AASB Priorities are a priority for Alaska

Lon Garrison, Executive Director, AASB

On January 17th, the 33rd Alaska Legislature began its first session.  This officially marks the beginning of AASB’s formal state legislative advocacy season.  I am joined once again by Norm Wooten, who will be providing essential support in covering the day-in and day-out coverage of the legislature while also continuing to be the primary contributor to our weekly publication, “The Session.”

As we prepare for our traditional February Advocacy Fly-in for school board members and youth, I thought it appropriate to speak to the importance and impact your voice can have when advocating for AASB’s 2023 Legislative Priorities. 

The AASB Board of Directors met the day after our Delegate Assembly last November and voted to put forward three critically important priorities facing school districts across the state.  The Board felt that these three issues deserved the greatest level of attention as they affect every district in the state.  The priorities are as follows:

  • Sufficient and Sustainable Education Funding
  • Recruitment and Retention of Teachers, Administrators, and Staff
  • Student Wellness and Safety

A one-page handout of the 2023 priorities and an accompanying one-page reference sheet of supporting resolutions can be found at the following link: Legislative Advocacy Resources.

Alaska is a local control state, meaning that governance is executed primarily through locally elected officials whenever possible.  School system governance is a prime example.  Your voices as school board members represent the local perspectives, desires, and needs of your schools and communities.  Your voices must be heard loud and clear by the state legislature, governor, and our federal delegation.

School boards in Alaska have no taxing authority and, as such, must rely upon the state, the federal government, and, where applicable, local government to fund education.  Alaska’s constitutionally mandated support of public education via the Base Student Allocation (BSA) has historically been inadequate and rarely has kept pace with inflation.  As a result, and through the work of a local school district, the AASB Delegate Assembly endorsed a resolution calling for not less than an $860 increase to the BSA.  Your voices representing each school district must be heard to support this request.  Your stories, examples, and data must depict the critical need for this fundamental support.

The retention and recruitment of well-qualified, effective teachers, administrators, and support staff is also a priority for nearly every school district across the state.  Remote districts comprised of small village schools have historically always been a challenge to keep adequately staffed, and now we see this is also the case for many of the districts on the road system.  School boards cannot offer the wages and benefits required to keep or attract the professionals our students need without the adequate funding mentioned above.  Alaska’s Teacher Retirement System, a defined contribution plan, is not competitive with any of the other 49 states that offer at least some sort of a defined benefit for retirement.  The salaries and wages Alaska districts can afford are significantly lower than our closest neighbors, Washington state and Oregon and on average, are in the lower quartile nationwide.  Your voices must be heard on this issue.  Your local examples of the impact of being understaffed and, in some cases, staffed with only emergency-certified teachers are critical.

We have heard repeatedly from students that many of them struggle with mental health and safety issues.  These conditions existed long before the pandemic but were exacerbated significantly by it.  As we have learned from brain health experts such as Alaska’s own Dr. Linda Chamberlin, brains that are under stress cannot function in a way that adequately supports effective learning.  It is a physiochemical reality.  Many families across the state are challenged by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence or sexual abuse.  When students experience these traumas, their ability to learn is compromised.  Public schools take every child, no matter who they are or their condition.  As a result, schools must be prepared to be that one place where students feel safe and connected to a positive culture of support for them.  Only then can they effectively begin to learn.  It is your voice as school board members, telling compelling stories of the challenges and successes that can persuade lawmakers to enact funding and supportive systems for your schools to serve your students.

The three legislative priorities the AASB Board of Directors has championed are, in fact, three priorities necessary to ensure the success of Alaska’s future.  Your voices as locally elected officials working on behalf of your communities, parents, and students are crucially important.  Working together and starting with the upcoming legislative fly-in, you have an opportunity to make a real difference in the course of our history.

I look forward to working with all of you to make sure your voices are heard and that they positively impact decisions to be made and support your schools and, most importantly, successful outcomes for students.

Sincerely yours,

Lon Garrison

Executive Director, AASB