Could it be true? Is there good news on the horizon?
That seems to be the opinions of Sen. Gary Stevens and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson this week.
Both are optimistic about the progress made by the Joint Legislative Education Task Force, which has been working all summer to make recommendations on funding schools down the road. A report from the task force is expected on Gov. Sarah Palin's desk on Saturday.
The biggest issue has been over the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) area cost differential funding, a formula that has cost our school district millions over the years. The recommendations would change that, according to Stevens, who said one idea is to phase in 100 percent of ISER's formula. Lawmakers have declined to fully fund ISER's 2005 recommendations so far.
The area cost differential is a factor used in state funding calculations to determine what each school district will get from the state. Using Anchorage as a base of 1.000, other school districts are assigned higher figures to account for their increasingly rural nature. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's area cost differential is 1.004, too low and unfair, mainly due to the large number of small, rural schools included in the Kenai district, Peterson says.
Peterson says the 11 small schools with less than 100 students in them are the most expensive to run because fixed costs like heating and lighting remain the same no matter how many people are in the building.
Our diverse district 44 schools in 21 communities simply needs more money to run. Officials say the current formula has cost us $10 million in the last 10 years. How can such a formula be so askew and legislators ignore it?
Part of the problem on the peninsula, Peterson says, is that 75 percent of the population has no children involved in the school system, making their interest in funding education pretty low on their priority list. If residents aren't interested, they're not going to go to their legislators and complain that there's not enough funding.
Hopefully the task force's recommendations will help make a difference.
It appears there is much good coming out of its meetings, so much so that Stevens said he expects a standing committee to be formed on education, which now does not exist. Stevens, the Senate Majority Leader, currently chairs the Senate Special Committee on Education, and said he expects to be named chair of that new committee. What a bonus for Southcentral Alaska that would be to have strong representation in education.
Kudos to the joint task committee for pursuing what desperately needs to be fixed.
"Public education, I believe, is the absolute future of our democratic society," Peterson said. "Only with a world class education system will we maintain a world class quality of life."
We couldn't have said it better.
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