Kenai Peninsula teachers are taking a stand this week in an effort to urge lawmakers to improve education funding.
Members of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association are staffing booths in high-traffic areas in Kenai, Soldotna, Seward and Homer, hoping to get support for a grass-roots campaign for long-term education funding.
On Monday, a group of teachers set up shop at the Kenai Safeway, asking pa-trons to sign a banner and write postcards to legislators. The banner, which reads, "A Real Solution: Long-Term K-12 Education Funding," will travel to Juneau with teachers later this month. The postcards will be sent to a number of legislators, asking for a new method of funding education.
According to a pamphlet compiled by the National Education Association-Alaska and provided by KPEA president Cathy Carrow, state education funding has not kept pace with inflation and has, in fact, been declining over the past 20 years. The pamphlet claims that, when adjusted for inflation, per-student funding has dropped from $5,240 in 1983 to $3,003 in 2001.
"I came to the state in 1991, and the cuts had already started," Carrow said Monday. "And the difference between 1991 and now in terms of support for classroom teachers, materials for classroom teachers, class sizes it's a really inordinate difference."
Carrow said the associations and, she believes, the general public are looking for long-term solutions.
"What we're looking for is something so we're not in this position every single year, asking the Legislature to pass just enough funding to squeak by and all the while whittling away programs," she said.
"It costs the same amount to teach a child no matter what the price of oil," she said. "We can't just base (funding) on oil revenue. It's not consistent."
Carrow and her colleagues are encouraging the public to help send that very message to Juneau lawmakers.
"This borough has a long history of supporting schools, of taxing itself to the cap; of looking for creative ways to do their part to fund schools," Carrow said. "The message now is it's time for the state to do their part."
John Wensley, who organized a similar letter-writing effort two years ago and collected about 2,500 postcards from community members, said he hopes the grass-roots effort will be a model for the state as a whole.
"In recent years, the annual struggle to balance the budget and fund our schools has been such an emotional drain on everyone directly involved in education: parents, students, teachers, administrators and the communities they live in," he said. "... This is intended to be a bipartisan effort that invites all members of our community to share their opinions regarding the funding of K-12 education."
A number of patrons at the Kenai Safeway did take a moment to fill out postcards and sign the banner, including not only parents and teachers, but also students and general citizens.
A group of Kenai Central High School students said they are especially concerned about recent cuts to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's cocurricular activities budget.
Though school board members have said the programs likely will be "added back" when the Legislature and governor finish the state's 2004-05 budget, the possibility of the cuts worry many young people.
"A lot of people are going to not come to school," said KCHS sophomore Rosa McDonald. "A lot of people, the only reason they keep their grades up is to play sports. I think it sucks."
"I'm not going to be here next year, but a lot of my friends play sports," added KCHS senior Chelsea Kaas. "I think they should have the same opportunities."
Kaas added she believes high school should be about far more than just "the basics."
"I like variety. A lot of times, high school is when you find out what you're good at. If you don't have that variety, you have less chance to find out what you want to do in life. Art, choir, drama, we need those things."
Kim Harding of Kenai filled out postcards to legislators along with two of her children.
"Our schools need more funding. They just keep cutting, cutting, cutting. We need teachers, more activities after school," she said. "Pretty soon, there's going to be nothing left. We've got to think of other ways."
Harding's daughter, Kim, a Kenai Middle School eighth-grader, agreed.
"I filled out one because I think sports are important to schools. I don't think kids want to learn if they aren't doing other things they enjoy."
Teachers will continue staffing booths at the Kenai and Soldotna Safeway stores from 4 to 5:30 p.m. through Friday. Booths also will be available at high-traffic areas in Homer and Seward.
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