My Turn: Should Alaska’s education go Hawaiian?

  • By DAVID NEES
  • Monday, October 19, 2015 1:01am
  • Opinion

Alaska, the 49th state, is struggling with its education funding, an annual event that draws lots attention to the state budget and usually is the deciding factor for when a session ends.

This is not the case in the 50th state. The legislature in Hawaii does not have this struggle because they do not have the same system for funding their schools.

Is it time to reconsider the school funding system Alaska’s founders chose?

Keep in mind two facts: 1. Hawaii had the nation’s first public school system west of the Mississippi. Founded by Kamahama, it was open to all residents and was fully funded by the king. 2. At statehood, Alaska established four distinct school systems; Department of Defense schools, Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, state schools and independent schools.

Discrimination was rampant in Alaska’s independent schools, where even in Juneau during the 1920’s someone of mixed race had to sue to get admitted to the local school. One girl who sued was not Native enough for the BIA school to admit her but was too Native for the local Juneau public school. She won her case in court.

Dismantling of the BIA school system and the transfer of DOD schools to local school districts have left Alaska with a system that was a kludge of the original constitutional construct. Today we have more schools, more districts and more bills for the state to pay than envisioned by the state’s founders.

Hawaii set up a unique system. In the 50th state:

• One statewide school district includes all schools.

• No property taxes are levied for support of education (no basis for Ketchikan Lawsuit)

• No constitutional or legislative funding formula allocates funds for public education.

• All federal education funds are allocated by the legislature.

• The budget for public schools is developed by the elected state school board, which has no taxing or bonding authority.

• School-based budgeting in Hawaii means their Department of Education allocates funds to each school directly on an annual basis. Unspent funds revert back to the state

• Maintenance of schools is retained by the state.

This different system of funding education has resulted in:

• Early childhood education (pre-school) funding.

• Gifted and talented education (funded).

• Transportation to school of choice (charter schools).

• ELL, SPED and economically disadvantaged students receiving both state and federal funds directly.

• Teachers being funded in both TRS and Social Security.

• The lowest Administrative cost in the nation for a state education department (51st).

• Charter school growth because applicants apply to the state board, as there are no local boards.

• Teachers are hired by the state and are state employees.

Hawaii spends less on administration of its schools, spends less per student and performs better on standardized tests than Alaska. Is it time to say “Aloha” to our system of education — with all of its flaw — and say “Aloha” to the Hawaiian system of educational funding?

• David Nees is an Alaskan educator and a member of the Sustainable Education Task Force.

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