By DAVID BOYLE
Alaskans know that our public schools are failing our students in the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Alaska is dead last in 4th grade reading, the metric used to determine future student success.
Nor do students do well on the Alaska PEAKS exam, a standardized student assessment. Just 39.5% of students at all grade levels score proficient and above in reading/writing. Fourth grade students across the state score even lower at only a 37% proficiency level in reading/writing. Of course, some districts do better than others, and it’s not because of money.
Many in the education industry, however, claim money is the answer to improving student achievement. History shows that to be false.
Expect to hear, “The Base Student Allocation has been flat-funded for years.” Those who demand more funding for K-12 want you to believe that a district only gets $5,930 per student.
The truth is the Base Student Allocation is but one piece of the funding school districts receive.
Once that BSA goes through the Foundation Formula multiplier, it can result in as much as $50,000 per student in some districts, such as the Pelican School District in Southeast Alaska, which had just 10 students in 2021.
The Anchorage School District would receive $7,792 per student from the State, not the $5,930. Anchorage taxpayers kicked in an additional $300,555,746 for fiscal year 2021, an increase of $45 million over the past 10 years. Taxpayers will be asked to fund a more than $111 million bond in April, borrowing money that must be paid back by taxpayers for school improvements, remodels and school replacements. All for a shrinking student population.
Here are audited per-student costs from four of the five largest Alaska school districts (does not include PERS/TRS retirement costs and capital costs):
District – Per Student
Note: Juneau School District did not provide an ACFR.
Despite these very high per-student costs, the Alaska Association of School Boards listed its number one legislative priority for the upcoming session: More money. The association said nothing about measurable outcomes that would show success in improving student learning.
This is far different than the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development, which has as its number one priority: ”Support all students to read at grade level by the end of third grade.”
Which one is better for your kids: More money or being able to read?
The AASB does support improving literacy skills, especially early childhood literacy. This translates to supporting universal pre-Kindergarten.
Critics of that approach ask: If we cannot now teach our students how to read by the third grade, then why spend more money on pre-K? More intensive reading instruction taught by well-trained teachers in the first three grades would make a huge difference.
The AASB receives its funding from member school boards. These school boards get their funding from the State and local taxpayers. It’s a circular funding framework.
The AASB will have fly-ins to Juneau to persuade legislators to give them more money so they can come back next year to ask for more money. And they even have a “Youth Advocacy Institute,” which trains students to lobby and testify in legislative committees for more funding. Some would call these students “useful tools.”
The fly-ins cost the State Treasury and local taxpayers, who fully fund these lobbying trips.
Education analysts in the conservative camp wonder if the money would be better spent in the classroom, teaching children how to read.
The bottom line is: The Alaska Association of School Boards is using taxpayer money and state dollars to lobby for more money and offers no accountability to citizens for the funds already disbursed.