Spending more on schools is not the answer either - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, October 18, 2021
HomeAnchorage Daily PlanetSpending more on schools is not the answer either

Spending more on schools is not the answer either

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Interesting things come to light in legislative committee hearings. Take, for example, the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s education budget, which aims to help close the state’s $1.6 billion spending gap.

There was the usual ho-hah, snuffling and chest pounding about the size of the proposed state cuts to education, which amount to about 25 percent, something Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said was “completely unacceptable.”

But, then, there was this: Sen. Natasha von Imhof pointed out overall enrollment in Alaska’s schools has dropped from 131,000 in 2006 to 129,000 in 2018. Despite that, state funding for schools in 2006 was $805 million. It climbed to $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2018. Fiscal year 2019? It is $1.34 billion. She said employee benefits are the driving force behind increased expenditures in the face of falling enrollment. They went up from $302 million in 2006 to nearly $600 million in 2017, the latest figure she said she had.

“That is a $294 million increase in 11 years, or 97 percent,” Must Read Alaska reported Von Imhof as saying. “So districts are spending less on books and curriculum and more on health care for their teachers.”

Read on at:

Education costs


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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • I worked two years for the Association of Alaska School Boards as a Database Tech when one of the services provided was contract negotiations at the 50+ districts statewide. I called all the districts to gain information about salary and benefits for use in negotiations in an attempt to keep Alaska personnel costs manageable.

    I left before that AASB Executive Director, Bob Greene, retired and the districts all traded their accountability batons for a tin cup so they can beg the Legislature for more money in cahoots with NEA-Alaska.

    We know now they are all a bunch of sell-outs…

  • Our Fairbanks area district Superintendent Karen Gaborik presented her budget to us at the Interior Republican lunch two weeks ago. We have 818 teachers and aides in regular instruction, and 375 teachers and aides in special ed. That’s in addition to 123 counselors or (support) staff. So 31% of the teaching staff are for special ed. In numbers, we spend $93 Million on regular instruction and $35 Million on Special Ed instruction. So – about 30%, especially when you look at all the other support special ed requires.

    I asked Dr. Gaborik “what requirement is driving this very high expenditure on special ed?” She replied that it is because of federal requirements and then said “they fund special ed with pass through grants and other federal funding”. I then pointed out that the entire federal revenue in the budget is $15 Million, less than half of our expenditure on special ed. It is not true that the federal government funds these programs.

    Our enrollment is 13,289 students. I asked how many students were “special ed” and they said about 2000 (15%). I then asked how many were actually “intensive services special ed”, not just a student with 504 accommodations plan like my daughter had for an eye tracking problem, and Andreau DeGraw, her new Chief Operations Officer said “about 450” (3.5%).

    So . . . basically we are spending 30% of our Fairbanks area teacher salaries on between 4% – 10% of the students. These are needy children, for sure, but there are far more effective ways to treat them and then integrate them back into the education system. Parents need to get involved. Home schooling and creative cooperatives can help. Blindly funding these school districts with a generous special education formula has allowed them to bloat staffing, increase the overhead, and it doesn’t help the kids. We can do this much more efficiently!

    The state funding system for special education is laid out in AS 14.17.420. Special Needs and Intensive Services Funding.

    Alaska is the third highest in the country in total spending per student, spending $17K plus. Our funding formula for special education (AS reference above) is the most simplistic in the country. Modifying the formula to a dollar funded one, like used in Indiana, or adding more categories of special education cost factors like in Ohio or New Mexico, would force school districts to be more transparent.

    These school districts are invested in this inefficient system. They will not eagerly adopt change. We need to stand firm and insist on it or our state spending will never be sustainable.

    See more all 50 states compared here: http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbquest3D?rep=SD10

    • Great comments. BTW, it is mostly about getting more money. Every student has a $ figure over their head. A regular student gets $1, a special ed student gets $1.2, and an intensive needs student gets $13 from the state. The more special ed students a district has, the more state funding it gets.

  • Kids targeted for Spec Ed are more valuable than normal kids because they attract federal funds.

    As a teacher I had students pulled at various times from my classes so an aide could help them by providing answers to questions other kids had to know—even just doing the work for them!

    The act of pulling and returning them at various times was disruptive and diminishing to the identified students.

    When they finally age out of the spec Ed goat rope they get a certificate of attendance instead of a diploma.

    Over 10 years of teaching Adult Basic Education in Mt View and Wasilla I had many of these former spec Ed students ask if our GED program had “accommodation” for them. There are in fact certain accommodations for former public education Spec Ed students, but many were able to do the work and ultimately get a GED without the special needs accommodations.

    This is another area Gov Dunleavy knows is being scammed, and as our first Education Governor I hope he will stand tall for students who can achieve greatness, instead of hobbling the whole system by gearing it to the lowest common denominator among the student population .

  • Public education in Alaska is ALL about money and public teacher’s union. Period. The rest is smoke and mirrors. Back to basics! Reading, writing and arithmetic. No more man-made global warming BS. No more LGBTQ BS. No more tattoos. No more rape rapping. No more international language BS, until the kids learn English. And teach cursive handwriting again, lest that will be the forgotten communication.
    Learn to balance checkbooks and follow simple budgets. No more sex instruction at grade three. Follow these precepts and many of our problems in the schools will start to disappear.

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