Remedial Math: Parnell’s Attack on Education
Public education in Alaska is complicated. For most of the state’s population, the money comes from three sources: federal money, state money and local money. It’s a true political compromise: unsatisfactory to everyone involved.
The federal money, for the most part, comes from payment in lieu of taxes, paid by federal agencies like the Department of Defense because municipalities cannot levy property taxes against federal property, but they contribute a lot of students to the educational system. The elementary schools of Fort Wainwright or Eielson Air Force Base.
Another, and the biggest chunk, come from the State of Alaska. The “foundation formula,” as it’s called, pays a specific amount per student per year, multiplied by a cost of living factor. The foundation formula is ridiculously complex, and hides in its nooks and crannies a lot of dirty little secrets, but its no worse than other states WC has studied and generally less corrupt.
The third chunk is imposed only on municipalities, it’s the local contribution. Most of Alaska’s geography isn’t in an organized municpality, but most of its people are. In the railbelt, the “local match” is made with property taxes. Elsewhere, it’s a sales tax, or a fish tax, or even an agreement with a major industry – the Northwest Arctic Borough and Red Dog Mine, for example – for a payment in lieu of taxes. There’s both a floor and a ceiling on the amount of money a municipality must or can contribute. As an example, here’s what the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District revenues look like for the current school year:
It’s obvious that two-thirds of the money comes from the State of Alaska, under the Foundation Formula. While the municipalities – and the Fairbanks North Star Borough, in particular – kvetch about their share, it’s actually embarrassingly small, 22-23% of the total. It’s the State’s contribution, the amount paid under the foundation formula, that makes the difference.
And there’s been a lot of angst lately about the State’s contribution. The Mudflats, Andy Halcro, Alaska Dispatch and probably others have posted blog entires about the issue. Because while Governor Parnell has promised “full funding for education,” in fact the increase in his budget is only about 1.1%, at a time when inflation alone was 3.16%. A two percent reduction doesn’t sound like much until you multiply it by, say, $153 million. Then you have to find $3 million to make up the shortfall. That means higher student/teacher ratios, which generally means poorer education.
Remember this funding shortfall comes at a time when
(a) State testing and education standards impose a heavier burden on School District.
(b) The State is running big budget surpluses, and that’s before the Governor’s proposed $2 billion blue plate special for the oil industry.
(c) Because the state contribution is proportionately larger in Bush Alaska, the impact there will be even heavier, making an already bad situation even worse.
Add to the mix the increasing pressure to go to a voucher system, to allow state money to flow to religious schools to satisfy another Parnell agenda, and you have a truly frightening situation.
The United States had a mostly-private educational system in the 1800′s, and it didn’t work worth a damn. The U.S. became a manufacturing and industrial power, to a considerable degree, because it moved to a publicly-funded, public school system. If you don’t have a secret religious agenda, you could actually look it up.
Of course, public education – including the history of the United States – doesn’t work with everyone. There are a few failures. Including, plainly, East Anchorage High School graduate Sean Parnell.