More money: Ulmer presents 4-part plan for education in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE -- Under Fran Ulmer's education plan, school districts would be in line for more money and would have more time to figure out how to spend it.

As for students, Ulmer said, they need more time in school.

Lt. Gov. Ulmer, the Democratic gubernatorial front-runner in the primary next week, outlined a four-part plan for improving education in the state and acknowledged it would require spending more money.

''I think those are investments we need to make if we want to make good on our promise to have the best education system we can have,'' Ulmer said.

Every organization needs to have priorities, she said, and education would be No. 1 for her.

''If we want to grow a great economy, we have to have a great education system,'' she said.

Her ideas brought a quick reaction from Wayne Anthony Ross, the Anchorage attorney seeking the Republican nomination.

''How is she going to pay for it?'' Ross asked.

Ross compared Ulmer's plan to an old Sears catalog.

''They used to call it the 'wish book,''' Ross said.

The proposals sound like more spending that will lead Alaska government to dip into permanent fund earnings, he said.

''It's amazing all the wonderful things that could be done if we had unlimited resources,'' Ross said.

Ulmer plans to announce her fiscal plan sometime next month.

Ulmer called her education ideas the 4.0 Plan for Alaska, and it came with four ''R's'': more resources, enhanced teacher recruitment, a focus on student results and continued renovation of unsafe or unfit schools.

Ulmer said the first piece of legislation she would introduce as governor would be a bill to inflation-proof the education foundation formula, the state's means of paying for K-12 public schools.

''Over the last decade, inflation has increased 27 percent while the foundation formula has increased by 7 percent,'' she said.

She said education should be funded on a two-year cycle to remove fiscal uncertainty for school districts.

Carol Comeau, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, appeared at Ulmer's press conference and said Anchorage schools have lost good teaching candidates because of uncertainty over money. Some years, she said, the district has not received final word on state funding until late May or early June.

''We can't hire until we know what our funding is,'' Comeau said.

Comeau and Education Commissioner Shirley Holloway posed for photographs with Ulmer but said they were there to push education issues, not back a candidate. Comeau said she had a meeting scheduled Friday with representatives of U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, who like Ross is running as a Republican for governor.

Under recruitment, Ulmer said, she would propose incentives to attract and keep teachers.

Additional state support for local districts would mean higher wages. Ulmer said she would push for a student loan forgiveness program.

''I will propose legislation establishing a student loan forgiveness program aimed at encouraging Alaskans to go into teaching, stay in teaching and attracting teachers, especially in identified shortage areas,'' she said.

She said she would push for mentoring support for new teachers.

She said teacher preparation programs at the University of Alaska should be strengthened and that she would push for the training and hiring of more Alaska Native teachers.

Ulmer said she would focus on results.

She proposed more instructional time in the form of a longer school year to make up for days now sacrificed for standardized tests and other requirements. She said Alaska could add two days per year for five years.

She proposed instituting a master teacher corps, providing support from retired, experienced teachers for low-performing schools, plus early interventions for struggling students, expanded online opportunities and truancy laws with more bite.

''I will put teeth into truancy laws and enforce school attendance,'' she said. ''Children cannot learn when they are not in school. Parents must be responsible for getting their children to school.''

Finally, she said she was committed to systematically renovating or replacing school buildings in disrepair.

''We need these four R's so we can better deliver the three R's to Alaska's most valuable resource,'' she said.

Murkowski called the plan unoriginal. Rather than simply inflation-proofing the foundation formula, Murkowski said, the formula should be made fair and equitable.

Murkowski said the Ulmer plan ignores opportunities for innovation and improvement outside the public school system such as charter schools, cyber schools or home schooling, plus the need for increased parental involvement.

Rather than simply spend more, Murkowski said, Alaska should focus resources on areas that educators know will help prepare young people for productive lives.

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