Recently there have been several articles about educational funding in Alaska newspapers. As a retired Alaska educator who was involved in teacher negotiations as a NEA member, I would like to make a few comments as there seems to be some misconceptions about school funding.
Alaska schools are funded much above the national average, but academics are average at most. Some rural schools are funded at $20,000 per student and yet students score below average on tests. Locally our schools are funded at about $9,500 per student from all sources which is much above the national average and for many western states where students perform better on standardized tests.
A few years ago North Dakota led the nation in academic performance yet was near the bottom in funding. Schools in Europe are much less funded but produce students who do better on tests than our students. School funding is seldom correlated with academic performance.
Another misconception is that funding has decreased recently. The federal government has greatly increased educational funding under President Bush and so has Alaska funding under Gov. Frank Murkowski and our legislature. If a school is losing funding, it's because their enrollment dropped.
So, how can we improve our schools?
You may want to visit Anchorage Christian Schools which are funded much less than public schools but perform much better on scholastic and college entrance tests. This system has smaller classes, better discipline, fewer administrators, low drop-out rates, full academic and sports programs, fine arts programs, computer programs and yet, buses students from inner city neighborhoods. Most classes score two or more grade levels above the norm in all academic areas.
Many other private schools like Cook Inlet Academy and Homer Christian Schools also achieve more with less money. Why not give grants or tax breaks to parents to encourage them to send their children to these private schools to ease the strain on public schools? Many countries, including Canada, operate this way.
Some foreign countries give a group of teachers a building, a group of students and a block of money. Teachers choose an administrator and design a highly academic program. In some ways it's similar to our charter schools but is more widespread. Students do much better academically than U.S. students, the costs are lower, and parent involvement is better.
Another idea is the Alaska Education Fund where each newspaper sold in Alaska is taxed 25 cents or 50 cents and proceeds all go into funds for schools. Estimates range from $9 million to $18 million annually could be raised for our children. This is cheaper than a cup of coffee and would be a voluntary tax.
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