Education funding debate brings up issues of rural versus urban funding

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Word in the halls of Juneau is that the Alaska Legislature might, this year, approve the largest increase in funding for schools in Alaska in years. Menial increases or stagnant budgets have for decades allowed inflation to erode what were once some of the best schools in the nation. Today, programs are trimmed to the fraying point, and most of all in the state's small, rural communities.

Spend some time in Alaska's schools today and you'll see teachers that are working too hard, spending countless hours working beyond their paid hours because of large class sizes and a lack of support staff. You'll see a lot of requests for parent donations — activities and clubs all cost money, and parents are asked to provide a long list of supplies each year, from tissue to snacks. And you'll see less and less time and money devoted to things like music and art — things that are deemed as extras despite countless studies linking the significant brain development that occurs while being creative.

And the cutbacks are not equal. The problem with the way the state funds schools is that it doesn't adequately take into account the difference between providing education in a community where heating fuel is $9 a gallon and every pencil has to be shipped or flown in. As a result, the state's rural schools have to devote more of their budgets to simple operations, and less to the task of educating students. At the same time, administrators and teachers are constantly shifting in and out with few educators staying long. That further strains an already strained system in the places where quality education is dearly needed.

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