That there are new ideas for changing how the state pays for education isn’t a surprise. That this cost-saving proposal could close 60 schools across the state is.
“Certainly there has been talk that 10 students is, quite frankly — with the technology that we have today and the options that are available — it’s just too expensive,” Rep. Lynn Gattis said.
Gattis is a Republican from Wasilla and chairs the House Education Committee. She’s one of the lawmakers considering introducing legislation to change a number of things about how schools in Alaska are funded. One of her ideas is to increase the minimum threshold for schools to receive full funding. She’s considering proposing 25 students as the minimum, but she’s open to a number higher or lower than that.
“Closing schools, depriving rural kids of a teacher and a traditional education that kids in cities and parents in cities would reasonably expect is not fair or equitable and it’s a complete nonstarter,” Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins from Sitka said.
Hiking the threshold from 10 students to 25 could mean closure for 60 of Alaska’s schools. Typically once a school goes below the threshold and loses most of its funding, the district is forced to close the school, unless it makes the rare decision to siphon funding from other schools it administers. But in this case, pushing funds around may not even be an option. Many of Alaska’s smallest schools are in the same school districts.
Education Commissioner Mike Hanley says it’s not fair to target education for cuts just because it’s one of the state’s biggest expenses. If cuts to the state budget must be made, he said, then education should be a priority to maintain.
Hanley said, ‘What’s our constitutional responsibility to provide an education? What’s our moral responsibility to supply and provide an education? And can we still meet that obligation with less money?’”