Bob Griffin: Rutgers study that finds Alaska schools are second-most adequately funded

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By BOB GRIFFIN

Gov. Mike Dunleavy mentioned a recent Rutgers study that found that Alaska has the second most adequately funded school system in the US during his March 15 press conference. It’s probably worthy of discussing that study in greater detail, since very few in the media seem curious enough to ask a follow-up question on the subject. 

The study, that was a combined effort from Rutgers University in New Jersey and The University of Miami, didn’t look at how much states were spending but at how adequately different state school systems were funded, based on 125 different factors including cost of living difference between states and the wealth of a state. Here’s an excerpt from the study’s executive summary: 

“Good school finance systems compensate for factors states cannot control (e.g., student poverty, labor costs) using levers that they can control (e.g., driving funding to districts that need it most). We have devised a framework that evaluates states based largely on how well they accomplish this balance. We assess each state’s funding while accounting directly for the students and communities served by its public schools.

“This is important because how much a given district or state spends on its schools, by itself, is a rather blunt measure of how well those schools are funded. For example, high-poverty districts require more resources to achieve a given outcome goal—e.g., a particular average score on a standardized test—than do more affluent districts. In other words, education costs vary depending on student populations, labor markets, and other factors. That is a fundamental principle of school finance.” 

In the study, states were ranked and were assigned a score on a scale of 1 to 100 for funding adequacy. Alaska scored 95 out of 100, slightly behind Wyoming (97 points) and ahead of New Hampshire (86 points), Maine (85 points) and New York (83points). 

The least adequately funded states were Florida with a score of 12 out of 100. Next were North Carolina (13 points) and Nevada (14 points). 

It’s interesting that despite being dead last in funding adequacy, Florida produces some of the best student outcomes in the US: In 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores Florida was #1 in the US for both reading and math scores for low-income 4th grade kids. Florida was also 3rd in 4th  grade reading and 7th in 4th grade math for kids from upper/middle income families. Alaska was 51st, 48th, 50th and 49th respectively in the same categories. 

But who cares about 4th grade scores? What really matters is the quality of the high school graduates a system produces, right?  Probably the best indicator of the quality of kids graduating a system is the percentage of students who graduate who have passed and Advanced Placement (AP) test with a score of 3 or higher. In 2022, 28.8% of Florida high school graduates passed at least one AP test with a 3 or higher – the 3rd highest rate in the nation. Alaska was 45th in the US in that statistic, with just 11.9%.   

One limitation of the Rutgers study is that only includes state and local funding of K-12. Alaska is #1 by a wide margin in the amount of federal funding we receive at $3,343 per student. That’s 85% above the US average of $1,808 and 16% above the #2 state (North Dakota).  Florida was 28th in the nation in per student funding from the federal government at $1,681, despite having a much higher poverty rate and much higher percentage of students who speak English less the “very well” than Alaska.

According to the Rutgers study, Alaskans generously commit a larger part of our overall economy to K12 education than the vast majority of states — on a state and local basis. That’s from researchers in New Jesey and Florida who have no agenda to make Alaska look good or bad in this regard. 

Some will say that the governor cherry picked that particular study. I don’t think so. I’ve searched for nationwide adequacy studies that come to a different conclusion than Rutgers — and I can’t find any. 

Anchorage School District did pay for a local adequacy funding study from a well-known firm that charges hundreds  of thousands or even millions of dollars to conduct adequacy studies. I’m wondering how much repeat business that firm would get if they didn’t come to the conclusions the clients were looking for before the study was launched.

We’re far overdue to figure out how we refocus our generous contributions to K12 into acceptable outcomes for our kids. Record increases in state K12 funding, without meaningful reform, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Insanity.

Bob Griffin is a member of the Alaska State Board of Education, and is writing on his own behalf.

23 COMMENTS

  1. The classrooms have everything needed for teachers be successful giving Alaskan students a top notch first class education that no student should be behind. Truthfully Alaska School boards hired the wrong type of people to be teachers and para educators. I wouldn’t even leave my child with anyone who the Alaska education employments hired from daycare to K-12 educators. Alaska education employers have poor discernment who should from who should foster parent to who shouldn’t even be a teacher in Sunday school and a classroom.
    If I just stuck with my first major abc passively chose elementary education at Sheldon Jackson college not knowing why I am there. I’d be running circles around other teachers making teaching look easy. The people Alaska hires as its educators from pre-k to high school aren’t dedicated and their work ethic needs improvement.

  2. I’m no two-faced politician. I’ll tell you if you aren’t good. Despite the sappy supportive stories politicians and people gush over Alaska educators, I tell you they all in the wrong field.

  3. I look forward to seeing Governor Dunleavy’s proposed education reforms included in a revised education bill. Please send SB140 to the round file and complete a revised final draft.

