As the Alaska Legislature struggles to balance the state budget in light of the multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall, everyone is trying to keep the cuts to education from going too deep. Governor Walker said as much in his State of the State Address, and it’s true in the Senate Education Committee, on which Kodiak’s Gary Stevens sits.
“We’re trying to protect education as much as we can. But in this budget process we’re in, everything is going to be impacted. We’ve got at $3.5-billion deficit. That is just going to touch everyone in this state, every city, every borough, every school district. So, we’re hoping to hold education harmless, but we know there will be some impact to it.”
Stevens doesn’t think the piece of personal legislation he’s introduced this year should cost the state much money if it’s implemented.
“It’s an attempt to bring back civics education in our school so that when kids leave school they’ll have a good idea what it means to be a citizen, and will be more involved in the community and in the state and voting and that sort of thing. It’s a very simple bill that would establish a task force to try and find out what are the ways that we can do this. One of the ways they did this in Massachusetts is industry got together, businesses got together and they funded workshops for teachers at no cost to the districts, so that teachers would go into a central location and be able to take a little class in how to use civics more as a tool in your classroom.”
Monday on the House floor, a resolution was passed touting school choice, though the floor debate revolved around school vouchers private schools. It passed largely along caucus lines. Stevens pointed out it would require a change in the state constitution to allow public funds to be used for private or religious schools.
“Certainly a strong state in terms of parental choice so that parents have the opportunity to make as many decisions as they can to help their kids accomplish what they want them to accomplish. And of course we have a strong believe in local control, so the local school board makes all the important decisions. So our job is to fund things, to set standards and to make sure things get done that should get done like the testing and those issues.”
The Alaska Legislature is just more than a third of the way through their 90-day session.