Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in opposition to overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in opposition to overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Ben Carpenter: Education is too important to keep getting wrong

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

On Monday I voted with a majority of the legislature to uphold the Governor’s veto of SB 140 the omnibus education bill. The reason I upheld the veto is simple, I refuse to settle for mediocrity when it comes to education.

Parents deserve real choices for their children’s education, and students deserve far better outcomes. Sure SB 140 added funding, but did it address root issues? No. Instead, it funneled money into school systems, while neglecting the needs of our children and teachers. As legislators, it’s our duty to tie outcomes to budgets, SB 140 missed the mark by increasing spending without a clear plan for improvement.

Our children are at the heart of everything we do, yet Alaska’s students rank near the bottom in reading and math scores. Some schools in our state are having success — while others are struggling to meet basic education levels. But it’s not a mystery what the difference is.

We know what is working in Alaska — charter public schools.

That’s why I introduced HB 165, which empowers the State Board of Education to authorize charter schools within their districts. Charter schools are public schools operating within a school district and run by an academic policy committee made up of parents and teachers, instead of the school district board. Allowing the State Board of Education to authorize charter schools will take away a district board’s ability to turn away a group of parents wishing to start up and help run a charter school in their district. I keep hearing that this would take away “local control,” but parents are as local as it gets.

Parents play an indispensable role in their children’s education, serving as their first teachers and lifelong advocates. When parents are participating and involved in their children’s schooling, academic outcomes improve, behavior issues decrease, and overall school performance is enhanced.

A culture shift is imperative to restore traditional parental involvement and responsibility. I proposed HB 382, known as the Parents and Teachers Bill of Rights, to bolster parental engagement across all educational platforms. Research consistently shows that when parents are active in their children’s schooling, academic outcomes improve significantly. HB 382 aims to fortify this bond between parents and schools. It is also critical that our teachers are not neglected in support as they teach our children. Additionally, in this bill is the requirement to create an academic policy committee in all public schools. This would give the ultimate responsibility in who manages the curricula, policies, and school administration.

The legislature continues to allocate funds without a sustainable plan, leaving our children’s future hanging in the balance. We can’t keep dipping into their potential to cover our mistakes. Because using the PFD to cover the gaps can only last until its gone. It’s time to demand results for our investments and ensure that every dollar spent leads to tangible improvement.

We have the time in this legislative session to do this right, and education is too important to keep getting wrong. It’s time for accountability and healthy competition in our schools. And its past time to cut through the fear-inducing rhetoric and put our children first. The NEA lobbyists may want more money with no strings attached, but our kids deserve better. Let’s make them our priority, not just pawns in the political game.

Ben Carpenter represents House District 8 and is chairman of the Ways & Means Committee. Contact Rep.Ben.Carpenter@akleg.gov, 907-465-3779 or visit https://bencarpenterpost.com/.

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