Like everything else in Alaska, the state's education problem is big. Despite being one of the richest states in America (CNN News), Alaska has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country (U.S. Department of Education). But more distressing than lagging behind the poorest states is the undisputable fact that education is not a priority for Alaska's lawmakers.
Priorities are allocated resources (both time and money) to fuel the solution process. A state priority that has dominated several legislative sessions and at least two special sessions is oil tax reform. During this process, lawmakers have invested in think tanks comprised of subject matter experts from around the world, conducted extensive research about the issue, and held countless discussions that produced dozens of creative ideas on how to change the current tax structure.
The current legislative session began on Jan. 15 and will end on April 14. So far, there have been two bills introduced about education -- one to shorten the school week to four days and the other to raise the Base Student Allocation that has been flat funded since 2009. Besides those bills, the only other buzz about education is anticipated budget cuts.
How can this be? Where are the conversations and allocation of resources (both time and money) on how to improve the state's education system? Why aren't the best minds in the state and experts from around the country holding think tanks? How can anything succeed without reliable resources and short- and long-term goals? Alaska's lawmakers know how to invest and solve difficult issues so why isn't education a priority in one of the five richest states in America?
With a greater than 30 percent drop-out rate (46 percent among Alaska Natives) and more cuts on the way, it's time to educate our legislators about what's happening in classrooms and schools throughout the state. It's simple, make an appointment with your legislator (in person, via computer or phone) and tell them to make education a priority. You also can share your thoughts on Facebook with the Alaska's Education System -- Underfunded and Heading for Failure group or at fundeducationinak.blogspot.com. School rules apply on both sites -- no whining and name-calling -- just the facts, please.
Years of rudderless underfunding have crippled the state's education system. It's time to put a plug in this sinking ship and start rebuilding. Come on, Alaska, let's get to work -- send an SOS to your legislator today.