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Report: Over 600 Alaska Teachers, Staff Eliminated Last Three Years

Democratic legislators push for solutions so students get the education they need

ANCHORAGE – Alaska schools lost over 600 teachers and staff across the state over the past three years as per-student classroom funding has remained flat, according to an Alaska Legislative Research Services report Representative Les Gara and Representative Harriet Drummond released today. 

“Success is built on strong schools, not schools that don’t have the resources to teach,” said Gara (D-Anchorage).  “The state must reverse these education losses before its government harms the educational opportunity Alaska’s youth deserve.”

“Teacher losses don’t match the changes in student population. We’re stretching our teachers thinner and thinner each year, and expecting them to do more and more,” said Drummond (D-Anchorage), a former member of the Anchorage School Board. “If we want our kids to be ready for the jobs and challenges of tomorrow, we have to give them the resources they need today.”

The report shows that in the past three years, teacher, career and guidance counselor, and other education staff fell far faster than student enrollment, which has increased or remained flat in many districts. 

“Taking away career counselors to help youth get jobs, guidance counselors to help youth succeed, and teachers to help youth learn is the wrong way to go if we want a trained, educated, successful workforce,” said Gara. 

The Anchorage School District has lost over five percent of its staff at a time its student numbers declined less than one percent.  While student enrollment rose by two percent in the Matanuska-Susitna School District, staff counts decreased by over 100 positions—more than six percent.  In Juneau and Kodiak, staff has fallen by 13 percent while student enrollment has fallen less than one percent in each district.  Fairbanks has lost nearly three percent of its staff although student enrollment has remained essentially the same.   

Despite rising costs and increasing educational demands, per-student “classroom” funding has remained unchanged over the past four years, with no adjustment for inflation. Governor Parnell and Republican legislators have argued “funding” has gone up, but the majority of school fund increases, all of which passed with bi-partisan support from the Legislature, cannot go into the classroom.  The biggest proportion has been over $1 billion the state has appropriated towards its $4.4 billion Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) shortfall.  Those funds go into the pension system, and districts cannot use them to hire teachers or staff.  Likewise, funds for bussing have increased, but are used to cover increased fuel prices, not teachers.  As a result, the largest school districts in the state have had to cut over 600 needed staff due to limited resources.

To avoid and reverse the past three years of staff cuts, Democratic legislators have offered legislation and budget amendments in each of the last three legislative sessions (HB95 in 2013) to ensure per-student classroom funding, which can be used to hire teachers and staff, keeps pace with inflation.

“We need teachers, aides, teaching materials and counselors if Alaska’s students are going to have a shot at the American dream.  Shortchanging our children is not the way to build a future,” said Drummond.

Read the Legislative Research Services report: http://akdemocrats.org/gara/092313_Teacher_Position_Reductions.pdf

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