School industry will again ask for more money for ever-failing schools, and will not hold itself accountable for poor outcomes

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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              

Anchorage, $19,227                     

MatSu, $17,395                     

Kenai, $18,293                     

Fairbanks, $21,108         

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.

33 COMMENTS

  1. I’m tired of the school district spending my money to ask for more money! School districts should not have lobbyists. School districts should not fund trips to Juneau to ask the government for more money!

    • School Vouchers. Period. Give educators an opportunity to educate on their on terms using the free market. In Fairbanks there are some awesome educators whose skill and passion translate to enthusiastic students in science, music, art, and reading. Allow parents to vote on their child’s education through focused investment of the school voucher. Keep standardized testing if parents want to use the test to measure their child’s learning so be it. As a homeschool family, we use the standardize testing in order to refocus future subjects for our young men.

  2. Merit as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary

    1. Superior quality of worth; excellence.

    2. A quality deserving praise or approval; virtue.

    3. Demonstrated quality or achievement

    I can’t see how they could or should get a more money. Doesn’t appear to be “for the children”.

  3. The author implies that the solution to the schools’ ills is to have better-trained teachers using more effective teaching methods. This is a great idea, and I don’t think too many in the “education industry”would disagree. The question is, though, is that going to happen for free? More training costs money. New curriculum costs money. Attracting the best teaching talent requires paying the best salaries (there is a competitive market for teachers, by the way). Yes, money is needed!

    • In the Anchorage School District, the budget allocates $100,000 for hiring a new teacher. That is way above the national average. Starting salary is around $51,000 with another $25,000 tacked on for benefits. Not bad for a starting salary for 9 months work. If elementary teachers are not taught how to teach reading to students, then what are they being taught? So, let’s figure it out and get the most effective teachers in the classroom.

    • Hmmm…

      Or, teaching methods could be retro conscripted unto effective methods from years past, when the result of said methods led unto much superior results as unto relative educational basis versus what is seen today…

      More training is not needed…

      New curriculum is not needed…

      And as to attracting the best talent?

      Is one drawn towards teaching within the act of teaching itself, or is one drawn towards education solely based upon the renumeration of one’s ability to be available within a classroom?

  4. And that is per student per year. That is no bargain. Private schools operate on far less and homeschooling students even more so. It seems the ‘industry’ does need more competition. If the money followed the child, and parents made the decisions on where their child should be educated, I bet the success rate would go up and possibly the cost might go down.

  5. Welcome to “public sector” unions and the results of conservative capitulation. You get what you pay for (old saying).

  6. Why do some “conservatives” hate standardized testing so much? Getting rid of standardized testing essentially gives a blank check to teacher’s unions to not do their job. Why would I trust them, when their single goal is to do as little work as possible while stealing my tax dollars?

  7. I say let’s allow state funded church schools and prepare for the Mullahs descending on our state with their hands out to preach their religious extremist views.

  8. I’m not surprised at the ed lobby trying to get more money – which will be gobbled up by the unions as salary and benefits – nor am I surprised at the smoke and mirrors being used to show the “small” cost per student. No cost analysis is offered by the author based on the Alaska Geographic Differential Study published by the State Dept of Labor & Workforce Development that would compare school districts expected cost differential as per cost of living rate – a school off the road system just costs a lot more to operate. I am surprised that Pelican still has a school – the minimum enrolled student count is ten to keep a public school open in Alaska. Money is not the answer to bad test scores – but there are more issues to deal with than teacher competency. Yeah, we need great teachers – we also need a supportive culture that encourages parental involvement , encourages the value of learning, and discourages substance abuse. The government does not own our kids. The answer also lies in competition – homeschools, private schools, and charter schools – and a voucher system so that the BSA and other funding sources follow the student, not the school district. These are not new ideas or even newly proposed solutions – but they will be fought tooth, ruler, and pencil by the unions. Time to take back our schools before another child’s mind and life is wasted.

      • That may be, but it is not reflected in your article or in the comparisons so often quoted by those who scream their offense that we “pay no taxes” in the bush (not true). Thanks for the reply.

  9. Where’s the money going?? When I was in school we had more school funded sports and programs for kids and now For years the school sports programs are outsourced to youth sports organizations that parents pay for, for the first time in the 17 years my kids have attended public school, I was told I could rent an instrument from the school because they made playing an instrument a requirement.
    I’ve rented instruments before but it never cost me more then a book and a couple things to maintain the instrument. This year I had to actually go rent an instrument from a music store! By the time we are done with this instrument which my child never wanted I will have paid $350 bucks for just one school year.
    Teachers are reduced to asking families to donate extra school supplies and wipes and tissues!!
    Where the hell is all the money going?? Audit the schools now!
    I smell federal funds fraud happening because the money sure as hell is not going to the kids.
    No more money until scores improve!

