So, What Now?

Lon Garrison, Executive Director, AASB

It has been one heck of a roller coaster ride for education this final part of the 32nd Legislature. We still have yet to see what happens as the dust settles and the governor prepares to analyze and reform the budget sent to him. I am hopeful that with the passage of the reading bill, the red veto pen will be kinder to education funding than it might have been.

However, what is very disappointing is that during an unprecedented spending spree, a sustained and significant increase in the BSA still did not happen. Unfortunately, a majority of Alaska legislators still believe student outcomes are not directly affected by education funding. It is incomprehensible to me how it can be argued and acknowledged that the cost of living for everyone has dramatically increased, thus the need for a large PFD. Yet, the same economic challenges apparently are not there for public education. It seems Alaska has a hard time investing in the future, whether putting some excess funds in savings or investing in our future through well-funded public education. Our work must continue to change this reality.

In the meantime, school boards, superintendents, and staff still have a public education system to operate to the best of our abilities. Our students need our undivided attention and dedication. Education is a challenging task in the best of times, and it becomes harder and harder to fulfill the state’s constitutional mandate. This mandate has been delegated to you as local school board members. 

So, what now?

While many will become utterly discouraged that, yet once again, greed, politics, and the culture of “ME” have prevented any sustained increase in education support, I believe in the resilience of local school boards working with their superintendents, staff, and communities focusing on student outcomes is our shining hope. Now is the time for school boards and superintendents to show authentic shared leadership focused on student and family success. While additional resources can make a difference, a deliberate and strategic focus can create positive outcomes for students. Let me give an example.

At the end of April, several other AASB staff and I attended the first Alaska Science of Reading Symposium held in Anchorage. We joined over 1,000 teachers, administrators, and a few school board members. The symposium, sponsored and conducted by DEED, was a terrific start to introducing and understanding the “science of reading.” My head has been spinning since the symposium as I think about a school board’s role in this most crucial educational skill; READING.

Adopting the science of reading as a fundamental tenant of preparing our students to be lifelong learners through early literacy can be a foundational change that genuinely affects our entire educational system. 

While having additional resources to make this shift happen would be beneficial, the most critical step is a dedication from the school board all the way through to the custodians and the lunch lady that this matters and that it can be done. This means that it starts with leadership at the board table. Through the school board’s authority to review and approve curriculum and instructional materials, the board, working closely with the superintendent, can ensure the means for providing literacy proficiency for each student is in place and is supported.

I offer the above example to illustrate that there is much good work that school boards can do. There will be another election and another legislative session that will likely hold opportunities for education to get the support it requires and deserves. AASB will work hard to help support your voice in communicating that message. Alaskans are resilient and resourceful, and so are school boards and superintendents. 

Thank you for all you do as school board members. Thank you for all you have done this past year and during this legislative session. Your advocacy in the last few days of the session was absolutely crucial and truly made a difference. Let’s keep it up! I look forward to hearing your strong voices.

Sincerely yours,

Lon Garrison

Executive Director, AASB