Joint Position Statements (2024)

Student achievement is our number one priority. Adequate funding remains our most critical need.

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Priority Funding for Public Education

The State of Alaska has a constitutional responsibility to public education, which means to provide timely, reliable, and predictable revenue for schools, funding the actual cost of education in all districts and to provide full and equitable funding for all initiatives, laws, and mandates that require additional resources. Early notification of funding and predictable funding are crucial to sound financial management, as well as recruitment and retention of quality educators.

We appreciate the Legislature prioritizing education funding in 2023. The administration’s veto, combined with prolonged flat funding, historic inflation and increasing costs in health care, transportation, operations, and maintenance, results in a loss of purchasing power that schools cannot sustain while keeping achievement high and meeting accountability requirements such as the Alaska Reads Act. Adjusted for inflation, schools need an increase of $1,413 in the BSA to match inflation since FY17.

In order to reverse the ongoing out-migration and economic decline in the state of Alaska, it is imperative that the state invest in education. Implementation of a long-term, multi-revenue fiscal plan remains essential to maximize the ability of districts to meet student needs. Diversified revenue streams are critical in the current fiscal climate to address any deficit and ensure the ability to fund service increases associated with economic development, inflation, and deferred maintenance capital requirements, while preserving the Permanent Fund Dividend for future generations.

ACSA opposes cost shifting state expenditure responsibilities to local governments. ACSA strongly opposes any efforts by the State to unnecessarily limit or reduce the resources districts rely upon to support non-instructional or community-based programs, such as Community Services, afterschool programs, and/or pupil transportation. We urge the state to abide by the definition of local contribution found in 4 AAC 09.990(b), which is limited to “money appropriated to a district’s school operating fund by the city or borough,” and to halt their pursuit of a new definition of local contributions under the cap as any funds provided by the municipalities to the districts, including those appropriated to special revenue funds for non-instructional purposes.

Transportation Funding

Student attendance is directly tied to availability of transportation/routes, and Alaska has the highest rate of chronic absenteeism in the country. State transportation funding has not increased since 2016, although costs have increased almost 40%. It is imperative that the State of Alaska increase and inflation-proof funding for pupil transportation. Without this increase, our responsibility to provide a free and appropriate public education for students is compromised, ensuring that districts will not be able to provide Alaska’s students with safe, reliable, accessible transportation from home to school in accordance with Alaska statute. 

Additionally, severe staffing shortages have resulted in increased costs to recruit and retain drivers and attendants, even while required expenditures for maintenance, repair, supplies, and shipping have risen to unprecedented levels. Since that time, statewide transportation costs have exceeded the amount of state pupil transportation funding by over $36.5 million, requiring districts to further redirect operating funds to non-instructional services.

Since the pupil transportation grant is tied to enrollment, declining enrollment has further fueled a decrease in funding since there is no hold harmless provision, even though routes often cannot be cut or shortened without significantly limiting accessibility for remaining students. Cutting routes also has the potential to increase the amount of time some students spend being transported to school. 

With unique geographic challenges, severe weather, wildlife, and vast distances, Alaska’s students depend on safe and reliable transportation via air, ferry, and road to access their constitutional right to a free public education. Therefore, we must ensure all communities’ pupil transportation needs are equitably met and maintained, and that transportation does not become another barrier to academic engagement.

Social, Emotional, and Mental Health

Student outcomes in the classroom are directly connected to equitable access to mental health professionals in public schools. Studies by the American School Counselor Association show that school districts with lower student-to-school-counselor ratios produce higher graduation rates, higher college entrance, lower absenteeism rates and fewer suspensions. 

ACSA supports targeted funding to enable schools to recruit, retain, and increase students’ access to school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, nurses, and mental health specialists and to provide additional professional development for all staff to meet the increasing and diverse needs of all students. 

The CDC listed Alaska as having the third highest suicide mortality rate of any state, with 30.8 deaths per 100,000 total population. Alaska also has the third highest adolescent (ages 15-19) suicide rate in the country, with 41.3 deaths per 100,000 adolescents, according to the United Health Foundation.  

All Alaskan students, regardless of their geographic location, deserve equitable access to staff and support that nurtures their social, emotional and mental health. State funding is critical in providing school districts with the resources so that schools can implement comprehensive, culturally responsive, and school-based mental health programs to foster the overall wellbeing of our most precious resource, kids. 

Health Care Costs and Benefits

Controlling the cost of health care for our professionals is critical and promises long-term benefits in recruiting and retaining effective educators and other school staff. Such staff are at the core of maximizing student achievement. Implementing solutions to the long-term, escalating costs of healthcare and health insurance in the state is imperative. Health care costs have become a large portion of districts’ operating fund expenditures, with some districts seeing 20% of their operating dollars going to healthcare. This significant and growing cost takes away from a district’s ability to provide funding to other programs and needs. 

