Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth works in his office on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth works in his office on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Voices of the Peninsula: Now is the time to invest in Kenai Peninsula students

Parents, educators and community members addressed the potential budget cuts with a clear message.

  • By Nathan Erfurth
  • Monday, March 20, 2023 9:26pm
  • Opinion

This month, our Kenai Peninsula Borough School District came forward with budget information for the upcoming school year. We are facing a $13.1 million budget shortfall next year. That means fewer educators in the classroom, larger class sizes and the loss of programs.

Our community discussed this at the March 6 board of education meeting. Parents, educators and community members addressed the potential budget cuts with a clear message. We value our community pools; we value reasonable class sizes; we value sports, extracurricular programs and theaters. The Kenai Peninsula believes in our schools.

Local elected leaders on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly made this sentiment official when they unanimously passed Resolution 2023-027 requesting the State of Alaska make a meaningful increase to the base student allocation for public schools. They recognize the impact flat funding and high inflation has had on our school district. The Legislative Finance Division director said as much: “today, the base student allocation is the lowest it’s been in the last 20 years — adjusted for inflation.”

Now is the time for the Legislature to increase public education funding through the base student allocation. Investing in Kenai Peninsula students does more than preserve vital programs. The connection between funding and academic outcomes is obvious. Smaller class sizes help students learn. More educators in the classroom help students learn. Extracurricular programs help students learn, grow, and build character.

Beyond that, investing in public education helps local businesses address the workforce shortage and supports the local economy. The workforce shortage in Alaska has affected a wide range of industries. Local businesses are desperate for applicants. Funding public education helps create more work-ready young people. Our school district offers a robust variety of career technical education programs; those programs include the Young Mariners Nautical Course, emergency medical technician, certified nursing assistant, auto repair, welding, CAD/CAM, construction, and more. We work hard to help students develop the skills they need to be successful in whatever career is right for them.

Additional public education funding not only helps our local businesses meet their workforce needs but the economic impact goes far beyond that.

The University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research investigated this in a paper called “The Economic Significance of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in the Kenai Peninsula Borough” by Kim Pitney. Although somewhat dated, their economic analysis made certain principles very clear. When our school district spends money on salaries, benefits and the purchase of services or goods, that money circulates in the local economy. Enough is spent at local restaurants, retail establishments, health and business services that “every one-dollar of district in-state spending creates an additional 31 cents of payroll spending in the Alaska economy.”

Public education funding is an investment in our schools, students, businesses and local economy. Now is the time for the Alaska Legislature to pass a meaningful increase to the base student allocation.

Nathan Erfurth is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.

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