On Wednesday, Feb. 8, Alaskans will have a chance to weigh in on a controversial proposal to pump an additional $250 million into Alaska’s failing public education system.
The hearing on Senate Bill 52 will take place in the Alaska Senate Education Committee at 3:30 p.m. If passed by both the Senate and House and signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the legislation would add $1,000 to the annual Base Student Allocation (BSA) – growing it to $6,960 per student.
The BSA is the amount of money the state sets aside annually for each student. Increasing it by a record $1,000 means the state must remove funds from other areas, such as the annual PFD checks that go to Alaska residents.
During a recent press conference, Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) noted that a massive expansion of the BSA comes with a price.
In particular, he said the PFD might need to be whittled down to a mere $1,300 this year. That represents a $2,500 reduction from the statutory PFD payment. A family of four would see $10,000 less if the checks were reduced by this amount.
“Somethings go to give,” Stedman said. “So, we’re going to have to have those conversations.”
Teacher unions and education lobbyists are expected to turn out in force for the public testimony on SB 52, for they stand to gain the most from the massive spending increase.
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But the idea of fixing public education by pumping $250 million into a failing system is not without critics.
According to the Alaska Policy Forum, Alaska’s total per pupil revenue has grown by 32% per pupil over the past two decades – from $15,000 in 2002 to $20,000 in 2020. That includes all federal, state and local funding sources, not just the BSA.
Overall, Alaska exceeds the national average in per pupil spending by 23%, APF notes.
“Increasing spending is often seen as the cure-all for a lackluster education system, no matter which state is examined,” the APF report explained. “But higher spending does not necessarily correlate with better outcomes. Alaska had the sixth highest per-pupil expenditures in 2018-2019, yet National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores in 2019 were the fifth lowest nationwide in fourth-grade mathematics, and dead last in fourth-grade reading.”
APF, along with many other educational reform groups, note that competition is the best way to improve schools. This includes school vouchers, which allow families to choose the best educational options for their children, whether that be public, private or homeschooling.
— To testify on SB 52, contact your local LIO for more information, or call 907-465-4648.
— For tips on how to provide public testimony, click here.