School Safety

ACSA advocates the prevention of school crime and violence as a catalyst for safe and secure schools. We emphasize the importance of preventative as well as responsive measures to ensure school safety. ACSA supports improving the safety, physical and mental well-being of our children, knowing this is critical to increasing student achievement. School safety is developed through training, prevention, planning and maintaining effective, positive relationships among students, tribes responding to local needs. ACSA supports providing school communities and their school safety partners with quality information, resources, consultation, and training services. 

ACSA advocates full funding and access to school counselors, law enforcement and first responders, Village Public Safety Officers, and other agencies such as the Office of Children’s Services. ACSA calls for a statewide clearinghouse of safety trainings, internal safety processes, and policies to assess threats to the school and to have a secure school facility. 

Major Maintenance

ACSA supports reliable, adequate and equitable investments and funding through the Department of Education and Early Development’s (DEED) school construction process for capital projects and major maintenance to existing school district facilities in order to provide students and staff a safe and healthy environment. ACSA strongly advocates for comprehensive safety improvements that adhere to both federal and state mandates, while also incorporating modern best practices in safety protocols. Reliable investment in school major maintenance as needs arise will save the state from future costs. Preventative school maintenance will defer the need for new school construction.

Early Childhood Education

ACSA supports the definition of elementary education to include universal Pre-K, thus ensuring equitable access to fully funded, sustainable, birth to age five learning programs and nutrition services. The developmental differences of 3 and 4 year old pre-K children require developmentally appropriate instructional materials and playground equipment, all of which depends on sufficient funding. According to the 2022-2023 Alaska Developmental Profile, over 80% of Alaska’s students enter kindergarten lacking foundational preparation for learning and with this figure reaching up to almost 90% in some communities, additionally over 40% of entering kindergarteners lack critical foundations in literacy. These services would have the most impact on kindergarten readiness by running a minimum of 5 days a week, 6 hours a day. A full day pre-K program provides a foundation of critical social, emotional, and cognitive instruction to students. 

As the Alaska READS Act acknowledges, early intervention, instruction and parent education are the  most effective ways to create the greatest opportunity for all students to read proficiently by third grade and minimize the dropout rate. ACSA supports adequate, sustainable early childhood education, Pre-K, and parent education support funding as part of the base student allocation – including full (1.0) ADM funding for pre-K students.

Increasing Bandwidth in Under-Served Areas

ACSA supports continuing the Broadband Assistance Grant (BAG) to ensure all schools are able to access a minimum speed of 100 megabits per second, which leverages federal E-Rate funds up to a 9:1 match, We also support efforts to continue to increase download speed to meet national recommendations of 1 gigabit per second, per student. 

It is critical to recognize the ongoing and increasing need for Alaska’s students, educators, and leaders to have equitable access to the digital world both inside and outside of the school environment. ACSA wants to ensure every student has reliable internet access. Access to vital bandwidth is necessary to innovate learning, create efficiencies, provide online health services, and keep pace with peers globally and is essential where infrastructure is extremely limited or non-existent. ACSA supports school to home connectivity. 

ACSA also supports efforts by the legislature to continue to increase innovative infrastructure capacity through public/private partnerships, partnerships with tribal entities, and statewide consortiums in an effort to provide all communities with equitable access to affordable, reliable, and high-speed internet. 

Career and Technical Education

Career and Technical Education (CTE) for both rural and urban schools is critical to high academic standards and Alaska’s economic growth and stability. Collaboration through professional learning with DEED, the Department of Labor & Workforce Development, and the University of Alaska with educators and industry-based professionals is needed for the academic integration of rigorous and relevant curriculum. The pipeline of CTE services begins with early learning programs. This foundation for CTE gives students the opportunity to build future-ready skills and contribute to their local economy after high school. The alignment of CTE programs to meet the needs of local, tribal, regional, and state labor markets through this collaboration is also important for improving graduation rates, higher career earnings, and decreasing dropout percentages. 

These programs must either be available to students before they graduate or include funding for postgraduate programs for students above age 18 in industries where only adults may receive training, for instance marine welders. ACSA supports the inclusion of CTE courses in the eligibility requirements for the Alaska Performance Scholarship.

ACSA fully supports continued and increased targeted funding for voluntary internships and pre-apprenticeship programs that prepare students for high-demand, high-skill, high wage jobs, as well as dual credit offerings that provide opportunities to obtain an occupational certification or credentials.

Preparing, Attracting, and Retaining Qualified Educators

Recruiting and retaining highly effective educators and leaders is imperative to increase student achievement and eliminate academic disparity for all of Alaska’s students, especially for those with special needs. 

However, Alaska districts had over 500 certified teacher vacancies on the first day of school in 2023-2024, and some Alaska schools did not have a single certified teacher on the first day of school. Alaska districts also had to use hundreds of emergency certificates. An urgent response is needed to address the dire vacancy rates. Districts must be equipped with the resources to provide  nationally competitive compensation, a benefits package, combined with a robust state retirement system, to correct this issue. 

A comprehensive statewide program should be developed to prepare, attract, and retain high quality, diverse educators, and professionals. ACSA recommends strengthening statewide and national recruiting efforts along with a renewed commitment to growing our own educators, teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, principals, and superintendents. ACSA encourages the state to provide funding and policies improving access to safe housing for all due to the difficulty in finding adequate housing for educators in Alaska’s rural communities. 

