October 27, 2021

Gara Releases Leg Study on School Cuts; Calls For Strong School Support That Students Deserve

Legislative Report Shows State Support for Schools Has Fallen $120 Million Since 2015 When
Adjusted for Inflation

As teachers and school districts battle over fair pay, a legislative report shows a big culprit is falling state funds for public education. According to that report, “when adjusted for inflation, the total Foundation Formula funding has decreased in terms of buying power by nearly $120 million since 2015.” Alaska teachers and school districts are currently in contract negotiations that so far have not resulted in what many teachers rightly regard as fair pay and benefits.

Corrine Marks, a UAS Education Professor and Juneau Teacher, has been vocal about the pressure teachers are under. “Diminished school funding and a lack of pensions are the two greatest reasons we are unable to recruit and retain excellent Alaskan educators. Decreased school funding has escalated class sizes and expanded teacher workloads while not having a secure retirement pressures teachers to leave the state for a better work environment and more stable future,” said Marks.

“Teachers are rightly concerned about stagnant pay. A big culprit is falling state funding. Taking away pension benefits for new teachers, police, firefighters and other public servants was also wrong, and harms our ability to recruit and retain good teachers,” said former Rep. Les Gara, who voted against ending pension benefits for new teachers (SB 141, 2005), and pushed the last school funding increase bill to pass the House in 2018.

That 2018 bill, HB 339, passed the House and led to a compromise with the GOP-led Senate for a two-year budget increase of roughly 2%. Rep. Harriet Drummond co-sponsored that legislation. Governor Dunleavy tried to block those funds after taking office in 2019, and proposed a quarter billion dollar cut to school funding that same year. A court ruling ordered these funds to be provided.

“Larger class sizes, and giving teachers less incentive to stay in Alaska just lead to harmed student opportunity and unfair pressure on teachers. Denying teachers, police, firefighters, Troopers and others fair benefits they can get in other states, and poor school funding, cause many of our best teachers to leave this state. That harms students and is unfair to teachers,” said Gara. As a legislator Gara was a proponent of smaller class sizes, and sponsored bills to restore pension benefits and keep school funds up with inflation.