Dear NEA-Alaska Members,
As the frenetic pace of the Alaska summer gives way to fall, educators across the state are preparing our schools, classrooms, and lesson plans. Our buildings, mostly quiet for several months, will transform into living, breathing organisms filled with energy and enthusiasm for the upcoming school year. As members of NEA-Alaska, all of you play a vital role in this process, and for that I thank you.
Our public schools work because they are open to every student who makes it to our front doors. We don’t turn away anyone, no matter their background, learning ability, income, or nationality. We provide an excellent public education to nearly 140,000 Alaska students in nearly every community in our state. That is our promise to communities and families alike.
Within a week or two of the start of school we’ll have built relationships with students that will allow us to know not only what they need to learn but how they learn. These observations and insights are not the product of a standardized test, but of training, experience, and communication with our colleagues. We use the full range of our professional expertise, so that every student has an opportunity to grow and learn every day. This is why public schools work.
As educators, our expert recommendations are sometimes at odds with district mandates or the political realities of the moment. Governor Dunleavy’s proposal on Feb. 13 to cut 25 percent of the public education budget in Alaska made my heart sink. Despite his campaign promise not to cut public education, his administration did just that. These cuts would have had a chilling effect on student learning at every single grade level. Fortunately, a strong and diverse coalition of education supporters like you took action and the Legislature overturned these cuts. But, our fight isn’t over.
As the Dunleavy administration aims to further reduce the budget next year, public education will once again find itself in the crosshairs. As educators, we stand together. NEA-Alaska has joined forces with the University of Alaska and pre-K partners to introduce a ballot initiative called the Alaska Students’ Educational Bill of Rights. Amy Jo Meiners, 2015 teacher of the year, has taken the lead for K-12 educators. She is joined by UAA student Alex Jorgensen and early child education advocate Rabbi Abram Goodstein. This initiative will appear on the November 2020 ballot if we get the required 28,000 signatures. The purpose of the initiative is to write into Alaska statute exactly what our students deserve from pre-K through university when it comes to public education.
There is actually very little in Alaska statute or the Alaska Constitution protecting public education and defining what it is that Alaskans expect for children. Given the proposed cuts to funding, we believe that it is time for the people to speak. This initiative will let us talk to parents and community members about what they should expect from schools when it comes to access, quality, and programs. Although initiatives in Alaska can’t dictate funding, they can lay down a clear marker for what we expect for our students—and that’s what this initiative does. I encourage you to read it, sign it, and then get all your friends to sign it, as well. These ballot initiative petitions should be available sometime in October.
I speak with educators across the state every day, and I know that for most of you, politics is a source of frustration. Some would like to ignore it, while others get very angry. The better course is between the extremes. We must remain engaged—we owe it to our students and communities to clearly articulate what is needed to build a great system of public education. We should continue to support pro-public education lawmakers and help teach them why children are Alaska’s greatest asset. When a student arrives at school hungry or the victim of trauma, we welcome them and create an environment that allows learning to happen. We can’t solve every community ill, but we can make our schools safe places, where children get the help and learning that they deserve.
Let’s continue to bring the light of learning to our communities and build a better Alaska.