COMMENTARY: Legislature must protect Alaska’s most valuable resource


On the door of a kindergarten classroom in Juneau, I saw a sign that read “Graduating Class of 2025.” What will 2025 be like? I don’t know. But as a school board member, I consider it a sacred public trust to prepare our kids for it.

Much has been written about the investment required to attract development of our natural resources. But very little has been written about the investment required to develop our most important natural resource — Alaska’s young people.

My message is simple: Alaska’s schools are facing unprecedented challenges and we’re calling upon the Alaska Legislature and local government officials to partner with us in ensuring Alaska’s kids are prepared for the future.

Without too much detail, here’s a list of some of the challenges we face:

1. World Class Standards: Our districts are gearing up for the new Alaska and Common Core Standards. Our existing textbooks are not based on these standards. Our instruction will have to change. Both will require investment.

2. New Assessments: In about two years, our students will be asked to take assessments pegged to the Common Core, requiring deeper thought and technical analysis. (They say, “If you can Google it, it won’t be on the assessment.”) In Tennessee, when they shifted from state tests to a Common Core assessment, their proficiency rate in math went from 90 percent to 38 percent! We need to prepare our youngsters.

3. New Teacher Evaluation System: Changing to a system of teacher evaluation that includes student performance (as it should) is another big shift, requiring professional development and new tools.

4. Star Ratings for Schools: Department of Education and Early Development is circulating regulations for a new star rating system to replace the old Adequate Yearly Progress measures.

5. Graduation Rates: All districts are working to raise graduation rates to 90 percent or above, as the Governor challenged. The rates are going up, but there’s more to do.

Alaska’s schools are ready to step up to these challenges. To do so, we’re asking our partners for a reasonable, modest increase in funding, as we have been flat-funded in recent years.

Education is the only state responsibility mandated in the Constitution. The Framers knew the importance of developing our human capital, along with our other natural resources.

Yet, across our state, school boards are struggling over which essentials to cut: postpone the new math curriculum (needed to meet the standards) or eliminate technology (the “Tools of the Future”) or reduce custodians (needed to maintain facilities) or raise class sizes (needed to improve student achievement).

We can’t cut our way to excellence. Smart states don’t treat education as just another line item, asking schools, year after year, to absorb rising fixed costs.

The long-term impact of changing oil taxes is no more important than the long-term impact of preparing our young people. 

2025 is not that far away. The challenges are great. Alaska can afford a modest increase to enable school districts to change and rise to the challenge.

Remember, Alaska’s real future is not buried in the ground. It’s the 129,000 students sitting in our classrooms.


Sue Hull is president of the Association of Alaska School Boards and a member of the Fairbanks School Board.


Reader Comments:
Oct 30, 2013 12:20 pm
 Posted by  kathleen

An important subject, this future of our children, Alaskan and other. I wondered at your use of the word sacred in this regard. Are you agreeing with the Bible Psalm 127:3 where it says 'children are an heritage (inheritance) of the LORD.' You go on to explain why you need MONEY to properly prepare the children for the future. I would suggest that we take the amount of money we spend in 'educating' our children and just for the fun of it, figure out what percentage of the total money we have is. Then I would go back to, say when Abe Lincoln was a boy and figure out approximately how much money was 'invested' in his and other backwoods children of his day's educations. Look at the man he became and the wisdom he showed. Was this a direct result of his being the recipient of large sums of money? Or was his thought process molded by the wisdom found in God's word the Holy Bible? I know that not every one believes in the Bible, mostly from a lack of studying it, but my main thought here is that being educated is not necessarily a function of how much money was lavished on you. I have an idea of how to save some money. Get rid of the kids who don't want to learn and who have parents who do not care. More parents being involved with helping their children as well as guiding them as to morals etc could save you a couple of dollars. And please, let's not put the framers and their intents in this. They had lofty ideals, yep, as long as you were white. If you were a native american it would be a miracle if you were allowed to learn your own language and forget about slaves.

I don't think it is all about money. Spend time teaching. If they don't want to learn or behave...send em home. Get parents involved. That is my unsolicited opinion

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