Downing: Education reform is worth fighting for

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By SUZANNE DOWNING

I speak from experience, the experience of an Alaska public school graduate: The public schools in Alaska are not what they used to be.

Once, we were at the top of the heap. Our students scored among the best in the nation. OK, OK, that was the 1970s.

But since then, Alaska has slipped, and now ranks 49th in fourth-grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

If Alaska’s educational system was the private sector, the product line would be discontinued and the company would have filed for bankruptcy protection by now. Our state, once the envy of states across the nation, has failed our students miserably.

The CEO of the state is a former school teacher and superintendent. Gov. Mike Dunleavy knows Alaska students deserve better. That’s why he launched a major reading initiative that received bipartisan support in 2022, to focus on the basics, so students can at least read at grade level by the time they enter fourth grade.

He’s not up for reelection again, so what better time to deliver even more meaningful education reforms than now, when the National Education Association can’t easily foil him?

Or can they? It appears they can, if they go after those who are up for election, as the entire Alaska State House of Representatives is this year. The NEA has a chokehold on this state, which is perhaps one reason our students are failing.

In Alaska, school funding has been essentially flat for years, in spite of what the education industry says. Although the funding formula — the base student allocation — has not changed much in the past decade, each year the governor and Legislature make up for the flat BSA with one-time budget appropriations to keep school programs in the black, while the state looks for a way to pay for everything Alaskans have come to expect of their government during an era of Medicaid expansion and flat returns from oil revenues.

Meanwhile, our state’s public schools have lost over 3,000 students in eight years to private schools, home schools, outmigration, and low birth rates. School boards, never inclined to trim budgets, have refused to consolidate campuses, close schools, or get back to basics. They are caught up in the “old think,” from days when our state had more oil dollars than sense.

For example, the Anchorage School District spends $80 million a year on administration. The overall budget is $547.5 million. Anchorage has 2,424 teachers and over 2,900 “other” staff, including counselors, psychologists, and over 1,200 administrators — one administration employee for every two teachers. The administrators are paid handsomely.

Southeast Alaska has 17 school districts, some with student enrollment of barely 100. But the districts are protective and won’t allow any consolidation, even though it’s long past due.

Senate Bill 140, which started out as an unneeded rural internet bill, ended up as a union-powered vehicle to spend more on education without asking schools to make even a one-degree course correction.

Dunleavy’s proposed budget for FY 2025.

Throw money and you’ll get different results? Alaska already has a healthy state education budget; nearly $19,000 is spent per student per year. In addition to the base student allocation, Dunleavy proposed this year:

  • $8.3 million for school construction and major maintenance.
  • $5 million for the Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute.
  • $1.5 million for Teacher Recruitment, Retention, Certification and Apprenticeship Development.
  • $1.5 million for continued Career and Technical Education Initiative.

And yet the education industry wants another quarter billion dollars baked into the annual formula, without offering even a crumb to education reform. Next year, they’ll be back for another quarter billion.

https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/per-pupil-spending-by-state

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he wanted a couple of things changed if Alaskans were going to be asked to throw their Permanent Fund dividends at education.

He wanted an alternative way for charter schools to be authorized, so that local districts, controlled by unions, couldn’t stop parents from organizing a high-performing school. He also wanted teacher retention bonus pay — money that would go straight to teachers who stick around, and not to administration or unions. In fact, unions would not get access to that bonus to skim money for dues.

It’s not as if the governor was asking for vouchers, which is a subject that always sends liberals into fits of rage. But the education industry threw a hissy over the boost to charter schools and the idea of bonus pay.

Some Republican legislators cowered from these simple requests that the governor had made, even though charter schools are the one bright shining star in Alaska’s educational gloom. They didn’t fight for the governor. Instead, they fought him, thinking that the Democrats would not run someone against them this year.

We now are at a possible showdown with a Republican governor and several Republican members of the Legislature who are at odds. Some legislators simply want to cheat Alaskans’ out of their Permanent Fund dividends in order to buy a perceived peace with the suboptimal performance of the National Education Association Alaska.

Some legislators, who ran and won on conservative principles, are fearful they might be unelected if they stick to conservative values and the conservative team.

The legislators in question know who they are. They’ve all been contacted by the governor to see if they will override his veto when they reconvene next week. He even gave the Legislature a respectable two-week period to come up with alternative legislation so he could get a few education reforms in return for his signature. They could not work together well enough to move the needle in two weeks.

