Bob Griffin: The claims that Alaska public education needs more money does not hold up to scrutiny

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By BOB GRIFFIN

A recent major university study on adequacy in K-12 public education spending finds that Alaska not only has one of the most adequately funded K-12 systems in the US, it also has one of the most equitable ones.

In a January 2024 joint report from Rutgers and the University of Miami, Alaska was listed second in the nation for adequacy in K-12 funding in 2021, out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Not only was Alaska listed as one of the top most-funded systems, Alaska was also highlighted as having one of the most equitable distributions of education funding to low-income students. 

A recent analysis from the Alaska Policy Forum reached a very similar conclusion using a different technique. It’s widely accepted that spending on education will vary greatly based on the affluence of one place or another. It’s no surprise that the U.S. spends more per student on K-12 than Mexico, because the U.S. has a much more affluent population. Although Alaska has one of the highest per-student funding rates in the country, 12 states ranked higher than Alaska in wealth from personal income per capita. 

APF found that Alaska led the nation in 2022 in the amount of funding that was dedicated to K-12, compared personal income in the state. The analysis was based on per-student spending figures from the National Education Association and personal income figures from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

Alaska’s spending on K-12 in the 2021-22 school year was equal to 6.7% of all personal income. Luckily, oil revenues continue to pay for a very large portion of all state spending. If Alaskans had to fund K-12 at our current level, it would take a 6.7% personal income tax on all Alaskans, rich and poor, with no deductions or exemptions, just to pay for K-12 at our current spending levels.

The national average for K-12 spending relative to the income was 46% lower than Alaska, at 4.6%. Florida, one of the highest performing states in K-12 test results, was less than half the effort of Alaskans at 3.1%.

Alaska does not have a K-12 funding problem. We have a resource allocation problem.

Between 2003 and 2022, Alaska increased spending per-student 98% according to the NEA, while inflation was only 56%. Spending in K-12 in Alaska should be carefully refocused on areas we know will improve student outcomes – like continuing to improve early childhood literacy, reinforcing our best-in-the-country charter school programs, solving our worst-in-the-country chronic absentee problem and recruiting and retaining high quality educators.

Bob Griffin is on the board of Alaska Policy Forum and serves on the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development, but writes this in his own capacity.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Agree: Funding is more than adequate. Administrative overhead is astounding.
    I suggest a line in the budget directing: “Funding for administration is reduced by 50%” (or other % number) from the prior funding year.
    Unless directed by the Legislature, administrators will find it impossible to reduce their pary of the budget. Yes, admin staff have wonderful aspirations of federal compliance. But, frankly, thinking up new administrative policies and procedures offers little positive role in the classroom. And often just burden teachers with tasks.
    Free our teachers to teach. Reduce admin overhead.

  2. It’s a failed business model. It needs to be dismantled to the ground, everyone involved fired. Many investigated and possibly prosecuted.

  3. I would hazard a guess there is not a school district in the nation that “needs money” in order to educate the children.
    Exactly how much does it cost to teach writing, math, and history? I am guess a lot less than we are spending now.
    .
    If the schools concentrated on education, instead of fluff, we would have better educated children. But, instead we have… well… several vice principals, and how many guidance counselors/social workers per school? How exactly does a vice principal educate? Overload the administration, and the cost per child goes up. But… the unions…

  4. That information does not play well in the union. Since education actually is well funded, the next question is whether it’s being spent wisely and appropriately?

    Outcome survey says no.

  5. There are 54 school districts in Alaska and this extreme excess is a major part of the problem! Why do state legislators and the governor refuse to discuss and resolve it?

    There is no good reason for the southeast boardwalk community of Pelican (with a population of around 80 and very few school-aged children) to have its own school district with an expensive superintendent, HR department, and all the other expenses that come with a separate school district. Why are Haines, Skagway, and Hoonah each separate school districts? Why are there four different school districts on Prince of Wales of Island where there is a road system between the various towns with very small populations? And it should go without saying that Kuspuk school district should join together with another one in that area.

    Alaska should not have AND cannot afford 54 school separate districts. Alaska’s limited funding should go to the classrooms NOT to expensive superintendents and their bloated administrations where there are often no (or inadequate) local property taxes to fund them.

    State legislators and the governor must resolve this problem if any actual progress is to be made!

    • Similar can be said for Thorn Bay, I think.

      We get around easily in the water here. Or puddle jump.

      We (SE) should have maybe 4 actual districts. Haines, Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan. Possibly POW. Our smaller communities should be affiliated with the one above which makes the most sense. Let Pelican (example) have a person on the ground to respond to local needs. But one is enough.

