Crowded Alaska classrooms likely under Gov. Dunleavy’s education budget, lawmakers say

Feb 18, 2019 | James Brooks |

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing to cut state funding for K-12 education by more than $300 million next year, but that idea met criticism Monday from state lawmakers who appeared to reject the concept.

“You’re talking about pushing high 20s and 30s for student per teacher proportion right now,” said Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, during a Monday morning Senate Finance Committee meeting. “The question for the commissioner is: With this adjustment, you’re going to be talking 40-44 kids per classroom. Can we adequately deliver an adequate educational product with 44 kids per classroom?”

Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Michael Johnson said he doesn’t know.

“Any reduction in funding is going to be difficult for everyone. There are no easy answers before us,” he said.

“I think class sizes will vary from district to district. … I can’t anticipate how each district or each classroom would respond if these reductions are passed.”

Micciche’s figures aren’t solid: They’re based on an extrapolation. The governor’s budget proposal cuts about one-quarter of the state’s support for education, and that might mean one-quarter fewer teachers.

Dunleavy last week proposed cutting more than $1 billion in state spending, including the reductions in education funding, and his plan is being considered by the Alaska Legislature.

This year, the state’s budget for K-12 education is $1.6 billion. The governor has proposed reducing that to $1.3 billion, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.

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