyone in any other state, Alaska sounds like we are rolling in dough.

Sadly, Alaska schools don’t reflect the billions we have in reserve. In our state, new teachers have no pension plans. Entry level teachers are paid an average of $37,897 or $18 per hour. Yearly teacher turnover is as high as 30% in parts of the state. We expect teachers to teach our children to excel in reading, writing, math and science, but we don’t think they are worth a living wage. No wonder they are leaving Alaska in droves, leaving teacher shortages and crowded classrooms in their wake.

As a 29-year retired Alaskan teacher, one of the greatest joys of my career was watching the eyes of a child who struggled to read when they realized the words they were speaking actually matched the words on the page — and told a meaningful story. This is a magical moment that takes place from child to child at different times, but it is the portal to a lifetime of literacy.

By investing in our schools, we spread this magic and empower our young people to become great leaders. We create a brighter tomorrow for our state. Our legislators must step up and provide increased education funding without depleting our savings. I urge readers to join me in urging them to do the right thing for children. Tomorrow might be too late.

Luann McVey is a retired Juneau teacher who taught for many years in Alaska schools.

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