By CRAIG E. CAMPBELL
When I moved to Alaska in 1981, we had one of the finest school systems in the nation, ranked second to only Connecticut.
Today Connecticut remains near the top while Alaska has plummeted to 47th. We’re nearly the worst.
Back then, Connecticut and Alaska both ranked in the top five percent for salaries paid to public school teachers.
Today, Alaska remains in the top five percent while Connecticut has dropped to a middle position. I guess the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” doesn’t apply when it comes to education.
Alaska has generously compensated teachers over the past 30 years as the quality of education provided to our students has cratered.
I get it, there are many reasons for this. Both parents working; legislatures passing requirements that have nothing to do with education but consume time teachers could be using to actually teach kids; taking away the ability to discipline unruly children; expecting schools to feed kids; including curriculums that start sex education at the kindergarten level (OK, I probably just lost a bunch of readers, but do kindergarteners really need to know about sexual reproduction, when they’re barely potty trained?)
Alaska has one of the highest per-student expenditures in the nation. Anchorage topped $16,000 per student per year in 2019, while the US average was around $12,000. Costs continue to escalate while results decline.
Our education system is in crisis.
One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result. It’s time to structurally change our public education system, and it starts with the money. Not more, but how it is allocated.
Public education is formula funded. This formula allocates funding based on the “average daily membership” of a school district determined once per year during a 20 school-day period in October. If one district loses students after October, the school district doesn’t lose any money. And if another district gains students, they don’t get any additional funding. That creates disproportionate funding, and that needs to change.
The daily membership should be calculated every 90 days and school district funding adjusted to meet the actual student enrollment. This idea was shared with me by a newly elected state representative, for which I highly encouraged legislation be submitted to make this law.
We all know the COVID pandemic has raised havoc with public education. When are schools open, when are they closed, what is “virtual class,” and how does the system ensure a quality education is being delivered. It’s a hot mess.
This chaos has resulted in families opting for private or home schooling. The number of students enrolled in the Anchorage School District has decreased by nine percent, while the number of students in homeschool programs has nearly doubled.
Compare this to the decrease from 2018-2020, which was less than 3 percent. It is clear the COVID pandemic is changing parent’s views about their children getting a quality education only through the public school system.
So where is the Anchorage School Board leadership? Right there with the leadership of the Anchorage Assembly, totally out of touch, with their collective heads-in-the-sand. To fix this will take a bold change in leadership, by visionaries who understand education is a collection of public, private, religious, and home-school solutions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled it is legal for public funds to be used to provide students with non-public school alternatives. It’s time for Alaska law and the Anchorage School District to facilitate this broad-based education solution. It will instill a competitive spirit into our education process and improve outcomes for everyone.
But our incumbent school board members, excluding Dave Donley, are in lock-step with the progressive movement of quashing all educational programs other than public schools. To them, a unified, single public education system that indoctrinates our children into the virtues of socialism and the evils of American exceptionalism is the only acceptable system.
Without much public fanfare, but fully intended to develop potential school board candidates who will continue the progressive status quo destruction of our educational system, former school board member Tam Agosti-Gisler started a “boot camp” to provide a crash course on how to campaign for the school board and how to be a board member.
I really doubt the course spends much time advancing the positive aspects of private, religious, and home-school programs. It’s an overt attempt to recruit and train progressives to win school board seats and protect liberalism in public education.
While everyone is focused on the mayor’s race and the oppressive lock down of Anchorage, our uber-liberal school board members have been steadily implementing a more and more progressive doctrine on our school district. They are indoctrinating our next generation in radical liberalism.
To retain control, they already conducted a “Boot Camp” in preparation for the April 2021 elections. Current school board members Alisha Hilde, Deena Mitchell, and Elisa Vakalis are seeking re-election in April 2021. Starr Marsett’s seat will also be open, as she is not running for re-election.
That’s four seats out of seven that can be filled with people who embrace a conservative, liberty-based education curriculum that teaches the basics necessary to return Anchorage back to the top five percent of quality school districts nationwide. They would join Dave Donley in leading ASD to once again being a respected institution that graduates educated young adults ready to contribute to society, whether furthering their education in college or entering the workforce.
We don’t need bigger budgets in the Anchorage School District, we need leadership. In April 2021 we have the opportunity to make the changes necessary for success. Are you willing to take on the fight, run for school board, and make a difference? If not now, when? It’s up to you!
Craig E. Campbell served on the Anchorage Assembly between 1986 and 1995 and later as Alaska’s Tenth Lieutenant Governor. He was the previous Chief Executive Officer and President for Alaska Aerospace Corporation. He retired from the Alaska National Guard as Lieutenant General (AKNG) and holds the concurrent retired Federal rank of Major General (USAF).