There have been and will continue to be many discussions among lawmakers and the public as to how best shore up Alaska’s $4 billion budget deficit. There’s one topic, however, that would be foolish for the Legislature to tackle, especially considering 2016 is an election year for some.
We are referring of course to talks about changing Alaska’s enrollment requirement as it relates to student funding. Currently schools must have at least 10 students, and some in the Legislature want to talk about if that number should be increased. And here’s why they shouldn’t.
Statewide, the student population most heavily impacted by an increase to 25 students are predominantly Alaska Native students and communities (68.5 percent of 850 students are Native). According to a story published today by reporter Paula Ann Solis, 20 of the 55 districts that would lose funding, potentially forcing the schools to close, serve an entirely Alaska Native population.
The vast majority of lawmakers in the Alaska Legislature are white, and the majority of students impacted are not. Regardless of the fiscal intention behind such a bill, introducing one with such a lopsided impact will be viewed as an attack on Native and rural culture, especially considering a savings of under $6 million, the Alaska Department of Education estimated.
Most Alaskans would prefer education funding go untouched, but that’s not the reality the state finds itself in. Cuts must be made somewhere, even if Alaska adopts a sovereign wealth model such as the one proposed by Gov. Bill Walker this month. A cut across the board impacting all districts and all students regardless of race would be easier for Alaskans to stomach. While we do not believe any racial motivation is intended, the effect cannot be denied.
Closing schools in too many cases will result in closing down communities after families move away. If lawmakers do insist on pursuing this option, it should be after all other alternatives have been exhausted.