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Legislators should do math, avoid lawsuit over school funding

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2006

It shouldn’t take a lawsuit.

Legislators should do what they know needs to be done and change the formula which determines how much money school districts get from the state.

They could all be heroes, if they agree on this one thing — when it comes to education, Alaska kids should not be penalized because of where they live — and then correct the problem. That problem, as peninsula residents know, is the area cost differential in the state’s funding formula.

The way it is currently written, that formula says it costs approximately the same amount of money to run the rural schools of the Kenai Peninsula Borough as it does the big-city schools of Anchorage.

Logic says that just isn’t true. If logic isn’t enough, and it hasn’t been in the past, numerous studies have shown the formula just doesn’t add up. For years, during every legislative session, peninsula lawmakers, district officials, teachers, other district employees, parents, students and an assortment of other concerned citizens have tried to educate the rest of the state about the inequities of the formula without result.

An analysis by the respected Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska Anchorage says if the formula had been corrected, it would have meant an additional $70 million in state funding since 2001. That $70 million would have gone a long way in maintaining small class sizes and keeping programs that students want and need. It would have saved a lot of wear and tear on the district and its employees. Instead of becoming efficiency experts, they could have spent their time on doing what they do best: educating.

Perhaps, legislators haven’t understood the problem, which, admittedly, is complicated. Maybe, they haven’t wanted to take the time to do the math to fix the formula, because it’s not an easy fix. Or, maybe, they just don’t care because the schools in their home district are in fine financial shape.

Here’s the thing about being a legislator, though. While legislators are elected to represent certain districts, they have a responsibility to do what’s right for the entire state, not just the corner they call home. If schools in one part of the state are not receiving their fair share of state funding, that’s a black eye for the entire state. And it needs to be remedied.

Borough officials are correct to press forward with a suit against the state in order to get the funding formula fixed. The district’s financial position will only get worse without action, and legislators already have had plenty of chances to correct the problem. The borough assembly should approve the suit when it meets next week. Yes, it will be time consuming and costly. But the Legislature’s failure to do the right thing leaves the borough no other option unless it wants to oversee the dismantling of its school system.

Legislators still have time to act. Do they really want to be forced to right this wrong under court order? All 60 legislators need to ask what they would want to happen if this was their home district.



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