NAPG reacts to the devastating cuts in State Budget

TO: Governor Mike Dunleavy

Good morning Governor Dunleavy,

The March 20, 21, 2019 session of the Nunavut Alaska Provisional Government, a consortium of Tribal Governments in Western Alaska, reviewed your proposed 24% cuts to K-12 School Funding, 42% decrease to U of A which would affect the Rural campuses, reduction of state Medicaid assistance by $225 million dollars which would affect the federal funds reductions, elimination of payouts that protect public assistance after the PFD’s are received, we want to make sure that those that are receiving will not be affected, raid on the PCE program fund destabilizing the fund, elimination of public broadcasting funding which would devastate one of our only source of information to our residents, elimination of Tribal Assistance Programs, large cuts to Fish and Game management, reduction of small and rural airports, elimination of state council on the arts, and elimination of health career scholarship fund. These are some of the cuts that we reviewed and object to the reductions or elimination of programs. We can do better than that instead of hurting our communities.

The current funding to our small communities are not adequate in the first place, but we have been operating with bare minimum funding.

Governor Dunleavy, we know that the Leadership in our State can find and protect these essential programs by identifying possible raising and restoring revenue resources in the state with our renewable and non renewable resources.

Our Leadership will be meeting with our State Representative Tiffany Zulkosky on Saturday, March 23rd in Bethel with more detailed responses by our state constituents. Thank you for your time and the beginning of restoring the essential programs that we truly need in our communities.

Mike Williams

Nunavut Alaska Provisional Government

Akiak, AK

Our Children Must Read by 9

Right now, Alaska’s public-school children are ranked dead last in the nation in fourth-grade reading proficiency, a key indicator used to measure academic success. In terms of school years, they are up to a full year behind their counterparts in other states. This means many of our fourth graders cannot read Charlotte’s Web or The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. While it may seem like such a simple, basic issue, the ability to read is actually the foundation of a child’s educational success; the value of reading cannot be stressed enough.

By not guaranteeing that grade-school students become proficient readers, we are failing our children. We must do everything in our power to ensure that every child is able to read well enough so that when they enter middle school and begin learning harder material, they can read to learn. Through the third grade, students learn to read. As they enter the fourth grade, they read to learn. If a child does not develop this skill, he or she will also fall behind in social studies and science. Word problems in math will be unsolvable, navigating the rich world of literature impossible, and communicating complex ideas in written and spoken word unthinkable.

Students who cannot read well almost never catch up and their future is in peril. Statistics compiled by groups like ExcelinEd are sobering. Students who cannot read by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. High school dropouts make up 75 percent of food stamp recipients and 90 percent of those on welfare. Nearly 85 percent of teenagers in the juvenile justice system cannot read to learn and seven out of ten adult prisoners cannot read above a fourth-grade level.

Evidence-based research shows that a strong reading initiative can make a big difference. The Alaska Policy Forum supports a “Read by 9” policy which provides a common sense and proven solution. It starts by making sure kindergartners know the A-B-Cs and the sounds they make. Strategies, guided by science, focus on developing critical skills through the third grade so students can read with ease, understand the material, and are starting to think critically. We need to implement a system of instruction that places a heavier emphasis on making sure our children leave third grade with the ability to read. We want each child entering the fourth grade to do so with confidence and with the skills he or she needs to learn.

As a final safeguard, students unable to read proficiently at their grade level may be retained and given an extra year of enhanced instruction so that before promotion to the next grade, they can learn to read well. Because learning to read is so important and catching up so difficult to do, students must be proficient readers before they move on to more difficult materials.

Regardless of where they go to school, every child deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential and to fully embrace the American dream. Let’s work together: parents, teachers, administrators, and policy makers to ensure that Alaska implements the Read by 9 reading initiative so that all our children can read to learn and love to learn.

Jodi Taylor is an Alaska Policy Forum Board Member, a life-long Alaskan that attended public school, an entrepreneur at heart, and mother of 5 children.

Sustainable fiscal plan, reliable funding crucial for K-12 education

Last month, Governor Dunleavy unveiled his proposed FY 2020 operating budget, which among other drastic cuts, slashed $330 million from education funding. This budget would devastate public education and leave a bleak future for our children and communities. These severe proposed budget cuts have damaged Alaska’s reputation as a desirable place to live. Thankfully, they’ve also galvanized many citizens across the state, who realize that now is the time, more than ever, for Alaska’s budget to prioritize the things we value.

The deep cuts proposed to K-12 education are at a level not seen in other states. This is because public education has always been a priority for successful communities, states and countries. The people of Alaska also value their local schools and understand the critical role they play in their communities, as confirmed in a new survey conducted by a coalition of education advocacy groups called “The Great Work of Alaska’s Public Schools.” You can find a link to survey results at http://www.alaskaacsa.org/new-survey/.

A majority of Alaskans polled believe public education is the No. 1 priority for government funding. Alaskans who participated in this survey know that young people are our future leaders, innovators, educators, investors, philanthropists, doctors, engineers, writers, welders and builders. Survey results also show that Alaskans support elected officials who will invest in public education and work to make it better for all children. This investment is not possible without a long-term fiscal strategy that moves away from the roller coaster ride of budgeting based on oil prices and production. It’s not possible without a diversification of revenue streams.

