State education officials are in Atlanta for a national assembly. National Education Association Alaska President Ron Fuhrer says representatives from all 50 states believe they have as much if not more information about how to reform public education than lawmakers do. Fuhrer said in light of recent school shooting tragedies there is a heightened concern over school safety, but he says that doesn’t mean teachers should be armed:
“The last thing that an educator should be concerned about is trying to shoot someone. They should be there looking after the students, providing them a safe exit and not concerned about confronting someone in the school building.”
Fuhrer said educators believe that schools are generally safe and safety drills are performed regularly. Fuhrer says current immigration policy has a harmful impact on students. He says reform that creates a path to citizenship needs to happen.
“We need an immigration reform that creates a road map to citizenship for immigrants who have been a part of our communities and families for years. And we hope a bipartisan immigration bill makes it way to the floor,” he said.
Fuhrer said adequate school funding in Alaska has been challenging and troubling. He said there has not been an increase in the base student allocation in Alaska in four years and schools across the state are cutting their budgets every year.
“While at the same time, our state has one of if not the highest surpluses in resources for the last four years,” he said. “Granted, oil prices were high, but we’re nearing 20 billion in savings over the last four years where we’ve had no net increase, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around that scenario where we’re one of the richest states but we don’t increase the funding for our future which is our students.”
Fuhrer said the controversy over funding private schools must be clarified. He said there is a big difference between charter schools that operate within the public school system and private schools that are religious or for-profit entities. He said Alaska has one of the best charter school laws in the country and charter immersion programs operating within the school districts in Alaska do well and don’t increase administrative costs because they operate within the districts.
“These charter schools, there could be more of them that are more tailor made to certain constituencies , unfortunately we’re not getting the funding, but then some legislators want to quote, unquote ‘use the public funding for these private, religious or for profit charter schools,” he said.
“If this were to be done, they would be outside the public school system and they would have to create their own administration, increasing costs, not decreasing costs.”
Two pieces of legislation dealing with using public dollars for private schools were brought forward in the last legislative session.
One would have amended the state constitution to allow state money to flow to private schools. Another bill would have allowed private schools to be formed outside public school districts. Currently only public school districts can develop charter schools in Alaska.
Neither bill made it to the floor for a vote but both pieces of legislation could come up again next year.