Temporary fix: Education funding works — for now

Posted: Friday, June 03, 2005

A temporary fix is better than no fix at all.

Apparently, that's the feeling of the legislators, who gave their stamp of approval to the $70 million increase in education spending last week.

And while it will help for now, it's still no long-term solution — an issue to which the legislators appear to have a strong avoidance.

There seems to be a lot of "get by now" mentality going on in the state, and there has been for some time.

It's easy to see where each district believes it is more deserving than the other when it comes to a share of the financial pie, but it's difficult to understand why our legislators can't work together for the betterment of the state as a whole. Wouldn't the rewards be much sweeter?

Education is one of those issues that needs to be addressed. School districts can't do their job if the funding isn't there to let them — no business can successfully navigate in this manner.

So if we can't be there for those who are teaching our children, how can we expect our children to be successful?

It may require taking some big — and expensive — steps, and it may mean making some constituents unhappy, but a move toward any solution is a positive choice.

No solution pleases everyone, but the best solution is the one that helps the most people.

Too often our legislators fear rocking the boat, but sometimes a good shaking is needed to wake us up.

Going from $4,576 to $4,919, what we spend per student is definitely an improvement, but about $38 million of next year's $70 million increase is expected to go toward retirement costs, and $24 million will cover the rise in fuel and other inflationary increases costs.

Part of the problem is the state's education funding formula — which is in need of a serious makeover.

Luckily, there are those who recognize this and are trying to do something about it. Three of those people are Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, and Reps. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, who are planning to take part in a push to have the formula changed.

Chenault announced at the Alliance meeting earlier this week that legislators will put together a task force — made entirely of legislators — to look into the issue.

In the meantime, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will receive enough funding in the capital budget to make some much-needed repairs — $1.77 million worth in the central peninsula alone. A partial list handed out by Wagoner at the Alliance meeting included the following:

Kenai Central High School asphalt replacement, $450,000;

Soldotna Elementary School roof replacement, $100,000;

Soldotna High School sports field construction, $150,000;

Nikiski High School track, $305,000; and

Ninilchik School handicap access, $65,000.

There are other repairs — carpet, windows and a crosswalk. They all add up. The district has 44 schools to watch over — about 9,500 students.

The biggest chunk of education funding will go toward the addition of classrooms at the Kenai River Campus of Kenai Peninsula College for $3 million.

But as much as this will help, it's still $200 per student less than educators were hoping for.

The capital budget does alleviate plenty of "to-dos" off the district's list, but it doesn't solve the problem.

The Band-aid approach is wearing thin, and someday — sooner than later — it won't be enough to stop the bleeding.

We hope that when these legislators sit down to look at the funding formula for education this summer, some truly workable solutions come to light, and from that comes legislation that everyone can learn from — literally.

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