It’s not exactly a Republican divorce, but there is a sense of betrayal and the sides are a little miffed at each other. Although not certain, it still can be healed.

For his part, Dunleavy is popular with the people. He won reelection without even having to go through a second round of vote counting in the ranked-choice process. He is, by Morning Consult pollsters, among the most popular governors in America, having survived a Democrat-fueled recall attempt in his first term. They rank him sixth from the top of all 50 governors. And he is, as the executive of the state, the highest-elected Republican and that makes him the honorary head of the Alaska Republican Party, in the same way that Joe Biden, highest elected leader on the Left, is the head of the Democratic Party.

That’s not what the “AKLibraryChick” caucus says on X/Twitter. She says he’s the most hated person in Alaska since statehood. This is the type of discourse found in NEA-Alaska, the same type of people who have delivered such abysmal results in our classrooms:

Social media leftists align with the NEA.

Good thing Dunleavy has tough skin because this is the kind of thing that libs lob at conservatives every day.

I’d like to think that Republicans who Dunleavy helped elect, who asked him to appear as the guest at their fundraisers, and who asked him for endorsements, would work with him and not join with the Democrats and AKLibraryChicksters in trying to prevent him from succeeding in actual education reforms — something that means everything to him as a former teacher, administrator, and school board member.

As for the Republican legislators who are thinking about overriding his veto, there are some new faces in Juneau and many of the legislators in the House are unseasoned in the negotiations that lead to outcomes. They are scared that the NEA nasties will put a target on them and pluck them from office that they just won in 2022. For now, being reelected may be more important to a few legislators than sticking together as an actual conservative team to create real reform in the one chance they may have in their entire lives to fix something as big as the education mafia.

Last week, we caught wind of a new independent expenditure group that is making it clear they will support pro-education candidates — and by that we don’t think they mean it’s just about pro-spending. We think it means they’ll support those who stick with a reform-minded governor and try to actually improve results, not just underwrite the embarrassing, suboptimal status quo.

Suzanne Downing is editor of Must Read Alaska and a graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing. Sooo, the more blue our state gets, the more our students can’t measure up to a basic standard.
    Maybe too much attention being paid to teach them how they might be transgender? I don’t know. Maybe too many drag queen story hours? Maybe it is the fact that 80%+ of the teachers are leftists in order to support the almighty NEA?

    Hmmmm.

  2. Ceasar’s (government’s) ability to tax, spend and expand its footprint and burden is one of the chief ways it has to fight against liberty. Waste (unaccountable spending toward poor performing programs) has to get about as close as to theft and violating the heart and principles found in the Old and New Testaments of not stealing, not coveting and not depriving the worker of the wages they are due.

    • Absolutely! This one bill is trying to pull the residents into a thinking there is more than enough and then some. The matching bill is coming up with the Revenue stream to be channeled from the Permanent Dividend to the Department of Revenue for use, instead of Permanent Dividend Corp. doing the all around work to paying out the PFD. It will make it easier and less noticeable for the public to see what is happening with the PFD monies by making it law. Dunleavy is a crook and the sooner the residents of the state recognize that and do something about it, the better. What isn’t talked about to the public is the remaining covid money in each district to be used for education and has been sitting in accounts for each district to use. The legislature has a lot to get done but this bill needs to be stopped and the legislature needs to override the veto. The reform that is advertised is not needed and this bill pork barrels all pots with an overload of money into it and gives Dunleavy the excuse to push for the PFD monies to be mainstreamed to the Department of Revenue. I’m sure that Dunleavy’s Democratic background politics gives him a thinking of creating this ponzi scheme for education to the public but his game is much different than this particular bill. The legislature sees that and is doing its job.

  3. Suzanne, I couldn’t agree with you more. I retired from the busing end of the schooling system and did so earlier than I had originally planned. I started as a driver, moving into the safety end of it. What has been happening to the industry has sickened me. So after 23 years I was done. None of my grandchildren are in public schools! Thank you for addressing this subject. I can’t stress this enough…Parents need to get involved! Show up and DEMAND
    to see what is happening behind the curtain.

