Better Schools & Universal Pre-K: More success, higher graduation rates
As a legislator, Les Gara filed and sponsored legislation to lower class sizes. Students deserve individual attention to help them succeed, not overcrowded classrooms. To end the annual fight over education, Les has always proposed keeping school funding consistent with the cost of inflation. Students deserve good teachers, not battles over how many teachers they’ll lose the next year.
Gara’s main opponents in this race have records cutting public education funds. In 2018 Dunleavy proposed the biggest education cuts in state history – over a quarter billion dollars. His budget attempt would have eliminated over 2,600 teacher and educator jobs, and devastated both student opportunity and the economy. In 2015 & 2016 former Governor Walker cut education funding by over $80 million, and vetoed University funding. Those were cuts Les opposed and tried to stop.
The candidates differences on public education surfaced again in 2015. Les Gara voted against a bill ending state support for to help pay bonds for school construction and maintenance. His two main opponents supported that bill (Dunleavy as a State Senator and Walker as Governor), Senate Bill 64. Les correctly warned that bill would kill labor and professional jobs, harm students, and increase these costs when the same maintenance and construction work was eventually done later, and those schools needed greater repair.
After years of increasing class sizes, Alaskans are losing faith in the state’s commitment to public education. As governor, Les will work to improve our schools, reduce class sizes, and increase student opportunity and success.
And, like other important public employees, teachers, police, and firefighters deserve a return to the right to a pension. Since a radical change to the law in 2005, which Les voted against, new employees no longer have any pension benefits (SB 141). With stagnant pay, Alaska has lost a needed incentive that would help us attract and retain our best professionals.
Les Gara is the also only candidate who has sponsored legislation to return Alaska to a fair, needed , affordable pension system (e.g., HB 54, 2009). Lagging education support has increased class sizes, made it harder to attract and retain the best teachers, and the lack of a basic pension – which teachers can find elsewhere across the country – has made that problem worse.
Governor Dunleavy pushed over a quarter billion dollars in education cuts once he took office – the biggest proposed Governor’s cut in Alaska history. His proposal would have have fired 2,600 teachers and educators, at the expense of student opportunity and achievement.
In 2015, then-Governor Walker, joined by the Republican legislative majority, eliminated $32 million in promised education funds for the 2015-2016 school year. That education funding had been promised and passed in 2014, as part of a very modest three-year education funding plan, House Bill 278. Faced with the proposal to block these promised, passed education funds, Gara pushed and voted for an amendment to restore the promised statutory $32 million in education funds, to keep class sizes from growing further. His Amendment to the budget would have saved the state $170 million, and reduced $700 million in excessive oil company cash credits ($600 million more than state law required) in the budget, by $200 million. (See Finance Committee Gara Amendment #11 to HB 2001, pp. 24-25. Amendment failed, Gara, Kawasaki, Guttenberg voted YES).
In addition, then-Gov. Walker vetoed roughly $55 million more in public education funds in 2016.
Les and Jessica believe smaller class sizes increase academic achievement, and that continually-increasing class sizes steals opportunity from students.
An example of Les’ commitment to early childhood education is the state’s Pre-K program, which helps working parents of young children. Studies show that viable pre-kindergarten programs increase student achievement and graduation rates. It also leads to lower unemployment, higher wages, and fewer people on expensive public benefits and in jail. Simply put, Pre-K saves money and increases opportunity.
Les has supported statewide voluntary Pre-K my whole legislative career, and fought opponents of Pre-K to successfully expand what Alaska offers. As governor, Les will work to ensure Alaska finally joins the roughly 40 states that offer statewide Pre-K to parents who believe that’s what’s best for their children.
Pre-K programs in Alaska are possible, both in and outside a traditional classroom setting, through the Parents As Teachers Pre-K program. Les helped started the push for Alaska-supported Parents As Teachers Pre-K, and helped launch its success with Rep. Chris Tuck.
Les Gara and Jessica Cook believe Alaska’s leadership should act to improve student success so that all children enter school ready to read and ready to learn.
Families are leaving Alaska, in part because they see no commitment to public education. Les Gara and Jessica will help make Alaska a place in which people want to live, not leave.