When Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveiled his proposed budget, it shocked many educators. Since then, the narrative presented by some in the education community is that the governor does not care about education or children. However, from my experience as an educator, I know that this is a false narrative designed to protect the status quo rather than improve educational outcomes.
Throughout my years of teaching, I have witnessed the teachers union and some in administration use fear, manipulation and rhetoric to convince the public that education cuts will devastate schools and programs. School districts always threaten to increase class sizes, close schools, cut out sports and lay off teachers. They specifically target teachers for the cuts.
The unions and administration team up to make teachers squeal, threaten, gnash their teeth at us and show up for public testimony to manipulate public sentiment. Some educators use every method available to convince you that Alaska’s education system will collapse with education budget reductions. It’s their standard practice and you have seen it throughout the years.
It is pure propaganda. Please don’t fall for it.
To have a rational discussion about education funding in Alaska, it is important to have the facts. Alaska’s teachers are extremely well paid, but scored near or at the bottom in almost every measurable education outcome for students. We have increased the rate of funding for education more than any other state while our results have plummeted to the bottom.
Dunleavy’s proposed budget should not be a surprise. He campaigned on reducing the size of government and getting our fiscal house in order. The previous governor and Legislature spent more than $14 billion from savings and grew spending at an unsustainable rate. Recognizing this, the governor promised he would present a balanced budget and protect our savings. He promised the budget he presented would be honest, predictable and sustainable. He promised his budget would protect the private sector and not take Permanent Fund Dividends from students and their parents.
Will our current financial situation be a crisis or an opportunity? That depends on the outcome of the tug-of-war between Dunleavy and the Legislature. It will also depend on input from the thousands of people who voted for the governor. Voters spoke clearly when they elected Dunleavy. They voted for a balanced budget, crime reform and the traditional PFD with PFD restoration. They, including educators, anticipated budget cuts to education when they voted for the governor because they know there are creative solutions to improve educational outcomes that do not include just spending more money.
The governor knows that despite the doom and gloom scenarios painted by some education administrators and teachers, classrooms do not have to be negatively impacted by the proposed budget reductions. Simple education reform, consolidation of schools and school districts and the elimination of inefficiency and waste are the places to start.
Less spending on travel and the “latest and greatest” curriculum and technology would also net additional savings. With creativity and problem solving, individual school districts can do amazing things with the money they have. It’s time for them to face the reality that just spending more money is not improving education for our children.
It’s time for Alaskans to get involved. Dunleavy and legislators are taking suggestions right now. Do you have a field of interest where you see potential cost savings? Would you be willing to make cost-saving suggestions to Dunleavy so money is available for what Alaskans really need instead of what some want?
Alaska’s ability to solve these fiscal problems is greatly enhanced by the willingness of its citizens to get involved in cost-saving measures. I hope you will participate.
• Carol Carman is a lifelong Alaskan whose parents homesteaded in Wasilla, retired teacher of 25 years, and currently serves as the chair of Republican Party District 9.