A sense of urgency surrounds the school funding discussion under way in Juneau.
If lawmakers fail to raise the state's K-12 school funding this year, the Fairbanks North Star Borough will have little choice but to spend roughly $1 million in borough savings to maintain current programs. And that prospect, unwelcome as it may be, only hints at the funding crisis that could overtake the Fairbanks school district only one year from now.
The situation confronting local school officials is worse than generally acknowledged. That's because the $110 million school budget now under consideration by the borough assembly already includes provision for spending $3 million in district reserves, entirely draining the account in a one-time expenditure.
Unless Alaska acts to raise per-student funding, which has been frozen in this state since 1988, local officials will be looking at more than another $1 million shortfall next year--they will be staring at gaping $4 million hole in the Fairbanks school budget.
Borough officials are already crowding the revenue cap. Even if the local assembly had the political will to do so, authority is lacking to levy taxes sufficient to offset the school shortfall funding projected for fiscal year 2003.
Other Alaska municipalities share Fairbanks mounting frustration over the state's failure to adjust school funding to keep pace with rising classroom costs. Last year Anchorage drew $10 million from local school district reserves to meet its rising classroom bills.
House and Senate lawmakers are weighing several proposals to raise the state's per-student contribution. Action in this area of the state budget is now essential, and long overdue.
Fairbanks school and borough officials tell the News-Miner that an increase of roughly $100 per student, or $20 million statewide, is the minimum amount required to stem the fiscal hemorrhage.
We urge parents and other citizens who value Alaska's public schools to contact lawmakers without delay. Send word that you support an immediate hike of $100 or more in Alaska's per-student spending on K-12 education. -
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