People carry signs at a Juneau rally in favor of an increase to the amount the government pays schools per student on Monday. (Photo by Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)

People carry signs at a Juneau rally in favor of an increase to the amount the government pays schools per student on Monday. (Photo by Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)

As lawmakers consider student funding, Juneau families and educators rally for larger increase

It rained and blew Monday on the Capitol steps in Juneau, but dozens of education supporters turned out to rally for a permanent increase to education funding.

Siblings Eddy and Mae Roteks wore knit caps and down jackets to stand with their father at the event. “We need to learn and we need more materials,” said Eddy Roteks, a fifth grader at Kaxdigoowu Héen Elementary in Juneau. “More materials means more learning.”

“What about a smaller class size?” her father, Auke Bay teacher Joey Roteks, asked with a laugh.

They were among dozens of Juneau families, educators and community members that screamed and sang in support of significant increases to the amount the government pays schools per student. The rally, organized by the school union NEA-Alaska, protested the school closures, reduced educational opportunities and staff cuts that it said are a direct result of school funding that has not kept pace with inflation.

An Anchorage rally earlier in the month drew roughly 500 participants. More than a dozen Democratic and independent legislators attended in Juneau.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, introduced speakers that included lawmakers, community members and a high school student.

House Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, said he cares about public education funding because Alaska’s students are the future of the state — and its future workforce.

“I am a proud graduate of our local public schools,” he said. “I am here because of dedicated people like you: Teachers and parents and administrators and paraprofessionals united around our future in Alaska.”

Phil Buettell, a paraeducator with the Juneau School District and member of the Juneau school support staff union, said too many of his colleagues around the state face job uncertainty and must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. He lamented that schools are losing all but the barest requirements.

“Important programs that support student engagement are facing cuts,” he said. “Things like arts and music, cultural programs, special education, P.E. and athletics. In the prosperous state of Alaska, we can do better.”

Rep. Dan Ortiz, an independent from Ketchikan and a retired teacher of 32 years, said that amid all the tough decisions he sees in the House Finance Committee, education funding is a “no brainer” because lawmakers are guided by the Alaska Constitution.

“It says in the Alaska Constitution, we only have to fund two things,” he said. “Public safety, and provide for an adequate education for every student between the ages of 5 and 18. And we haven’t been doing it. So now is the time to turn the tide.”

Juneau resident and public school parent Rebecca Braun drew laughter and applause as she performed a State of the State speech that she wished Gov. Mike Dunleavy would give that would raise the BSA by $1,400. His speech, initially planned for Monday night, was rescheduled at the last minute in part because inclement weather kept most state commissioners from reaching Juneau.

Addressing the crowd, former teacher Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, urged the crowd to push lawmakers to support a permanent increase to student funding.

“We owe it to Alaska to raise the BSA,” she said.

She noted that a permanent funding increase has support from the youngest lawmaker, Rep. CJ McCormick, D-Bethel, who is 26 years old, to the oldest, Senate President Stevens, R-Kodiak, whose age she described as “respectable.”

• Claire Stremple is a reporter based in Juneau who got her start in public radio at KHNS in Haines, and then on the health and environment beat at KTOO in Juneau. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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