  4. The AK Library Chick tweet makes me want to vomit. This is the type of person that needs to be gone from our state or have no power if here. She is a cancer to our society. Everything she stands for makes everything worse for all and does not lead to human flourishing- esp. for children. These people need to be called out wherever they rear their ugly ideology. They are toxic.

    • Absolutely! This one bill is trying to pull the residents into a thinking there is more than enough and then some. The matching bill is coming up with the Revenue stream to be channeled from the Permanent Dividend to the Department of Revenue for use, instead of Permanent Dividend Corp. doing the all around work to paying out the PFD. It will make it easier and less noticeable for the public to see what is happening with the PFD monies by making it law. Dunleavy is a crook and the sooner the residents of the state recognize that and do something about it, the better. What isn’t talked about to the public is the remaining covid money in each district to be used for education and has been sitting in accounts for each district to use. The legislature has a lot to get done but this bill needs to be stopped and the legislature needs to override the veto. The reform that is advertised is not needed and this bill pork barrels all pots with an overload of money into it and gives Dunleavy the excuse to push for the PFD monies to be mainstreamed to the Department of Revenue. I’m sure that Dunleavy’s Democratic background politics gives him a thinking of creating this ponzi scheme for education to the public but his game is much different than this particular bill. The legislature sees that and is doing its job.

  5. As an ASD graduate, I couldn’t agree with you more, Suzanne.

    This, and the far left agenda of AK school administrators and teachers, is exactly why I kept my kids out of Alaska schools when we moved back to Southeast AK with my husband’s career, and why we moved out back out of AK less than two years later.

    Alaska will always have my heart. Sadly, due the far left take over, it’s no longer a place I can raise my children.

  6. The NEA qualifies for disability benefits when they continually equate robbing Peter to pay Paul as a solution for piss poor management.

    No logical person justifies taking the PFD from the poorest families in the State and giving that very money that keeps low and middle income homes warm, lit and fed, to a select group of government employees, a logical fix for what’s basically unrestricted spending.

    I often wonder how they can find so many people, with so little common sense to come before the legislative committees to testify. Did it ever dawn on them that all of rural Alaska households pay more for fuel than the schools? Our housing costs are not subsidized by the State.

    Yup, AEA is mentally deficient. Nobody but them want a$680 BSA increase which is a direct $175 Million subtraction from the PFD, which in Rural Alaska is over 66% living below or at the poverty level.

  7. We need to flood all the Repubs in Juneau with calls & emails before Monday! I’ve already sent emails to all of them. C’mon people! Comments here won’t cut it!
    Let’s roll!

  8. Maybe they should start telling the children the truth in these schools. Do they even know there are two so-called states (actually trusts), the State of Alaska and the STATE OF ALASKA? Do they know anything about corporations? Do they know there are three Constitutions? Are they told the truth about Lincoln? Of course not.

  9. I’m Screwed, Our Rep is Ortiz, a retired NEA booster. And I rather suspect Stedman is tied with close associations of Sitka educators, so I will be extremely surprised if he were to support the Governor.
    Will have to wait and see.
    Johnson-Ketchikan

  10. Agood friend of mine who has since passed was the Superintendent of our community. He demanded and expected performance and results. He was eventually run out of town as most demanding and expecting Superintendents are. I was out trolling for spring kings one day and got a call from his next school board. I told them exactly what he wanted and expected from his teachers and they fully embraced his philosophy and hired him until his retirement. Unfortunately our community and the whole of Alaska has succumbed to the whims of the NEA and has been willing to accept mediocrity or less.

  11. Personally, I will not support this current school system. It was created to make good line workers for the globalists and they are fighting hard to continue educating their line workers. Close the government-funded schools.

  12. I’m skeptical this battle is winnable.
    It takes determination, commitment, and effort.

    But I know how it can be done.

    Elect better people. Turn out to vote in greater numbers than the left and vote everyone out of office. Stop looking at the letter behind the name, look hard at the positions and who supports them.

    Do this in the school boards. Do this in municipal elections. Do this with the legislature. Put them all out, regularly, until they do what you want.

    Republicans and Conservatives are notorious for not voting in off year elections and ignoring the down ballot races.

    This is the only way. Up for the fight, Alaska?

  13. Honestly it’s getting really hard to continue to care about this topic.

    As a state and a nation we sat and watched as a once great system fell further and further behind. We didn’t care if kids weren’t getting educated. Couldn’t be bothered to get involved.

