The Union of Students of the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA) exists as a governing body within a publicly funded institution. A large portion of our students grew up in the State of Alaska and went to public schools. Due to our close connection, USUAA places an immense value on Alaskan public education. It is our responsibility to ensure the student body has the right tools and resources needed to make informed decisions, especially when those decisions could impact their education here at UAA. On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Alaskans will be asked a series of important questions, one of which is who they want leading this great state. As the highest ranking official within the State of Alaska, the governor plays a pivotal role in deciding Alaska’s future, including that of public education and the University of Alaska system. As an organization with a vested interest in public education, we took it upon ourselves to ensure students participating in the upcoming election knew where the candidates stood when it comes to public education. What follows is a series of three questions we sent the three prominent candidates for governor. We received replies from Mike Dunleavy and Mark Begich. Their responses are recorded below.
- As governor, what will you do to ensure a robust public education system that ensures its students are well-prepared to be successful in a post-secondary educational career?
- As governor, would you support an effort to forward-fund public K-12 education in the State of Alaska?
- How would you, as governor, like to see the University of Alaska system change to better address the needs of the State of Alaska?
- I’ve worked most of my adult life in education, serving as a teacher in rural Alaska, school principal, superintendent and school board president. Our education system is in trouble. Alaska ranks worst in the U.S. on the 4th grade reading test. This is a scandal and should be treated as such. I believe we need a “back to basics” approach, where we focus on improving outcomes in core subjects: reading, writing, math, science and vocational-technical education.
We need to shift resources to teaching reading skills in the early grades. Research shows that if a child cannot read proficiently by fourth grade, he or she will be hampered in every subject for the duration of their schooling. Improving outcomes in this one area alone will vastly increase the chances of a child’s success for the rest of their years in school. A similar, crucial benchmark concerns proficiency in algebra by the time a student leaves 8th grade. Algebra is a gatekeeper course for higher-level work in mathematics and the physical sciences.
- Yes. As a former school district superintendent and also a school board president, I appreciate how beneficial it is for good management and budgeting to know in advance what revenue can be expected.
- I received my graduate degree from the University of Alaska and understand its vital role in our state. I would seek a discussion with the Board of Regents about the university’s mission and measures for defining success. The University must have adequate funding but also must be disciplined and focused in its mission.
The University of Alaska is a land grant-based institution. As governor, I want to ensure that the university has adequate land resources to monetize in order to help underwrite the costs of its mission. The development of university lands has the potential to create new jobs and produce other benefits for the broader Alaska economy.
- Investment in public education, from comprehensive Pre-K through high school, is essential to equipping Alaska students to reach their full potential – and for Alaska’s long-term strength. In recent years, K-12 educators across Alaska have received pink slips because of political infighting in the state legislature, jeopardizing funding for education and demoralizing education professionals. We cannot allow that to continue – students and educators deserve stability and a well-funded education system that provides them the education and skills necessary for success in higher education and life.
The first thing we must do is take education funding off the political table – my Invest in Alaska plan takes both the Permanent Fund Dividend and pre-K through 12 education out of politicians’ hands, guaranteeing both in the state constitution. Under my proposal, the POMV formula would determine the annual draw – with half going to the Dividend and the other half going to fund education. This year, my approach would have yielded a Dividend of around $2,000 per person, while providing around $1.3 billion as the floor for education funding.
With lagging education performance, it’s important that we tackle this issue comprehensively, looking at the latest research on new teaching methodology and evaluation metrics.
- Yes. My Invest in Alaska plan does that. Forward-funding is important to provide stability and certainty to students, parents and educators.
- As a former regent of the University, I know the central role the institution plays in building Alaska’s future. A well-funded, forward-looking University is key to growing our own workforce, providing Alaskans the knowledge and training they need to fill good Alaska jobs and strengthen our Alaska-grown economy of the future. Funding for our University has dropped by $60 million in the last four years, pushing higher costs on students while reducing offerings – that’s not the way to invest in long-term success.
University offerings should be developed with an eye toward the emerging growth industries in our state – health care, renewable energy, fisheries and more. For example: our state badly needs more nurses, yet our nursing education programs can at times require aspiring Alaskans wait for up to two years to start. As we expand renewable energy technology and deploy it across microgrids in rural Alaska, we’ll need Alaskans to install, maintain and operate this cutting-edge technology – and our University plays a key role in making sure Alaskans have the knowledge and training they need for these good jobs.
Every dollar we invest in our higher education system pays for itself many times over in terms of increased economic benefit. As governor, I will lead in strengthening and re-energizing the University of Alaska to tackle the needs of the next generation of students.