Murkowski: Resources can pay for education

Posted: Tuesday, September 03, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- If he's elected governor, Frank Murkowski says he'd use revenues from state timber sales and mining operations to fund an endowment for education and Alaska's young people. The Republican candidate says he'd also emphasize parental involvement and measures to attract and retain teachers.

Murkowski explained his education plan in a speech to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Friday. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, his Democratic opponent, has said education will be her No. 1 priority if voters pick her.

Murkowski wants to establish an Alaskan Youth and Education Endowment Fund, financed by state timber sales and mining royalties. He would work to create a 1 million acre state forest in Southeast Alaska and encourage state investment in mining infrastructure to raise revenues, he said.

''There's a lot of work to be done on it, but I think it is a rational, motivative approach,'' he said. ''It will connect Alaskans with something that is paramount, and that's our children and education.''

The fund wouldn't replace legislative appropriations for education, he said, but add to them.

Ulmer has said the first piece of legislation she would introduce as governor would inflation-proof the state's education funding formula. The formula is used to calculate how much state money each school district gets.

Murkowski said he supports adequate funding for education, but isn't in favor of inflation-proofing the formula. The state Legislature is now studying the formula to make it more accurately reflect the cost of education in Alaska, and he will support the new methodology, he said.

''In my opinion this (inflation-proofing) approach assumes there's no room for improvement in the school foundation formula,'' he said. ''I will fight against any attempt to politicize our school funding by favoring one school district over another, and that's what I fear could happen under the inflation-proof concept.''

Ulmer said inflation-proofing the formula doesn't preclude other changes. The only way to keep politics out of education funding is to inflation-proof the formula, she said.

''I don't think he understands how the education formula works for him to say something like that,'' she said in an interview. ''Our schools today have 20 percent less money (than 10 years ago) to be able to pay teachers and buy textbooks because we didn't inflation-proof it. The only way to keep it whole is to inflation-proof it.''

Ulmer also questioned the feasibility of an endowment that uses timber and mining revenues to fund education. The state spent $700 million on elementary and secondary education last year, while revenue into the state treasury from timber and mining totaled $8 million, she said.

''Even if you doubled or tripled that, you still couldn't get enough money to get to the needs we have all across Alaska,'' she said.

Murkowski said he would work with legislative leaders on a package of incentives to retain teachers in Alaska. Giving teachers more control in their classrooms, more professional development opportunities, and financial and retirement incentives might help address the problem, he said.

''It is time we really stop blaming teachers for every problem associated with our public school system,'' he said. ''We have hard-working professionals dedicated to teaching our children and we should and must respect them. On the other hand, we recognize the role of parents. We have to use the bully pulpit once in a while to remind Alaska's parents of their responsibility to their children and our schools.''

He would work with the University of Alaska to improve the ability of rural teacher aides to become certified teachers, he added.

Murkowski said he supports parental choice in education through magnet and charter schools and home schooling. He would work to set up standards for home school students so they could obtain diplomas acceptable to colleges, rather than certificates of attendance, he said.

In an interview after his speech, Murkowski said he didn't include vouchers, which are state funds parents can use to pay for public or private school, in his education plan because they are unconstitutional in Alaska.

Ulmer doesn't support vouchers, but does believe in school choice within the public school system, she has said.

Ulmer and Murkowski both support a $237 million general obligation bond package on the ballot this November that would fund school construction and maintenance projects statewide.

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