A strong education system is the most important investment we can make to ensure a brighter future. Because of our state’s size and diversity, we often face unique challenges that lead to increased costs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have strong schools and robust programs that prepare our kids for the future.
That is why my plan to protect the PFD guarantees pre-K-12 funding to ensure that education funding is not subject to political bargaining.
We must also reform our education system – at all levels – and make sure our kids are building the skills they need to be competitive in the marketplace. Currently our system does not match the needs and opportunities in the state. For example, health care is the fastest growing industry in the state, yet until recently some applicants were waiting up to two years to get into the nursing program at UAA. And currently 70% of teachers in Alaska are from the Lower 48 – why are we not growing our own when it comes to filling these critical jobs?
If we want to build a better future for the next generation, we must:
- Guarantee Certainty in Education Funding: One of the best things we can do to help our schools is stabilize education funding. We cannot attract and keep the best teachers until we forward-fund education and provide a guaranteed source of income. My “Invest in Alaska” plan would ensure that the Permanent Fund would spin off funding for our education system each year. That means we don’t have to pink slip our teachers year after year. It allows school administrators to plan for the future. It also means that the Legislature can’t use the education system as a negotiating tool. Providing certainty to teachers, parents, and kids means a better education system for everyone.
- Prioritize Universal Pre-K: 90% of brain development happens by age five, which means birth to age five are the most important years to invest in a child’s development. For every $1 we invest in high quality early childhood education, the state gets back $7 in reduced public services, increased economic activity, and spending less on incarceration. Is it worth making that investment? I think so. We have a great early education program, one that shows real, sustained results, but it’s available to too few Alaskans. Access to high quality, affordable early childhood education is essential to raising the next generation of great Alaskans. Business leaders know that great employees come from kids that have access to quality education. Our current Department of Corrections budget is over $300 million a year. For a tenth of that, we could provide access to high quality early childhood education for every community. That’s why I am a strong supporter of universal pre-K without diminishing the current needs of K-12 education.
- Provide Necessary Resources: Education budgets aren’t keeping up with increasing costs of healthcare, energy, or inflation. School districts have been cut severely and we see that class sizes are going up, teachers are using their own income for supplies, and each school counselor serves as many as 700 students in some school districts, if those positions still exist. We must ensure education funding increases with inflation and real costs, so schools are getting the necessary funding, resources, and support from the State Department of Education and Early Development.
- Address the True Drivers of Education Costs – Healthcare, Teacher Turnover, and High Energy Costs: Between 1999 and 2014, healthcare premiums have increased by 191%. Inflation was only 43%. Teacher turnover, driven in part by lack of stable funding, means it costs a school district on average $20,000 to recruit and train every new teacher. Rural schools pay up to 10 times as much per student as urban schools. We need to develop more creative and effective tools to recruit and train teachers and help foster strong bonds between communities and schools – both in urban and rural Alaska.