Making Your Case
Lon Garrison, AASB Executive Director
The legislative advocacy season is in full swing, and education, as always, is one of the most significant issues the legislature wrestles with. The K-12 education budget comprises about a quarter of the annual state budget. It is only surpassed by the HSS budget. Thus education funding continues to be one of the most debated elements of the state budget. It is important to remember that Alaska Constitution, Article 7, Section 1 requires the legislature’s fiscal support, and they have done that every year. That support, however, has not always been enough to support the system properly.
As this second session of the 32nd legislature proceeds, there is one question I frequently hear, “Why should we give you more money? We don’t see better results.” It is an easy question to ask, and it seems like the answer should be simple. However, anyone involved in education knows that it is not that simple.
Public education is complex, and forces outside educators’ control can easily affect student outcomes. I see this question as “the opportunity” to tell your story about why funding is so important. It is the perfect time to convey the challenges that you must grapple with as a locally elected state official. Allocating the scarce resources you have to provide an education to each student that walks through your doors or signs on to your virtual classes is not easy nor inexpensive. But don’t just tell them one side, the deficit story; tell them of your successes, innovations, and focus on student outcomes. That is proof that resources matter.
This is not the time to be timid in your advocacy. In Alaska, you are elected by the same constituents that elect our representatives and senators. Your purpose is to fulfill the constitutional responsibility to provide public education locally. You can make decisions that can provide the best opportunities for your students. When you think about it, it is an elegant solution, but it takes effort, commitment, and resources to make it work because those resources come primarily from the state you have to answer the question “why” unabashedly, truthfully, and with a sense of purpose because students depend upon it.
Recently, Dr. Bridget Weiss, superintendent of the Juneau School District, testified at a House Ways and Means committee meeting stating, “we are no longer doing more with less; we are now doing less with less.” This short, poignant statement encapsulates what many of you are feeling and seeing these days. As school board members and superintendents, you are witnessing the effects of this situation expressed in many ways. Teachers and administrators are leaving Alaska school districts because the compensation, working conditions, and living situations are often unsustainable and noncompetitive. Engaging and essential programs, classes, and services are cut because they are no longer affordable. Programs like early childhood education and extra efforts to support literacy or culturally responsive teaching go by the wayside. At the most recent AASB Legislative Fly-in, we heard loud and clear from every district attending that mental health and student wellness must be supported if public education is to succeed.
So, in the next 45 to 60 days, as the legislature grinds through approving a budget, your voices and your stories that answer the question “why” are more important now than ever before. There are legislative opportunities to solve the PFD dilemma and get back to the business of creating policy and funding the essential services the citizens of Alaska need. There is an opportunity to support meaningful legislation that focuses on literacy and early childhood education to truly make a difference. Please be prepared to tell your stories about your needs, challenges, and accomplishments. Our children and grandchildren depend upon you.
Thank you for all you do as school board members. I look forward to hearing your strong voices.
Executive Director, AASB