EDITOR, Daily News:
Last week, the Alaska House Education Committee heard House Bill 65, "Increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA)." It was a brief hearing, acting solely as an introduction, but it was an essential first step during this legislative session in the conversation about education funding.
I have heard loud and clear from teachers, students, and school boards that schools are struggling. They are dealing with significant increases in costs like heating, insurance and supplies while seeing state support for our schools remain mostly flat-funded over the past eight years. Class sizes are increasing, programs are being eliminated, and schools are even being closed at some locations around the state.
As the bill's sponsor, I wholeheartedly support increasing education funding. HB65 would raise the BSA by $1,250 per eligible student for a total BSA per student of $7,210. That is about a 20% increase, similar to the rate of inflation we have seen over the past several years.
A bit of sticker shock is associated with this increase: it would cost the state $321 million. And when it comes to discussing the costs of state services, the debate can get more impassioned. The state does not necessarily have extra cash lying around, and for every increase, there must be corresponding cuts elsewhere in the budget — especially cuts to the dividend (PFD).
While an increase in education funding may have a hefty price tag, it is tiny in comparison to the cost of the PFD. The governor's proposed dividend for this upcoming year would cost the state $2.47 billion. (We currently spend about $1.23 billion on statewide education). Let me be clear: I am absolutely for protecting the PFD, especially for future generations of Alaskans, but I am not for sacrificing our youth's educational opportunities, the need for other essential state services, the need to make investments in deferred maintenance, and other capital budget investments in statewide infrastructure or to overdraw on the Earnings Reserve portion of the Permanent Fund to pay for it.
We can't have it all. We can't have a supersized dividend and simultaneously support our students and the facilities in which they attend school in the manner that is needed. This message is challenging to hear, but it's the hard truth. If you have any questions or comments, I am always available at Rep.Dan.Ortiz@AKLeg.gov.
House District 1