Thankful, but Not Quite There…..
Lon Garrison, Executive Director, AASB
The end of another school year is upon us, and just as miraculously, the Legislature has adjourned after a one-day special session. And while the hubbub of the daily routine of school operations and the legislative calendar has subsided for the next few months, I find myself in a state of reflection. Piece by piece, I am trying to make sense of what this past year has dished out to school boards, administrators, teachers, support staff, students, and communities. What have we accomplished? What has succeeded? What came up short? But most importantly, did we support students, and did they succeed?
I imagine the excitement, joy, and pride many of you feel as graduations occur across the state. I dearly miss the times I got to stand and hand out diplomas to students ready to move on. I know that some students excelled, and others just barely made it. I also know that if it were not for public education, many of those students would not have an opportunity to become a successful and important piece of our collective communities. You made a difference, and that counts for something.
As I reflect on the progression and the conclusion of the first half of the 33rd Legislature, I am thankful and yet so disappointed. It feels like a sad compromise, a hollow victory. But I tend to be a hard self-critic. Writing this article helps me put things in perspective, and I think I will find more joy than sorrow.
Last November, the AASB Board of Directors wisely adopted three simple and succinct legislative priorities:
- 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. These were our marching orders for the coming session, and I think they served us well. These priorities kept me on track and prevented AASB from being pulled away to deal with other issues that I believe were often introduced to become distractions. They were our North Star, even when the sailing was rough.
Here is what we ended up with and what we still need from the Legislature and the Governor.
- We did get a significant increase in education funding, the “equivalent value” of a $680 BSA increase. But it is one-time funding and is not in the BSA! We begin again next year at a BSA of $5,960.
- SB 52 and HB 65 Base Student Education both presented opportunities for significant increases in the BSA. SB 52, sponsored by Senator Tobin, passed the Senate and was transmitted to the House but ran out of time. This could be the vehicle for the next session to see an increase come to fruition.
- SB 88 Defined Benefit Plan came very close to making it through the Senate but never made it to the floor for a vote. It is so close! I believe this will move forward next session, and we will have a more competitive retirement option for all public employees. Close, but not quite there!
- There was a lot of conversation about paying teachers more, but it was often paired with requirements for “accountability” that no one could define. The governor put forward a bill to offer retention bonuses to teachers. It is a novel proposal and could be beneficial, but we all know the whole system needs support. The bill has not gained much traction.
- Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson, a member of the Senate Education Committee, put forward SB 24 Mental Health Education which has made it through the Education and the Health and Social Services committees. It awaits a hearing in Finance.
This is a short list of those bills that directly address AASB’s three legislative priorities. I feel we have momentum, but we will need to be persistent and vocal in our advocacy next session to see these become law.
In closing, I want to say thank you to each of you who has taken the time to stand up for public education. There were school board members and superintendents all across the state that shared compelling stories and diplomatically corrected the narrative when it was full of misinformation. You made a difference. And you will do so again!
We will take a break for a few weeks but have much work to do in this interim period. I may call you in late summer and through the fall to begin priming the pump of public education support, so stand by for news! In the meantime, cherish your moments with your students as they enter their summer break or receive their diplomas. Think about the “little people” who depend upon us. It will fortify our resolve to deal with the “big people” issues.
Have a wonderful summer break. Catch fish, pick berries, and as the wise and dear Ivan Ivan of the Yupiit School Board often tells us, love yourself and love one another!