      Same for Hoonah, Angoon, Elfin Cove, Petersburg, Wrangell, Gustavus, etc.

      • Exactly! Alaska does not have unlimited financial resources to fund eduction in our state. Way too much is wasted by paying for individual school districts (that are expensive) when these small communities have too few residents and too few students. These tiny school districts should combine with others.

        News flash: We can no longer afford to do things the way we have always done them!

  6. Where does the Alaska Council of School Administrators get their money? Are they using state money to lobby the legislature for more state money; or does it come from the 1630 fund and the spooky guy? Who pays Paraday’s huge salary? Who pays for the big meeting in Juneau? This is part of the huge empire that Cuomo built and Paraday is pushing. ASD has an agenda. ACSA has an agenda. UAA and ISER have an agenda. And it is not your kids. ASD paid PICUS for their conclusion.

  7. The State of Alaska Exit Exam that seniors needed to pass in order to have a diploma set a proficiency standard that meant a diploma was more than a scrap of paper. It raised the bar for classroom.behavior and their was a consequence for a lackadaisical attitude. For politicians it was a easy decision to scrap the Exit Exam. Less funding for schools is needed when a diploma means nothing. Standards take courage. Our current crop of politicians are just toothless tigers. Afraid to tackle our real problems.

  8. I’m not seeing the validity of the premise in the article that ‘value by some measure in Alaska schools’ is directly related to funding, as a claim for special charter school value.

    Most reports about school rankings refer to a specific magazine rating (i.e. 2023-2024 US News & World Report). None of the Anchorage charter high schools manage to rank in the top 30 in Alaska, or above 73% graduation rate, yet, even Steller Alternative PUBLIC high school ranks at 100% graduation rate, 6th in Alaska, and first for magnet schools in Alaska with 165 students. It also ranks 3,392 in the schools in the nation.

    Family Partnership Charter school in Anchorage is the highest listed charter school in Alaska, and is listed at 33rd in Alaska, with 73% graduation rate, 353 students and ranked 9,704 in the nation. In the five other ranked Alaskan charter schools with above 40% graduation rate, just counting 4 schools –as one has no students, student body ranges between 44-179 students with an average of 118 students, and highest ranking 45-64th in Alaska schools and 13,261-17,680 in the nation.

    Looking at the rankings of public high schools, my alma mater in Chugiak –still after 45 years, is within the top 10 ranked high schools in Alaska (7th) with graduation rate at 89% for 864 students and ranked 3,694 nationally. The newest school in the area where Chugiak students transferred is Eagle River High School ranked #2 in Alaska with 89% graduation rate for 803 students, and is ranked 1,512 in the nation.

    But, guess what? According to 2023-2024 US News & World Report, the top ranked high school in Alaska, the public high school Mat-Su Career & Tech has a 99% graduation rate with 764 students, 25% minorities, and is ranked # 366 in the nation’s high schools.

    My point … charter schools are apples and oranges to public schools, for more than one reason, but the main reason is that charter schools represent a SMALL group of ‘select’ group of kids. If the goal of charter schools was an elite cadre of highly intellectually advanced students, that would be one thing, but the stats don’t seem to show this.

    My contentions is that people living in a society should be afforded the advantage of being part of the public as statistics show by the school body, but here’s another thing, most of these charter schools seem to show a ratio of much much more than 20:1 ratio of pupil to student classroom size.(I don’t know whether to believe the 82:1 listed for Frontier Charter School, or 76:1 in the Family Partnership –it may be related to parent or other volunteer contributions versus accredited teachers.)

    Education of this ‘select’ group doesn’t appear to have all that much advantage over the general public school education, and for that matter, it seems that the only point of comparison is a seemingly specific parent-selected curriculum in charter schools compared to the public schools as a sort of ‘special’ juxtaposition between public and private schools, which is a different grist point altogether.

    If I’m missing something in this comparison of funding vs other measures in Alaskan public and charter schools, let me know, but I’m thinking that the public schools by commonly accepted measures throughout the nation show a distinct advantage by what is evidenced by the charter schools. By no means am I disparaging a charter school education, if it was the only thing available, but barring the motivation of learning for learning sake in our society, need for achieving a certain level of ‘education’ is much more of a requirement in the USA than what was afforded Abraham Lincoln.

    • Mrs N, The data provide by US News & World Report is very questionable. For example it states that there are 353 students in the Family Partnership Charter School. But there were at least 1,700 in the FPCS last school year. I’m not sure the source of their data or the year you referred to.

      • I agree that this data set from US News & World Report is limited, and as you point out in your experience there is inaccurate reporting. This was the 2023-2024 report for high schools in the country available widely on the internet. A lot of people look at this annual report and use it to feel good (or bad) about the education their children receive, and perhaps even, present a conglomerate of data points (that may even be reported inaccurately).

