Educators, students and parents gathered on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Monday evening to call for more education funding.
Tom Klaameyer is president of NEA-Alaska, the state’s public school union. He said public funding is at the heart of deadlocked negotiations with teacher unions across the state.
“Counties want to hire the best and brightest for their students,” he told the crowd. “They want to provide solid medical benefits, and they don’t want to cut programs and close schools. But they are stuck between the rock and the BSA.”
BSA—or Base Student Allocation—is the amount of money school districts receive from the state per student. It has not increased significantly since 2017. Last year, the state approved a $30 increase that goes into effect in July. But many school leaders say it’s not enough to keep up with rising inflation.
The Juneau Teachers’ Union announced that its negotiations with the district stalled last month. Superintendent Bridget Weiss said the $30 raise is not enough to give teachers the contract they deserve.
“If we allocated the $243,000 we would receive from that $30 BSA solely for teacher salaries and nothing else, that would mean an increase of 0.25% every year for each of the next three years,” she said. . “It’s inadequate.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed keeping the BSA at $5,960 next year. The Alaska School Board Association is calling for an increase of at least $860.
“Every day we meet growing needs with fewer resources,” Weiss said. “When will the Legislature be held accountable for putting us in this dead end by not fully funding one of the most important aspects of our communities in Alaska?”
Some rally participants held signs calling for a $1,086 BSA increase.
But that’s not the only issue lawmakers are considering this session. Juno Senator Jesse Kiel has introduced a bill to give teachers the ability to pay a pension that he says will help retain teachers.
“That’s a lot of money,” Kiel said, referring to the $1,086 increase. “It’s about $220 million. Are our kids worth it? You bet they are. I have your first $15 or $20 million because pensions are worth less than the pension system we have today.”
Students like Dzantik’i High School eighth grader Heeni Inde Eckerson have experienced a shortage of teachers in the state firsthand. He said large classes are bad for teachers and distract students.
“I think our classes are too crowded. We have too many people,” he said. “I mean, it’s fun, but it gets too crazy and then you can’t really learn.”
Several freshman legislators joined the organizers of the rally on the steps of the Capitol. Juneau Rep. Sarah Hannan singled out three MPs who quit teaching jobs and moved to Juneau: Rep. Maxine Diebert of Fairbanks, Rep. Rebecca Himschut of Sitka, and Senator Jesse Björkman of Nikiski.
“We have dozens of new colleagues working with us who have been campaigning on this issue,” Hannan said.
The rally ended with a song led by Dzantik’i Heeni music teacher Mike Busey.
“Education built the nation,” he sang. “Increase the base distribution of students. Take this legislative test and give our children the very best.”
Bucy said he hopes the 33rd Legislature will substantially increase school funding this year, and that reading and math scores will go up as well.