In my experience, there’s two types of people who vocally concern themselves with education as a political issue. The first type are people (often former or current educators and concerned parents) who want better education for students, regardless of the shape or delivery method. In this group, you’ll often see a lot of homeschoolers and school choice advocates, who, for one reason or another, are disillusioned with the public school system and decided to take matters into their own hands.
The second type are people who rally for more education spending for public schools, not necessarily for what those public schools can offer children, but because the schools are such an institution, such a cornerstone, in their minds, that to deny them funds for any reason would be tantamount to cultural suicide. These are the “true believers” in education funding, the people you’ll find publicly testifying in committee meetings, driven to histrionics at the thought of Alaska public schools suffering.
Anyhow, I went to the Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, at which the committee heard public testimony about Senate Bill 52, which would increase the Base Student Allocation by $1,000 per student. The bill, intended to alleviate some of the shortcomings of Alaskan schools, would add an estimated $257 million to the budget. Senator Bert Stedman (R – Sitka), co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has already said that Governor Mike Dunleavy’s (R – Alaska) proposed $3,800 PFD (would would cost approximately $2.5 billion) should be reduced in order to pay for it, according to the Alaska Beacon.
Public testimony, in any scenario, is always a mixed bag. As proof, I offer you any given Anchorage Assembly meeting. In this instance, however, it only served to illuminate the wide gulf between the aforementioned “two types of people.”
Senators Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer) and Mike Shower (R – Wasilla), who both offered public testimony during the meeting (they don’t sit on any standing committees so this is the only way they can participate in the committee process), argued that any potential new funding needed to be strictly controlled. Hughes said funds needed to be tied to learning accountability measures, and further argued that any new funding (should SB52 pass) needed to be exclusively for classroom instruction – no new administrations or support staff, in other words. Given our frankly abysmal national scores in math and reading, if any new funding does come out of this legislative session, Hughes’ proposal makes sense.
Shower, for his part, argued that our spending is already high, compared to the national average, but our scores are among the lowest. Additionally, he referred to the significantly higher growth in administrative and support services as opposed to actual classroom services, dating back to 2002. Teacher salaries were virtually unaffected. In closing, he argued that if the SB52 money came with some actual demands – performance metrics and increased test scores, for instance – he could live with it, if Alaska got some actual “bang for the buck,” as it were. Throwing money at the school system, as we often do, is not the way to solve the problem – the money must go to the right place, which is the classroom.
There’s no really good way to come out and say this, and I think I’ve done enough to establish myself as kind of an asshole-at-large already, so I’ll say it – the state’s priority, educationally speaking, should not be funding theater programs and competitive jump rope teams (both of which were mentioned in the public testimony, by the way). If there’s money left in the school district’s budget that can be devoted to these things after the main priorities of the district are accomplished, then so much the better.
There were multiple testimonies from members of the public who argued that afterschool activities were as important as actual education for the school system to consider – again, not a necessary function of a school, whose primary purpose is to educate. The growing tendency to outsource the development of a child to the school system is sort of a nefarious trend that deserves its own article.
This is, to a certain degree, what so much of the argument over SB52 (and other school funding bills) hinges on – if we start axing these electives, we’re demonstrating a fundamental lack of faith in Our Children, who are, of course, Our Future. The demands for funding are held up by a superstructure of numbers, but underneath, it’s a multitude of platitudes.
Full disclosure – I am a product of the Anchorage School District. I went to Rilke Schule and graduated from Service High School. I was a debate kid, a German biliterate, I played the violin. Could you tell? Does my public schooling manifest itself in a certain tendency to lean into run-on sentences, a disregard for thesis statements, a general disdain for essay structure and readability, a habit of dragging readers into murky quagmires of dependent and independent clauses from which a point might, eventually, be yanked, kicking and struggling into the light of day?
Whenever someone waxes rhapsodic about the quality educators they experienced at one Anchorage school or another, I reflect on the amount of rot and institutional waste I experienced during my tenure with ASD. To be sure, I had some wonderful teachers, most of whom are now retired, but in my experience, they were the exception that proved the rule.
One final note: the BSA funding, to a certain extent, is also a little disingenuous, unless you know what to look for. That $257 million dollar price tag is not tied to a strict $1,000 dollar increase per student – otherwise, given Alaska’s current K-12 population of about 130,000, it’d be about half the sticker price. Rather, it’s tied to certain multipliers, which classify students in a given area or of a specific demographic as deserving of more funds. For instance, a rural student can count as much as two Anchorage students in terms of the amount of funding they get. A special needs student can count as much as 13 Anchorage students. There’s many more, such as school size, vocational programs, and other conditions that can raise or lower the average cost per student. By these multipliers, which are often incredibly obtuse, the Legislature ends up with a $257 million price tag.
SB52 is not the right step – not without some serious qualifications on where the money goes. If I’m slashing my PFD – which I use to buy guns and ammo and large bottles of brown beer and a new timing belt for my car, as is my goddamned right as an Alaskan – I want to know exactly where that money is going and how it’s going to demonstrably make kids smarter. So far, I’m not convinced. The secret word is “swordfish” (we’re bringing it back).
Not to point out the obvious, but receiving the PFD is not a right, but a privilege.
I was surprised you didn’t mention-suggest cutting all after-school athletic programs would solve the fiscal problem (competitive jump roping included along with ball activities, etc.).