    More we continue to elect the same morons who got us into this mess.

    Our society is run by people who can’t tell the difference between genders, who baldly lied to us about Covid, who are obsessed with sexualizing elementary school children, and bought the climate hoax hook, line, sinker.

    Occasionally we the people make a fuss, but then lapse back into the habits that got us here.

    Much as I hope this time will be different, I see no reason to believe otherwise.

  14. As a former educator in the state of alaska and also as a spouse of a school administrator I think I’m qualified to tell y’all just exactly how to fix this problem. During our 15 years in the Bush we. enjoyed nothing less than success, with raised test scores,
    high school graduates going on to college.
    It takes hard work, long hours Thick skin and heavy parental Involvement, that’s it in a nutshell.
    I could go on and on. I know how many out there. Thank teachers are overpaid. But I can tell you that there were times when our 6 figure salary wasn’t it enough.

  15. ASD Charter schools are determined by the elected School Board, not Unions. In the 1970’s our teachers were at the top of the pay scale, now they are in the middle. You have to really dumb down to believe the Dunleavy and MRAK tripe

  16. If the NEAA president truly sends his kids to private school, that speaks volumes. If they don’t want to embrace the success of Alaskan charter schools, that speaks volumes. And last but certainly not least, our public schools’ test scores speak volumes. Any one, especially our legislators, educators and school boards who are not willing to make serious changes with accountability standards should resign. Period

    • What’s your point Dave? I used to build section 8 housing. But I wouldn’t want to live there. My Grandpa had an outhouse that he used for decades. But I sure was glad when he put indoor toilets.

  17. The caveats that hamstrings education reform can be found in Article VI, Section 1 and Article IX Section 6 of the Alaska Constitution.

    Article VI, Section 1. Public Education
    The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public
    schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public
    educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free
    from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct
    benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.

    Article IX, Section 6. Public Purpose
    No tax shall be levied, or appropriation of public money made, or public
    property transferred, nor shall the public credit be used, except for a public
    purpose.

    The prohibitions contained in these sections were targeted discrimination which at the time were the Mini-Blaine amendments that the Union imposed on new state constitution development. The delegates who insisted on this language were John B Coghill and Irwin L Metcalf.

    Note the last two words of Article IX, Section 6, “public purpose”. I submit the most important, vital and inescapable meaning of “public purpose” is our children. Without them we no longer have a public purpose.

    Alaska’s youth appear to be leaving the state at unprecedented numbers or simply failing within our state. We can argue the causes, but in my opinion, it started with communist control of the state’s educational system with the introduction and ratification of the Mini-Blaine amendment in our state constitution.

    Until Alaska’s legislature takes command of this reality and resolves this discrimination, we will continue to suffer from rectalcranialinversion.

    In 2013, then Senator Dunleavy introduced Senate Joint Resolution 9. If it had passed both bodies of the legislature, it would have placed before the voters a constitutional amendment which would have potentially removed this discrimination from our state constitution.

    The ballot proposal gave voters a chance in the general election of 2014 to amend the Alaska Constitution to allow the use of public money for the benefit of all Alaskans seeking education/training aid, regardless of whether individuals enrolled in public or private education institutions.

    What happened? It died in the State Senate at the hands of Senate Republicans. Does anyone remember this?

    Improving and repairing education like the PFD and the Right to Life continue to be the definition of insanity. Has anyone noticed for almost a decade the main focus of our legislative time have been these three issues. One small sector of our legislature is bought and paid for by a special interest. Our laws are designed to benefit special interest. The political haranguing and abuse are perpetrated by special interest. When will Alaskans wake up to the preposterous reality that they are an ignored constituency destined to be abusively taxed once the dust settles and our progeny trapped in a maelstrom of indoctrination designed to either keep them fat, dumb and unhappy or just pull roots and leave the state?

    • When will Alaskans wake up?
      Based on evidence at hand, never.

      Those who can private or home school. Others leave. The rest are either indifferent or on the side of government miseducation.

      I read the post and noticed something. At least a concept not stated in non legalese. The state is obligated to fund public education. But not necessarily the districts said students live in. In short, there is nothing Constitutionally prohibiting the money to go to the student, not the local school.

      Kinda vouchers, but not exactly.

      If the AK GOP had a spine (they don’t) this could be a winning issue for them. But the best democrats in Alaska have Rs behind their names.

