Senator Berta Gardner

March 19, 2014

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 417
Juneau, AK 99801
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Correction: In describing Senate Bill 139, we included the school bond provisions. Those were removed by the Senate Education committee. Sorry for the mistake.
Also, on reflection, I myself missed an opportunity to talk about a preschool option which does a great job of encouraging and promoting parental involvement in children’s education. The Parents as Teachers model works with the parents’ strengths to show parents how to be their child’s first and best teacher. This preschool program has been in place in Alaska for a long time and is one way the state can help parents be involved in their child’s education.
A Missed Opportunity

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner speaks to the crowd during the Education Rally on the Capitol steps in February.
Senator Gardner speaks to the crowd during the Education Rally on the Capitol steps in February.

          On Friday of last week, the Senate Education committee passed the Governor’s Education bill, Senate Bill 139, to the  Senate Finance Committee.  I guess it is ok as far as it goes, but in terms of opportunity to make real change, we’ve failed, thus far, to take real steps toward moving the needle on our goal of graduating 90% of Alaska  students by 2020.

          SB139 does do several things; some small, some large, and some unnecessary. Here are the main elements:

          Charter Schools: The governor originally proposed that if a school board denies a charter school the Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development can override their decision, thus removing local control and mandating the school district take on a school that may not be ready or that is not needed in the community. The Senate Education Committee slightly modified it to say the Commissioner would provide recommendations to the State Board of Education for final decision.  The Education Committee also decreased the number of required students to start up a charter school from 150 to 75 students.

          High School Graduation Qualifying Exam: The Education Committee also modified the original proposal to remove the HSGQE by retroactively providing students who met the requirements for graduation but failed to pass the HSGQE a diploma. I support this attempt. From the very beginning I advocated against the HSGQE and its failed promise to add quality to our educational system.

          Increased Base Student Allocation (Measly Increase): The Governor’s proposal seeks to increase the BSA by $85 per student this year, and by $58 the following two years. This absolutely does not make up for the four years of flat funding for our students. The  non-partisan Legislative Research Agency answered my question with a report saying that a BSA increase of $404 is needed to make up for the 4 years of flat funding and inflation.  I proposed that amendment to SB139 but was the only committee member to support it.  

          Increase Boarding School Stipend: The Governor increases the boarding school stipend for students by about 50%. When I asked the Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development for the rationale for this increase, he stated that it was to reflect the actual costs for the students. He was unable to explain why it was necessary to meet inflation costs for boarding schools room and board but not classroom operating funds.

          School Construction Bond Debt: This would encourage smaller and rural area schools to look at new facilities or improve their existing facilities through a bond rather than waiting for general fund capital improvement appropriations. There would be (currently) 75 schools who could take advantage of this immediately. Schools would have to meet 20% of the costs.

          Tax Credits: The last major component of SB 139 is the tax credits. This gives corporate, mining, fisheries, and floating fishery tax payers a tax credit if they contribute to:   Early learning programs, scholarships for a dual credit student, or for construction and operating costs for residential schools.

          You may be asking why I think this bill is a missed opportunity? All the above sounds halfway decent. I believe there are three main components that we know have a dramatic positive effect on education systems: Optional quality pre-k for all, promoting highly effective teachers and involved and engaged parents. Legislatively, we cannot do much to incentivize parents to be involved and engaged in their child’s school career, but we can do something about Pre-K and quality teachers.

          We have all seen the studies done on pre-k. You have heard me talk about it that past few years as well. We know it is effective. If we start kids on the proper learning path at a young age, there will be a dramatic decrease in remediation in the K-3 years and an increase in graduation rates.

          We do little to promote the development of highly qualified and effective teachers. First we need to have high standards for our teachers. To achieve those high standards, we need to be able to have mentorship programs for incoming teachers so they can be effective have high success rates.

          The Governor proclaimed this the ‘Education Session’, but doesn’t it ring a bit hollow?

          I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

          If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office

signed: Berta

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