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By Kay Brown
Executive Director, Alaska Democratic Party 

Parnell budget disinvests in public education, harms state’s competitiveness

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By reducing inflation-adjusted education funding, Sean Parnell’s FY 2014 budget proposal would harm Alaska’s competitiveness. For the fourth straight year, the proposed budget would freeze Base Student Allocation funding. Taking inflation into account, this represents a cut in educational investment. The governor’s budget should invest in education to improve Alaska’s competitiveness because our long-term economic growth depends on a technically skilled, well trained workforce.

The Federal Reserve reported that inflation rose 2.2 percent over the last 12 months, and during the four-year freeze in education funding inflation has ranged from 1.64 percent to 3.16 percent. During the last three years in which the Parnell administration has made budget proposals, inflation has averaged 2.32 percent in annual terms, meaning that the real value of education funding has declined approximately 7 percent.

As a result of this disinvestment, in Anchorage alone 35 teachers and staff were laid off last year and 100 more positions will not be filled this year. Alaska already lags most states in high school graduation rates among younger workers. Alaska also has one of the lowest percentages of young workers with associate’s (two-year) or higher (four-year and graduate) degrees.

The Government Accountability Office found that Alaska is among those states which lack employer-funded vocational training programs, while other oil-rich states such as Texas and Louisiana have such programs.

Not only does Alaska lag other states in educational attainment, but it also is falling further behind.

Among older workers, Alaska is closer to the national average in educational attainment, but among younger workers it has not kept pace. This means that the productivity and earnings potential of Alaskan workers will fall, compared to productivity of workers in other states, in the absence of corrective action to boost Alaska’s educational competitiveness.

Alaska could be investing in early childhood and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, but instead the Parnell budget would take us backward.

Rather than making strategic investments, the governor’s budget would allow Alaska’s K-12 education system to erode from the ravages of inflation. Inflation has been described as “a thief in the night.” Governor Parnell should address the threat of inflation to ensure Alaska’s children do not have educational opportunities stolen from them.

Alaska’s economic prosperity depends on our state’s competitiveness. Alaska needs a highly trained workforce and fiscal policy that supports technological innovation and workforce training, including but not limited to jobs related to the oil and gas industry. By failing to invest in education funding, the governor’s budget would undermine Alaskan competitiveness.

 

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