For the last several years members of the Sitka School Board have joined school board members from other communities for a trip to Juneau to advocate for schools before the legislature. In the past, the major issues have typically revolved around school funding: How much money schools receive for each student, and when that money arrives.
While those remain important issues this year, the political makeup of the legislature has changed. The Alaska Senate now has a Republican majority, and the Republican-led caucus in the House, with 30 members, has an effective super-majority. According to Sitka School Board president Lon Garrison, school advocates on their most recent trip to Juneau found themselves playing defense instead of offense.
He reported to the other members of the Sitka School Board Wednesday night (2-6-13) about his meeting with Lynn Gattis, a freshman legislator from the Mat-Su, who’s now chair of the House Education Committee.
Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:
“I think they’re going to press the bounds of traditional public education as we know it. I think we’re going to see some major changes in charter school laws, which would enable charter schools to be authorized – not by local boards – but by the state of Alaska. And those charter schools could be proposed generally by any non-profit entity or the University of Alaska. I think we’re going to see a big push for school vouchers. There’s going to be a big push for school vouchers and an amendment to the state constitution that would allow that to take place.”
Garrison said that the governor’s budget this year has some additional funding for schools: $25-million for energy, $75-million for transportation, some extra funding for early childhood development, and a plan to give every Alaskan student a mobile digital device within the next four years.
He said that increasing the Base Student Allocation, the amount of money districts receive for each student from the state, was a “non-starter.”