October 13, 2022

Press Release: Gara-Cook Campaign Releases Education Plan for Alaska

The Gara-Cook plan will increase education funding with inflation and improve Alaska’s flawed Teacher Retirement System

Anchorage – Today, Governor and Lieutenant Governor candidates Les Gara and Jessica Cook released a plan to improve Alaska’s struggling public education system. The plan is informed by a year of conversations Gara and Cook have had with teachers, parents, students, and other stakeholders across the state.

“First, our education plan will ensure that school districts have stable and consistent funding that keeps up with inflation. Second, our plan will fix Alaska’s uncompetitive retirement system so that we can attract and retain great teachers. Right now, we are losing teachers to the lower 48 specifically because of our uncompetitive and weak retirement benefit. I recently spoke with the new superintendent in Kodiak who came to Alaska from Texas. She said teachers in Texas can earn about 20 percent more in pay while enjoying a robust pension system, much like the one the Republicans in Alaska ended in 2006. I opposed decimating the pension system then and I’ll fix it when I’m elected governor,” said Les Gara, who served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 2003 to 2019.

As part of the Gara-Cook education plan, legislation will be filed to annually adjust school funding for inflation and to fund schools for inflation costs going back to 2019. As a member of the Alaska State Legislature, Les Gara filed multiple pieces of legislation to adjust school funding for inflation. The Gara-Cook education plan also calls for major improvements to the teacher retirement system in Alaska, including returning teachers to a cost-effective pension, much like the one Alaska had before 2006. In 2009, then-Rep. Les Gara co-sponsored legislation to return teachers, law enforcement officers, and other public servants to a pension (defined benefit) plan rather than the current portable 401(k) plan that has made Alaska’s teacher shortage worse. Another significant piece of the Gara-Cook education plan is to increase efforts to recruit Alaskans to be teachers and to teach in their home communities.

“Our system is in trouble, and we are facing a massive fiscal cliff. We need to stop putting Band-Aids on a broken leg and have a plan to fund public education so that funding keeps up with inflation. I agree with Les and Jess that it’s time to fix our teacher retirement system so that we can attract and retain quality teachers,” said teacher Adam Mokelke who has taught in both urban and rural schools in Alaska and currently serves as a school principal in Anchorage.

“In 2019, Governor Dunleavy proposed $320 million in cuts to public education. Although legislators thwarted that attempt to undermine our schools, the reality is that years of flat funding, the outmigration of families with children and young adults, and inflationary drivers have starved public education so as to produce the kinds of results the governor initially sought. Right now, the Anchorage School District has $80 million less in purchasing power than it did before Dunleavy took office and faces a $68 million fiscal cliff that can only be resolved by a change in leadership. Les Gara and Jessica Cook are public education champions with the records to prove it. Jessica Cook is a dedicated teacher who has stepped out of the classroom and into the world of politics to make things better for Alaska’s families. Les Gara has always fought for public education, and he will continue that fight once elected Governor,” said Anchorage School Board member Kelly Lessens.

Les Gara and Jessica Cook are running to replace the failed administration of Governor Dunleavy who has repeatedly tried to cut education funding. In 2019, Governor Dunleavy attempted to cut $280 million in education funding and sued to block a multi-year school funding increase that Les Gara helped spearhead through the Alaska Legislature in 2018. The two-year increase in education funding was a House-Senate bipartisan compromise after the House passed Gara’s House Bill 339 to increase the Base Student Allocation. It was the last multi-year education funding increase in state history.

“Our vision for Alaska includes well-funded schools where children can learn to their potential while being taught by great teachers. Les Gara and I are going to put in the work to make that vision a reality because our kids are worth it, and our state is worth it,” said teacher Jessica Cook.