Education supporters rally amid funding talks

JUNEAU — More than 150 students, teachers, parents and other Alaskans chanted “BSA! Raise today!” on the steps of the Capitol Friday as the House of Representatives considered the merits of the omnibus education bill.

Dubbed the “Education Session” by Republican Gov. Sean Parnell earlier this year, the governor’s education reform bill has stayed center stage since the Legislature convened two and a half months ago.

“Because of excellent support from my teachers, counselors and family, I’ve been able to achieve all of my goals,” said Ruby Steele, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School and student representative to the Juneau School Board.

Steele said she’s concerned for students following in her footsteps due to the state of education funding here.

“The schools in our state may not have this opportunity in the future,” she said.

Within the bill is a proposed increased funding to the base student allocation, a component of the state funding formula for education, but lawmakers and the public have said it was not enough.

Great Alaskan Schools organized the rally with some supporters flying to Juneau from Anchorage for the event. Their request is for a per-pupil increase, known as the Base Student Allocation or BSA, of $400 this year and $125 in each of the following two years.

“It’s filling back what we lost; it’s not asking for more,” said Alison Arians with Great Alaska Schools. “It’s just, basically, keeping up with costs.”

She said having a physical event like a rally at the Capitol was about drawing connections between the decisions being made within the building’s halls and Alaskans on the street.

“It’s really important to show the faces of people who really care,” she said. “It’s not just in Anchorage, and it’s not just in Juneau. It’s statewide.”

The current proposal contained within the governor’s bill, HB278, is for $185 this year and $58 for each of the next two years. Members of the powerful House Finance Committee rejected an amendment last week that would have bumped that increase to $404 this year.

Students and others distributed pieces of pie to legislators after the rally as part of the message of wanting a bigger slice of the funding pie devoted for education.

“It’s just one crumb of the fiscal reserve pie of Alaska,” said Callie Conerton, an event volunteer and student senator at University of Alaska Southeast.

Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz told the Empire previously that she expects this year’s BSA increase to end up around $250.

If passed as-is, the current funding increase proposed would net the Juneau School District an increase of $2.1 million from the state.

Even without further funding, that’s enough to stave off any teacher layoffs this year, school board member Lisa Worl said.

“Anything we get is encouraging because we hadn’t had that last year, and anything we don’t have to cut we’re grateful for,” Worl said.

“We need the funding,” she added. “I know it’s not all about the money, but, really, when you’re making big, deep cuts, it’s hard to make progress and go forward and gain traction.”

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