Sadly there is no system set up to track where state dollars are being actually spent and this is not going to change
Be it the University, DNR, K-12 education. So sure require fiscal tracking across the board or it appears like a cold Shower.
Shelley Hughes and the 1950’s, bellisimo!
Mike Shower and 1923, the good old days!
Have you seen real location specific numbers on this? What is the specific funding increase per student in Anchorage, MatSu, Bethel, Pelican and other locations with a “$1000” BSA increase after factors and local property tax are taken in to account? Would love to see that spreadsheet.
Perhaps the headline should read…we don’t need no unionized Education.
Jacob, your argument would really benefit from some specifics with regard to the “rot and institutional waste” you experienced at ASD. Otherwise that just sounds like another dreaded platitude (albeit coming from a different angle than the ones you identify).
what about the increased administrative funding, instead of classrooms receiving proper materials? anyone can see these funds are misallocated. so please come down off your high horse and do a modicum of research before pretending ASD isn’t a bloated money burn pit
All us adults can see this issue, but as an elementary, middle school or high school student, one does not know or see that administrators are earning more than the teachers or that there is so much waste going on. Students show up to learn, not complain that the secretary for the super intendent earns as much in salary as their physics teacher does. I’d be willing to bet 95% of students don’t know these facts. And for the author to say they saw “rot and institutional waste” while going to ASD public schools, but not give any examples is… Read more »
For a little while, it was mildly amusing to read as Jacob Hersh tried to fashion himself as some kind of contrarian essayist of the arctic. And out of respect and empathy, I have resisted from commenting on how bad and unfunny his writing has been. (It’s like he read the first half of a single Hunter S. Thompson book, but did not keep reading long enough to understand the joke. And so now has, himself, unknowingly become the joke). I mean, young folks deserve a place to grow and develop as writers or reporters or whatever. But I think… Read more »
You are exactly the sort of rot he’s referring to LOL. You fancy your opinion, as some sort of critic, so here is my review of your comment: Overwritten, pretentious, and unable to justify your existence with any real substance. U come across, tonally, like some failed (you say former) journalist with your high opinion of yourself, or perhaps a middle school Language teacher with your condescending patterns and “I have weak wrists” attitude. Rightfully so (until now), you’ve avoided looking down your nose long enough to pen a shrewd “review” of a 20-something-year-old who has attended more school board… Read more »
You are so right.
I am sorry that I was so hard on Jacob.
It is not his fault that his piece is arrogant.
It is ASD’s fault.
If only ASD had spent less money on his jump rope team, and more money on inflating his test scores.
(I see that I struck a chord).
My mans Stew over here was reading every word Jacob wrote for months, biding his time until Jake dared cross the sacred threshold of attacking ASD. Stew will call Jacob’s writing “bad and unfunny” but will be the first person clicking on Jake’s next dispatch from Juneau. Really makes you think.
You totally owned me, Brian!!!!!
Stew in the scope of a “journalism” site that has added ask a cat and Jacob at the same time with a leader that idolizes politicians as cool elites-legends so to speak-it is all part of a downward spiral towards Downing level reporting.
It’s a hard sell to throw more money at a failing K-12 education system. Sometimes I wonder if Alaska parents just don’t give a shit about education. Other times I feel it’s a cultural challenge. Maybe the Alaska education curriculum sacks and that’s why the system is failing children. If you can’t read, you are fucked. This NPR story was eye opening: https://revealnews.org/podcast/how-teaching-kids-to-read-went-so-wrong/
Nobody ever applies the “it’s not working, therefore spend less” reasoning to anything besides public education.
Streets not plowed? Why pump more money into failed plowing operations??
I would argue it is the parents failing their children. Children arrive at school unmotivated, poorly nourished, tired, angry, and parroting their parent’s politics. Maybe if parents actually parented, their children would not be displaying poor behavior and failing in school.
I too like to use my own poor writing skills to demonstrate how bad the education I got was.
How many of you all commenting called into the public testimony for SB52? I am an advocate for education. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who isn’t. I appreciate Sen Tobin’s direct approach, however, I fear that the $1000 BSA increase will result in only pennies at the user level, the students. Without any auditable matrices to attain, it will be wasted, and another cry for more money with champion the hallowed halls of Juneau once again. Using “inflationary pressures” as a foundational argument fails to account for the Alaskan families affected by $4.12 per gallon for Heating Oil or rent… Read more »
The Author argues that he is Exhibit A for the brief that schools produce poor outcomes. Point taken; especially since his lead paragraph is grammatically incorrect: there ARE Two types not “… there’s two types…” Substantively his argument commits the same rhetorical chicanery as the typical RightWing anti-education troll (read: Hughes and Shower): BASE funding…operative word “BASE” Keeps lights on and engines running and crew at their duty station. Outcomes don’t improve by cutting budgets; basic funding is not a “reward”. And for every dud that the Anchorage School system graduates, like this self-described “asshole”, there are many more wonderful,… Read more »
Well, it is unfortunate that your schooling has not gotten you beyond dualistic either/or thinking, sweeping generalizations, and zero sum reasoning. Resistance to education is your right.
So you argue for “government overeach”? Have the states Dep. of Ed. reach into each community and edit their school budget, direct spending where the government thinks it should go. With Dunleavy “the educator” in control, that should be a real show. No thanks Hersh.