  10. 1-Money should follow the student, not the district.
    2-The business of education is to perpetuate the business of education. Not to teach kids.
    3-Only a heavily unionized profession will demand more money while failing so totally.
    4-Everyone who can, get your kids out of the education industrial complex.

  11. Title: Potential criminal liability associated with vaccine promotion
    Dear School Board Members/Politicians,

    The Supreme Court has shot down Biden’s vaccine mandate on large employers, which proves the narrative is falling apart. It appears the White House continues to push the vaccines in spite of the ruling, including on-going rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old as it passed Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. Every school board and politician in America faces a difficult and unenviable policy decision on how to react to these contentious policies.

    There are credible allegations of organized criminality involving the NIH, CDC, FDA, and large pharma companies in promoting these products. The failure to maintain adequate experimental controls, the absence of long-term safety studies, the suppression of safe and effective therapeutics like ivermectin, the protests of senior biologists including the inventor of the mRNA technology, the unusually large number of reported injuries… the list of reasons to believe something is terribly wrong is long and disturbing. Masks don’t work and there are studies that now indicate prolonged mask wearing contributes to long term lung damage as well as psychological harm.

    In normal circumstances school boards and politicians would be well advised to follow official health advice. These are not normal times, and you have a duty of care to the citizens and children that overrides all other concerns. From a personal and institutional perspective, you also face potential liability for promoting a medical intervention whose harms to children are known to exceed their benefits (by a wide margin), and where informed consent is clearly absent (since cheap and effective Covid treatments do exist).

    Each of you face a particularly difficult choice since federal COVID relief funding is tied to the school district following federal health guidelines. Failure to comply with their guidelines may seem costly in the short run, but is incomparably better than the alternative of ruined young lives, enormous compensation claims for criminal negligence, and potential charges for murder should children be killed.

    The stakes are extremely serious, and I do not wish a burden on your conscience and stain on your reputation. Time to follow actual science and ignore political science. You have been put in an unfortunate position, and I am sure many parents will step up to back you in putting the interests of the children first, ahead of mandates or profit.

  12. Who are our public schools failing? I had two children attend public schools. They are both doing fine and received an education that enabled them to move forward in the world. I look at my friends with children. None of my friends with children have ever said the education system failed their children. Maybe you should look at the families of students that the education system is failing. You will get a better understanding why the education system is failing their children

    • Overall, Alaska students are far behind the national average in almost ever measurable category. Only Guam and Mississippi are regularly worse. Often much worse.
      While family dynamics do factor into student success, family dynamics have little to do with the politicization of teaching, teacher unions putting masks ahead of kids, gross overspending on no teaching support, common core, CTR, and the inability to reward good teachers while disciplining bad one.

  13. Rural schools with less than 100 students need to be switched to tele-education. All REAAs need to be consolidated. Every community with a school needs to contribute something – and not federal funds, but real local contributions – to local schools. If we cannot do that then we need to demand the BIA come back to fund and staff the rural schools. We banished the BIA only after the oil money began. Now there are 730,000 of us demanding state services yet oil production has dropped 75 percent; something has to change. We have communities that once had a property tax that now have no tax; why wouldn’t they get rid of their property tax as the state comes in and pays for everything!

  14. HOW long is a reasonable timeframe to ask taxpayers to continue to fund a failing system? WHAT are the measures to be taken so as to ensure a different and more successful outcome? WHEN can the taxpayer expect meaning results from the excessive amounts of tax dollars being spent on a failing system? WHO will be held accountable for failing to meet expectations and WHAT consequences will be levied upon those whom are supposedly accountable? WHY should the taxpayers continue to trust and.or have any measure of confidence more money will fix things, especially given similar requests in the past have fallen grossly short of promises and expectations?
    Based on the comments above, one can surmise quickly the high level frustration and low level of confidence. When taxpayers see real improvement in the current system, then and only then, will sentiment change for the better and look forward to making more investment in education. Until then, taxpayers only feel as if they’ve been lied to, manipulated, scammed, and hood-winked.

  15. Everybody sees the public education bureaucracy is a vexing, dysfunctional, failure but nobody can do anything about it. There is only one solution: vouchers.

  16. Give the money to the parents by way of school vouchers. Time to end this failed education experiment that is based on an antiquated Prussian model which was designed to provide docile cannon fodder to the aristocracy of Europe.

  17. It all starts with changing the funding formula. Mention that to a legislator or governor and you hear can hear a pin drop. It all starts with the money.

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