Unpacking the education paper cuts



Gov. Bill Walker took $700 million from Alaskans’ Permanent Fund dividends. More than $1,000 each.

That isn’t exactly in the playbook the Democrats were working from, but other than the money coming from one pocket rather than another, it’s right in line.

  • They wanted more money for nearly everything, including universal pre-K (programmed day care).
  • They wanted government programs and services to be held harmless.
  • They wanted State worker contracts to be kept whole.
  • They wanted taxes on Alaskans and businesses to pay for the state bureaucracy, including paying automatic raises for the 16,000 state workers — the one State worker for every 45 Alaskans that the State generously provides.

Democrats got what they want it — or close enough for government work — when the governor made his dramatic unveiling of vetoes on Wednesday morning in Anchorage.

Governor Bill Walker unveils his vetoes.
Governor Bill Walker unveils his vetoes.

During his press conference, Governor Walker put on a brave face and trembling lip to tell Alaskans he’d have to dock them in order to keep the state workforce healthy. He hated to have to do it, he said in his rambling, unscripted way. But he’d be taking that $1,000 or more from them anyway.


As for cuts, he managed to cut $6.4 million from Education’s base student allocation: $48 per student, or $4.80 per student per month (across 10 months).

This is not a grave cut, considering that per-student spending in rural Alaska is the highest in the nation, at about $30,000; it’s more than $15,000 per student in Anchorage.

After years of massive investment in education by Gov. Sean Parnell, $4.80 a month is a mere trim around the edges, practically a rounding error.

But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the Administration.

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott warned the state would suffer irreparable harm because of the cuts they were forced to make.

LG Byron Mallott speaks about the dire state of the economy.
Lieutenant Gov. Byron Mallott speaks about the dire state of the economy on June 29, 2016.

“Both of us believe passionately that education is the key to our future…A key indicator of the state’s ability to invest in the lives of Alaskans will be severely negatively impacted,” Mallott warned.

“If we do not begin to grow the capacity, the expertise, the teachers to educate Alaska’s children in a smart and cost-effective way, Alaska is crippling itself,” he continued.

This is the mantra of the voracious, always aggrieved Left. Mallott has rehearsed the “never enough” narrative for his entire life. The Left is disciplined, if nothing else, at sticking to “the narrative.”

We ask the obvious: If education is the high priority, why did the governor overspend last year on gas line consultant Rigdon Boykin ($850,000) and his gas line sidekick Radoslav Shipkoff ($100,000 monthly)?

After all, Walker knew this year the budget would still be a huge problem for the state.

Why did he overspend on Texas oil and gas consultant Audie Setters, who made nearly $600,000 working for Walker.

Why did he buy a parade of other consultants, including Andy Mack, who has now been named Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, and the new head of AGDC, Keith Meyer, who makes north of $700,000, once you include his bonus.

In other words, there’s $6.4 million to be found, if the governor wants to find it for education. He did not.


The funding for education, during the years when Gov. Parnell was in office, went up dramatically. He invested in education like the future depended on it. Direct K-12 education funding increased $50 million in the budget he signed in 2012, while Parnell still reduced overall state spending by $1 billion.

In 2014, Parnell added another $100 million to education,  all while bringing the “bipartisan working group” spending under control in other areas.

In fact, there’s never been a governor more pro-education than Parnell, if you look at dollars invested in every student in the state, from K through college.

Great Alaska Schools rally at Capitol - Alaska Democrats photo
Great Alaska Schools rally at Capitol – Alaska Democrats photo

The Left, the teachers’ unions, and their media surrogates railed. They ranted. They picketed. They played every card they had, including the Great Alaska Schools, an Astroturf (well-funded, partisan grassroots) group that rallied and petitioned and threatened. They leveraged the blogs and the cause-driven reporters did their bidding to argue how anti-education Parnell was. Looking back, it seems fairly petulant. And where are these shouters now?

A $6.4 million cut to education in 2016 is not much more than a paper cut, especially because enrollment for this September will likely be down by 2,000, with the many oil jobs that have been lost in Alaska.

Last fall, the Alaska Department of Labor reported that out-migration from Alaska already exceeded in-migration by 7,500 in the year that ended one year ago, June 1, 2015.

That was the highest net departure volume since the crash of 1988, when 15,700 people left the state during a devastating recession, according to the Fairbanks News-Miner. This year’s out-migration will be similar, if not more than last years.

When school enrollments shrink, so should budgets in these lean times.