As the state Legislature's debate on education continues, people came together in the Mat-Su Valley Wednesday to demonstrate for increases to base student allocation, the state’s annual funding to school districts for every student they teach.
With similar rallies already held in Anchorage and Juneau, Wednesday saw a strong showing of Alaskans in the state's fastest-growing region. Despite their disparate locations, the protesters have had one consistent message: "Kids Not Cuts."
"The Valley is an extremely important area as far as Alaskan communities, so we’re here to show our support,” said Catherine Inman, a participant at a Wasilla rally.
“All Alaskans, from Bethel, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Fairbanks, everywhere -- we need a strong public education for all Alaskans,” said Bob Williams, a Mat-Su Valley Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
Wasilla's event was one of three rallies in the Valley Wednesday afternoon, with others held in Palmer and Talkeetna. In Wasilla, dozens of teachers, parents and children waved signs asking lawmakers in Juneau to increase the BSA by $400.
“If our kids are our most important resource, let’s put some muscle behind that and actually show decent funding and increase the BSA for kids,” Inman said.
The Valley isn’t getting hit as hard as some other towns, but 33 area-wide positions are at jeopardy in the Mat-Su Borough School Board's proposed budget.
“We just got told at our staff meeting today that we’ll be losing a (physical education) teacher and we’ll be losing a science position,” said Jannis Mack, a parent and teacher at Wasilla Middle School.
On Monday, the House failed to pass an amendment to this year’s education bill that would add $404 to the BSA. House Bill 278 is now headed to the Senate.
“That’s a debate happening right now, how much is enough, what should education look like and how long do we plan on the expenditures in the budget,” said Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla).
Dunleavy, an educator himself, said the issue of funding education will go beyond this legislative session.
“If you don’t want to fund the system at the rate you’re funding it, then you have to change the system -- that’s really where we’re at right now," Dunleavy said. "To be honest, I see this as a two or three year process to go through these discussions.”
The Senate Finance Committee will hear testimony on the BSA increase Thursday morning. Great Alaska Schools, the group behind the rallies, plans to both testify before the committee and submit a petition to the Governor to raise the BSA.