  18. I sent a public opinion message to all 60 legislators asking them, in the 50 words allowed, to stick with this education governor. You should too! This is the critical moment that will determine if the NEA and its woke, transgender and transvestite agenda rules Alaska! This is the NEA and their municipal lobbyists claiming the rest of the PFD to then go after a state income tax. If the NEA wins tomorrow then they will next year control the Alaska House the way they control the Senate now. The governor will be a lame duck, possibly moving to the Trump White House.

    It’s the students and the parents, especially parents who want their children to be able to stand up and grab the brass ring, that will suffer if this veto is voted down. No one will have any incentive to negotiate with Dunleavy on education, and so they won’t.

    Please contact your legislators, and please send a POM to all legislators. This is the one improvement in the lives of Alaskans Dunleavy can have to show for 8 years. Blame whomever you want but I think we know now that the 8 years will not have brought the opening of one new mine, additional oil production of even 100,000 barrels a day, not a single dairy farm milking 1,000 head (as dairies in WI, CA, and FL now do), or a single factory – let alone a new industry.

    If Dunleavy, who really does have a strong background in AK education, can’t improve education then the entire 8 years will have been lost and wasted. Wasted. If those 8 years amount to so very little then the next governor will not be a Republican, and we will see a DEI cabinet with transgender and cross-dressing commissioners. The unions will see to that. This vote on Monday afternoon – tomorrow! – will have a large wake.

  19. It has been brought to my attention the the President of NEA Alaska is Tom Klaameyer and his children went to Eagle River High School. It’s hard to use this article as support for this much needed changed in Alaska’s education if this is so easily debunked. Suzanne, please correct this or support this.

    • Help me out here. I read this twice and see nothing which indicates the school the kids of NEA Alaska’s President attended has a damn bit of relevance to the article.

      How exactly is said fact (taking your word for it) grounds for debunking anything?

      • Yeah, he kind of makes people think that when a teacher is in the class room in front of a bunch of students, lesson plans and the day is planned around being disgruntled or purposely trying to Monkey wrench the child’s education.

  20. Courage among Republican legislators in Juneau is at a historic low. Its absence was essentially a prerequisite for membership in a bipartisan majority caucus with Democrats.

    If ever there was a time for the Republican grassroots to assert an interest in the goings-on in Juneau, surely it is now.

    There are six more Republicans in the legislature than all other legislators combined, but you’d never know it.

    When was the last time a conservative policy came out of the Alaska Legislature?

  21. Well. When a people are too stubborn to do what is right then letting a state, town, a people go their destructive way is what will turn-around them to God and His way, after all the deceivers or parasites leave for a healthier host to devour leaving communities for those leaders and people who truly care.
    At a Recent Bronson campaign rally someone said “we should all be scared of Lafrance and the democrats returning to City Hall’s mayor office. I think that’s wrong thinking to fear someone who obviously doesn’t fear God her maker. If God sees a bigger picture if Alaska and Anchorage must hit rock bottom before answering his Christians prayers Alaskans will draw closer to God after heartache and struggles, then so be it. The only people we would see leaving will be the community business leaders and people who were the skeptics, the atheists, the hopeless, the discouragers who were the Christians thorn in their side trying bring a community or a state to God but a mocker was standing on the side mocking them to a people who wanted to know more God and Christ. Hitting rock bottom for Alaska wouldn’t be the end.
    Look to San Francisco, Chicago, they are changing moving away from its progressive political ideology. Right now Chicago is seeing explosion of Chicagoans coming to God through the Cross.

  22. Either flood the email and phone lines Monday with calls to support the governor’s veto or lose the battle. It is that simple. If you don’t, blame yourselves, not the governor. Democracy is very much a participatory sport.

  23. When I had kids a generation ago I consulted a friend a generation older than me about ASD. He said you can still get a good education for your kids in the ASD, but you will have to work for it. I learned the hard way what he meant.
    I would never send my kids to ASD today. I will never support a politician who does not behave contrary to the union. Democrats never make things better. That’s not their objective. They seek to harvest those they purport to help.

  24. Suzanne is right. We left Fairbanks in 1984 and our kids were way ahead of their peers in the lower 48. Sorry to see the latest rankings of Alaska schools. Pretty sad for such a wealthy state.

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