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House Democrats Prioritize Education, Promote Solutions

FOCUS: parent involvement, commitment to districts, lowering cost of college and job training

JUNEAU - The state of Alaska needs to make education more of a priority, House Democrats told reporters at a press conference in the capitol today. House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula (Juneau), Representative Chris Tuck (Anchorage), Representative Pete Petersen (Anchorage) and Representative Les Gara (Anchorage) outlined their proposals to increase parent involvement in early education, to make sure school districts have the resources they need, and to make college and job training more affordable for Alaskans.

“We’re the wealthiest state in the nation, and it is unacceptable for the governor to put education at number six on his list of priorities,” said Rep. Kerttula. “We are a great state, but we will not have a great future unless we educate our children.”

Rep. Tuck’s “Parents as Teachers” legislation (HB 49) would expand voluntary training for parents on how to effectively engage in their children’s education before kindergarten. Currently military bases in Alaska operate the program under the name “Homes for Heroes.” Children who receive this or other early learning pre-kindergarten opportunities are shown to do better in school and in the job market later in life.

"We can all agree that education starts in the home,” said Rep. Chris Tuck. “[My Parents as Teachers bill] is designed to get parents involved early in their child’s education. And studies have shown that once parents get involved at the pre-K level, parents stay continually involved throughout their child’s educational career.”

Today, Rep. Petersen introduced an updated version of his legislation to ensure that schools don’t have to continue to absorb the costs of inflation by making cuts that affect the classroom. The bill would increase the state’s per-student commitment to districts by exactly the cost of inflation from one year to the next for three years beginning this year. To keep up with inflation from last year, this year’s per-student increase would be $187.52. The bill (HB 143) also requires that the Department of Education and Early Development determine the actual rate of school cost increases for a current year and present suggested funding adjustments based on those numbers for each subsequent year.

“In the governor’s state of the state last week, he had several priorities, but education wasn’t toward the top, and when you look at his budget, it gives every agency  enough to cover the costs of inflation except school children,” said Rep. Petersen. “Our young people need to be a top priority.”

Rep. Gara described how his legislation (HB 272) to make college and vocational education more affordable for Alaskans by reducing student loan rates for Alaskans who put their education and job training to work in Alaska. The bill would give a three percent interest rate reduction on Alaska student loans to students who work in Alaska.

“Money should never be an obstacle to success. It should never be an obstacle to jobs, and it should never be an obstacle to college,” said Rep. Gara. “If you want to bring your jobs skills back, which we need for our economy, we will help you and we will reduce your [Alaska student] loan rate.”

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