Interesting things come to light in legislative committee hearings. Take, for example, the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s education budget, which aims to help close the state’s $1.6 billion spending gap.
There was the usual ho-hah, snuffling and chest pounding about the size of the proposed state cuts to education, which amount to about 25 percent, something Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said was “completely unacceptable.”
But, then, there was this: Sen. Natasha von Imhof pointed out overall enrollment in Alaska’s schools has dropped from 131,000 in 2006 to 129,000 in 2018. Despite that, state funding for schools in 2006 was $805 million. It climbed to $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2018. Fiscal year 2019? It is $1.34 billion.She said employee benefits are the driving force behind increased expenditures in the face of falling enrollment. They went up from $302 million in 2006 to nearly $600 million in 2017, the latest figure she said she had.
“That is a $294 million increase in 11 years, or 97 percent,” Must Read Alaska reported Von Imhof as saying. “So districts are spending less on books and curriculum and more on health care for their teachers.”
Governing magazine put 2016 education spending in Alaska at $2.2 billion – and instructional spending was $1.3 billion. It is no wonder the education industry in Alaska is aghast at Dunleavy’s proposed cuts.
This, by the way, in an education system that consistently ranks near or at the bottom in national educational results and a system that requires between 50 percent and 70 percent of incoming freshmen at state colleges to take remedial courses.
None of this should surprise anybody. Costs go up. Results go down. It has been happening for quite a while. Von Imhof is right to wonder why. We all should.