As the Alaska Legislature prepares for the start of a new session in Juneau, school district officials in the Capital City are urging lawmakers to provide more stable funding for K-12 education.
The Juneau Board of Education on Tuesday approved its legislative priorities for the next year. The document calls for a multi-year increase in the state’s foundation formula. The major component of that formula is the “base student allocation” – the amount of money per student that districts in Alaska receive each year from the state. The amount – currently $5,680 – has not increased since 2011.
School Board President Sally Saddler says inflation means greater operating costs for the district. So the money doesn’t go as far as it did three years ago.
“We’re so busy sticking our finger in the dike of funding and how to make things work that we’re not as completely focused on how do we change the way we do business to improve student achievement,” Saddler says.
In the past five years, she says the Juneau School District has trimmed about $11 million from its operating budget. That’s meant cuts to nearly 100 jobs and numerous programs and services for students. Saddler says the district is facing another $3.5 million shortfall this year.
In recent years, the legislature has provided one-time funding to districts for energy costs, as well as health care and retirement obligations. In addition to increasing the foundation formula, the school board is encouraging lawmakers to provide some one-time funds again.
“But I don’t think it covers everything,” says Saddler. “I think if you talk to any school district in the state, they’ll tell you their costs are increasing more rapidly than the amount of money we have to address them.”
The school board’s other legislative priorities include investing in technology in classrooms and increased funding for pre-kindergarten programs.