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Education Task Force Recommends Reductions, but Critics Say Cuts Will Hurt Students

By Corey Allen-Young, Education Reporter, cyoung@ktuu.com
Published On: Jan 03 2014 06:46:07 PM AKST

By Reporter Corey Allen-Young.  (KTUU-TV)

ANCHORAGE -

A legislative task force looking into how much money is spent on Alaska's public schools has some arguing current spending levels cannot be maintained.

Critics fire back that it’s a push to cut education spending statewide.       

Tasked with examining the efficiency and effectiveness of public education throughout the state, the House Sustainable Education Task Force said Alaska's challenging fiscal future means new ways of thinking are needed for education in the long term.  

Beyond calling for a statewide education plan that would focus on reading, writing, and math, the task force—made up of three House members and five public members—said in a report that current state spending must be reduced.

The report recommends that spending should be focused first on operating funds.

But one of the task force's members, former lawmaker and current Anchorage Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Halcro, disagrees with that recommendation.

Halcro said for four months the task force heard from Alaskans from all over the state about why investing in education on all levels is the right move, and the way to improve schooling in Alaska down the road.

Halcro said that message was ignored, and pushing for cuts will severely impact Alaska's students. 

But task force co-chair Rep. Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla) said they are not asking for cuts, but looking realistically at the system to figure out how to spend within the state's means. 

"We can't keep it going at this rate,” Gattis said. “You don't have to like it, you just have to accept that we can't afford it.

 "Now, what we are going to do different, there's the conversation." 

"They look at the outcomes but they never bother to look at the inputs," Halcro countered.

"You can't talk about graduation rates without talking about students. You can't talk about students without talking about their learning environment and their home environment."  

NEA Alaska represents teachers across the state. President Ron Fuhrer said it’s frustrating to hear about reductions when the base student allocation has stayed the same over the past several years.

"We are talking about four years of no net increase to the base student allocation, that's one-third of a student's K-12 career," said Fuhrer.

"I know it's frustrating to try to pay for education out of an operating budget because there (are) so many pieces that people want out of it, but the bottom line is that education is a constitutional mandate." 

The recommendations from the House Sustainable Education Task Force also included reviewing school capital projects and consolidating services with non-school entities. 

More hearings are expected during the upcoming legislative session.