The national educator shortage compounds Alaska’s need to fund a robust educator certification program within the University of Alaska and to create incentives for graduates to stay in Alaska. Exploring innovative, alternative pathways is paramount to attracting high quality educators to address Alaska’s unique needs. We support prioritizing the removal of barriers for certified teachers coming from out of state, and internationally on J-1, H1-B, and other visa types.

Retirement Systems

ACSA calls on the Legislature to provide and fund a public pension system that fairly compensates all district staff who devote many years to Alaska’s children. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, the average teacher earns 21% less than other professionals with college degrees. This gap must be offset by providing an excellent benefits package, including a robust, defined benefit retirement system. Alaska stands alone in the nation, with its certificated staff as the only PK-12 group denied the opportunity to earn either a pension or Social Security. 

The absence of fundamental retirement security necessitates a more robust retirement system that far surpasses these bare minimums. The lack of a defined benefit retirement plan, coupled with the loss of competitive salaries, offers teachers scant incentive to pursue a career in Alaska. The support of the state in providing these crucial benefits is essential to a healthy education system for Alaska’s children. 

School Bond Debt Reimbursement

ACSA advocates for the legislature to end the moratorium on school bond debt reimbursement. In 2015, the state placed a moratorium on school bond debt reimbursement until 2025, thereby placing the burden on school districts to fully fund bonds with their own tax revenue. 

Due to the moratorium on school bond debt reimbursement, many districts have deferred school construction projects, will likely result in deterioration and long-term damage, leading to unsafe conditions and higher costs to school districts. 

Additionally, funds for REAA school major maintenance and construction are tied to the amount of bond debt reimbursement. The 10-year moratorium on bond debt reimbursement will have lasting effects on the capitalization of that fund and lead to the deterioration of facilities in communities served by REAAs.

Other State Issues

ACSA adamantly opposes any additional unfunded mandates.

Capital Improvement (CIP) funding must be fully restored to prevent the loss of public school facilities. Costs of preventative maintenance have significantly increased due to inflation and prolonged neglect to public school facilities due to unfunded major maintenance.

ACSA expects the State of Alaska to fully fund early learning programs, including Head Start aligned to DEED standards, to improve educational outcomes for Alaska’s students, and to make attending kindergarten a requirement. 

ACSA supports the local control and autonomy of Alaska’s communities who are served through all 54 unique school districts. 

When the school funding formula is reviewed, ACSA strongly supports that it be done by a task force including nationally-recognized and Alaska school finance experts, and that school and district cost factors be closely reviewed. 

ACSA supports a non-partisan and independent State Board of Education with the sole purpose of ensuring a quality education for all of Alaska’s children. 

ACSA is proud and supportive of educational alternative programs, so long as the directive in Alaska’s Constitution is upheld: “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” This restriction includes vouchers and/or any other mechanisms that channel public funds to private or religious schools.  

2024 JPS Federal Issues

Forest Receipts (Safe and Secure Rural Schools Act)

ACSA strongly endorses the continuation of the 100-plus year partnership that was created between the federal government and communities to compensate communities financially impacted by the placement of timber reserves into federal ownership. ACSA supports the reauthorization of the Safe and Secure Rural Schools Act, included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that would provide funding beyond FY25 and any bill that provides a permanent funding mechanism.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

ACSA encourages the United States Department of Education to continue to fulfill the bipartisan intention of ESSA by honoring local control. Further, ACSA encourages Congress to eliminate discretionary funding caps to allow adequate investment in education, including full funding of the education programs authorized by the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

ACSA supports the full funding of IDEA. By honoring its commitment to support the education of students with disabilities, Congress should enable districts to shift dollars toward new initiatives that address their local disability needs.

Helping Schools Feed Kids Act 

ACSA supports increased funding for child nutrition through the Helping Schools Feed Kids Act (H.R. 1424). Providing breakfast, lunches, and snacks at school reduces barriers, increases student engagement and preparedness, and supports healthy communities.

Other Federal Issues

ACSA strongly opposes the use of public money to fund private/religious education through vouchers or other mechanisms.

ACSA supports full and equitable funding with cost-of-living increases for E-Rate, Indian Education, Impact Aid, and all Title programs with no significant program changes. 

ACSA supports waiving the FERPA requirement to obtain parental consent to bill Medicaid for necessary services provided in the school setting. 

ACSA supports increased funding for teacher housing in rural communities.

ACSA supports funding for social emotional learning, social workers, mental health support, school nursing, and birth to age five learning for all. For more specifics, refer to our Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Position Statement.

ACSA does not support including Pupil Transportation funds in the federal disparity test for Impact Aid.

ACSA advocates continued support for Alaska school districts under the E-rate funding that supports expanded connectivity. 

ACSA supports the use of federal funds to retrofit and make infrastructure repairs in Alaska schools to align with modern school safety best practices. For more specifics, refer to our School Safety Statement.