        However, the point is that what can be seen is disproportionate emphasis of Federal and State support for charter schools to match that of the public schools which meet societal criteria and standards of a public school education for all, when the outcome of this disproportionate support may not be defensibly warranted.

        Granted, charter schools are a relatively newer version of an old, old once-popular idea and not widespread nor widely acceptable to demonstrate its equivalence with a publicly funded ‘special’ curriculum. Time will tell as the advantages of ‘charter schools’, but they are not subjected to the same rules and mandate for providing education for our society, but for a select group of students, not based on merit, nor other standards of private schools, but shaped by individual ‘charters’ devised by any manner of different people. I think that the English school system is inherently unfair in their society in general on its face. And there are obvious similarities that promote systemic social segregation.

        • Mrs N, So would you close charter schools that perform very well in Alaska just so that they would be “subject to the same rules and mandate for providing education for our society”?

          Re the US News & World Report data being “limited” as you say. It is downright wrong, just total misinformation. That leads to one questioning the remainder of the article.

          In Anchorage, all charter schools are open to anyone based on a lottery. There is one problem which the school board can solve–transportation is NOT provided to the charter school students even though the district gets about $500 to transport these charter students. I say fix it, school board.

          If you want to see how well charter schools do in Anchorage, go here: ‘https://amgreatness.com/2024/02/05/is-biden-malicious-incompetent-or-conniving/?mc_cid=5fdfb87ae3&mc_eid=e9fd1827ee.

          Example: Aquarian Charter School results school-wide: Reading=63% proficient; Math=57% proficient. That compares to Anchorage School District: Reading=34% proficient; Math=27% proficient.

          That says a lot about the success of charter schools.

  9. Is any Alaskan ready to pay a 6.7% income tax JUST to support a mediocre K12 system? That is when people will wake up and demand results for their investments. Thanks Mr. Griffin for the info on the rate of inflation from 2003-22 being only 56% while our per student funding increased 98% during the same time. So much for the cherry picking of data by the education industry and its “Raise the BSA”. And so much for the “flat funding” argument by the education industry. We want to “Raise Student Achievement”.

  10. Please tell me how you are going to raise student achievement without a exit exam ? All a diploma shows is attendance not proficiency. Time to have a measure of performance.

  11. Hold the reins. District funding sources are drastically different across the state. ASD is out of control, period. They have the highest salaries on the road system because they have funding sources beyond BSA. They misallocated Covid ESSER funds and now they’re in a quandry. Alternatively, many rural districts are solely relying on BSA and grant funding. Mine is one of the lowest paying districts and we’re underwater budget-wise. Mandated transportation and utility costs are crushing us. Add in the 30% rise in insurance costs these last 3 years, we are now seriously cutting corners with our student education just to keep our kids moving forward. We have some amazing teachers and Administrators that are stretched thin and cover multiple school sites and job duties. This is a hugely complex issue. ASD doesn’t reflect the rest of Alaska. Charter schools are select kids with highly supportive parents. Southeast has WAY too many school districts. We have lots of different issues across our vast state. This article is a fluff piece and doesn’t even scratch the surface of Alaska’s public education funding issues.

  12. My point is that charter schools are 1. necessarily ‘selective’ therefore discriminatory in opportunity for every person, 2. If tax-payers are complaining about funding public schools, what justification is there to 2. fund these ‘selective’ schools OVER those that provide for everyone when, 3. at this time there is no indication that the educational value is any better, and they are allowed special privilege to avoid meeting federal mandates to provide education for all? Talking about fairness. Let’s say that there superior outcomes with charter schools, is it fair for the kids that don’t win the lottery if these kids are funded better than public schools, or their class size is more ideal, or the kids have a full-time nursing staff or remedial providers or special tutoring arrangements etc?

  13. 1. Charter schools are open to everyone. And part of proposed education reforms would provide extra transportation support so more families could participate
    2. Charter school ARE public schools. Just very poorly funded when compared to neighborhood public schools. One of the highest performing schools in the state is Eagle Academy in Eagle River that operates out of an old roller rink that it shares space with other small businesses.
    3. Our very successful charter programs are certainly oversubscribed. That’s why many of us would love to see these programs expanded to meet the demand of parents. Another way to balance that demand would be for neighborhood schools to improve the quality of services they provide and better align with family values so parents wouldn’t be desperately seeking an alternative.

    The easiest thing for a parent do is to drop their kids off at a bus stop and pick them up 6 1/2 hours later. Parents in their thousands have decided that they will take the more difficult path because their neighborhood school has disappointed them.

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