  4. But, but, Bob, we knew that!!! This from a recalled of five school board members here in Ketchikan back in 2001. Why? Because we had the data that reflected how bad our schools were in test scores even in the face that the State had and continues to, change the test which eliminates the ability to gain history. Bad results!, change the test. But, we knew from our own history and as a board in the awkward way a board must work within the rules, still was able to present a program of having our K-3 students reading and doing math to the requirements of entering the fourth grade ready read to learn and accomplish the math levels to proceed with confidence. What happened to stop this? The militant teachers of the NEA, use the PTA’s and public discourse to lead the effort to recall the board (five of seven).
    The goal: Gather all the district K-3 grades into one central building sufficient to hold the student population, Provide the staff with major support in training in phonic based curriculum and a math curriculum, the specific curriculum were you curious, was “Spalding -Reading on the Road to writing” and the math curriculum
    would be Saxon Math.
    Due to the recall, the project died as well even then, levels continued to go down hill and still today the district has 50-55% of students failing with the exception of the Ketchiikan Charter school, which employed the two curriculum stated.
    So, again Bob, some tried
    Cheers,
    A.M.Johnson (recalled with knowing I and others tried)

  5. I did not see a discussion about the local contribution, paid for with property taxes, in addition to state and federal funds. Is it fair to say that with the local funding Alaska spends the most, but gets the worst education outcomes in the entire country?

    Yes, its insane to not push for reforms. Where the hell is the legislature?

  6. Let’s see whether or not Los Anchorage voters actually know how to read. Ballot prop #1 is capital improvements for the ASD. Near the bottom of that list is $19m to replace Inlet View elementary school. So, we’re going to replace a school when the ASD’s own studies show that they could shutter at least three buildings as the projected student enrollment continues it’s free fall towards 37,000 students.

    Remember when it was over 50,000 kids? We have more infrastructure today than we did then. Bob: THAT is the definition of insanity!

  7. It’s more expensive for one because it costs more to entice teachers to come out to the bush, give up their families, friends, comforts of home they’ve become accustomed to.

  8. I’m not smart enough to know who or what is at fault, but I am smart enough to know kids graduating from High School can’t read or write.

    Given the enormous % of my property taxes that go to public education, I’m fine if the entire system is gutted and turned inside out. In fact, I’d prefer it.

    Having homeschooled now for 3+ years, I keep thinking back at all the pretty color charts presented to me at the parent / teacher meetings, and how I kept thinking to myself “what they’re showing me and what I witness at home, don’t add up. I was afraid to speak up because I trusted the “professionals”.

    This is ridiculous! Fix it. And stop telling me I don’t have the right to be angry! If you’re in the system now, you share some blame, top to bottom.

    • Timothy, not only not read or write, but I have been watching many young people working cash registers that cannot even count back change. They get a look of panic on their faces, so I end up walking them through figuring out how much change back. Between being too dependent on the cell phone apps and not getting the basics in school, our children have been made into a true “consumer” society.

    • I started homeschooling my daughter after her first year of middle school. I was very nervous about it as I didn’t know a lot about it, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve made. She’s pulled ahead in math and finishes classes early, and doesn’t have to deal with classes full of undisciplined disrespectful children. Next year will be her start in highschool, and she’ll be taking college credit classes. I know we wouldn’t be able to do this if she were going to public school.

  9. It’s more expensive for one because the ASD school board goes out of their way to hire an unqualified over priced Superintendent from a previously failed school district in Texas and pay him moving expenses to come to Alaska and pay him a very expensive salary to make ignorant decisions such as refusing to let Dr. Ben Carson speak to students in the Mt. View school district afraid that He may have a positive influence on some underprivileged youth.

    ASD absolutely must keep the underprivileged pinned down out of fear they might someday rise up and realize who is standing on their chances of success.

  10. As a tax payer I sure am not getting my money worth, they don’t even teach cursive writing. So how are they going to vote put an X in the signature block?

  11. It’s funny how a lifelong educator who has been in the trenches, so to speak, is deadpanned by the media. Of all the Alaska governors in my lifetime, you’d think he’d be the authority that the legislature and the media would look to. Even by parents. Yet, he’s been so cast as the bad guy by these very groups. Most are puppets and the NEA-Alaska and APEA/AFT have done such a good job of painting him in a negative light. Why? Because Duneavy would demand accountability and results. The very thing the teachers’ unions want to avoid. Just look at the APEA/AFT’s website – not a single word about results for the students. The media doesn’t want to write critically about their friends in the teachers’ unions. Imagine performance reviews for teachers? Success pay based on the success of the students? Flushing the idea of “teaching to the test” as being a bad thing? Until parents and grandparent demand more of teachers than DEI, transsexual garbage and get down to results, we’ll not see any change. Wait! We WILL see change – as students leave school unable to critically think for themselves, unable able to compute, less able to speak and write their own language. The issue isn’t finding. Never has been.

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