Already, we’ve heard concerns from families with children, from kindergarteners to seniors preparing for high school graduation, that the uncertainty over education funding each year presents a huge negative check mark against Alaska when it comes to the livability and economic health of our state. Alaska must be a great place to work, raise families and have our children graduate from high school prepared for career or college. If elected officials do not embrace this as a priority policy for the state, what kind of future do we face? Who is going to lead Alaska’s businesses, new industries, technology, infrastructure and future if not the next generation of Alaskans?

The devastating cuts proposed by the Dunleavy administration, which economists predict will deepen the ongoing recession and lead to more people leaving the state, have many Alaskans now demanding real solutions. The hard work of putting together a long-term sustainable fiscal plan is imperative and takes real leadership to accomplish. Our economic health and the future of the state depend on it.

Timely, reliable and predictable funding notification for education should be an important part of this plan. Timely notification would allow K-12 school districts across the state to have certainty and stability in budget planning, so that budgets can be submitted to their local governments as required by late March, early April. It would eliminate the nonproductive work of preparing various budget scenarios and pink slips, while wild swings in education funding levels are debated to the bitter end of each legislative session.

Senate Joint Resolution 9, introduced by Sen. Mia Costello of Anchorage, would provide for that timely funding notification. It’s the kind of common sense solution that would go a long way toward bringing some stability to our state. Coupled with a long-term and sustainable fiscal plan that considers new revenues, we could begin to see an economic recovery in Alaska and possibly even some population growth and prosperity. Our shared vision for Alaska’s students includes a long-term fiscal plan that ensures sustainable education funding for current and future generations. It’s the only viable alternative before us.

A budget isn’t just about what certain things cost; it’s about what people value. Let’s start a truly honest budget discussion that offers a vision for a positive future.

Norm Wooten, AASB Executive Director

Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady, ACSA Executive Director

Sarah Sledge, CEE Executive Director

Resource development is good for our health

It seems as though we are constantly beating back the regressive ideas that development of our abundant resources is bad, businesses are bad, people who work for businesses are bad, and on and on.

Generally, our response to these views has something to do with revenue to the State of Alaska, jobs and the state’s gross domestic product. While true, these cold, dry facts draw little interest.

To my surprise, an article published last May in the Journal of the American Medical Association caught my eye and put new and brighter light on what resource development means for Alaskans.

It drew me in. I thumbed through the pages and came to Figure 2, Change in Life Expectancy at Birth by County, 1980 to 2014. It was a map of the US, Alaska and Hawaii showing that the average life expectancy of Alaskans had increased in every area of the state during those years. But the most dramatic increase could be seen in the North Slope Borough, North West Arctic Borough, Aleutians-East Borough, Kodiak and Southeast Coast of Alaska; these areas saw an 8-13-year increase in life expectancy, at birth, between 1980-2014. Nearly 80 percent of the state saw an increase of more than 6 years over that 35-year time period.

That stopped me. I had to ask, what caused this dramatic increase, larger than most of the rest of the US? The researchers’ discussion was interesting. Socioeconomic and race/ethnicity, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and healthcare factors combined to explain 82 percent of the contributing factors to change in life expectancy.

This begged the question: What was happening in Alaska during the years 1980-2014?

Well, that’s not hard to answer for those of us who were here in those years. The TransAlaska Pipeline began flowing oil in 1977. Red Dog Mine began production in 1990. The Magnuson-Stevens Act pushed out the foreign fishing fleets, leading to important development of Alaska fisheries. These resource developments, along with others around the state, changed Alaska from a struggling new state, to an economically thriving place.

These resources became jobs and opportunity for work close to traditional homes, something previously unavailable. And boroughs were formed in these areas, enabling the ability to levy taxes that funded community infrastructure.

Healthcare, education, clean water, wastewater treatment and good-paying local jobs transformed rural and urban Alaska. The Alaskan people benefited.

After the 1957 discovery of oil on the Kenai, Congress finally decided, in 1958, that Alaska had a chance of supporting herself on her rich resources. Alaskan voters, all 46,000 of them, voted six-to-one to become a state.

As a territorial kid growing up in Fairbanks, I remember those days. I had the delightful chance to frequently go to work with my dad, a Wien Airlines captain. That meant riding along on an F-27 as he made rounds to rural communities around our state. They were referred to as “villages” then and they were isolated, poor and small.

Then came resource development. As a nurse practitioner, I had the wonderful privilege of providing healthcare services in those same rural areas, now thriving communities with schools, clinics, roads and jobs.

In one very remote community, I was on the same flight with a young man, going to his job at Prudhoe Bay. His wife and little son bid him good-bye at the airport. The airline agent told me that the young man was the pride of the community, bringing his paycheck back home, helping his parents and grandparents out with fuel costs in the winter and supporting his family.

That is what resource development means for Alaska’s families. It’s all about our people.

Yes, we love the state government revenue and services that pays for. We have all prospered during these years since oil and mining production. But the most important benefit of resource development is to our people, our families and our local businesses.

As a healthcare professional, it still brings tears of pride to my eyes to contemplate the change in our state. We still have challenges. But we met challenges before and have demonstrated an ability to solve them. The caribou, polar bears and fish all coexist with our industries. The important thing is our lands are precious for the resources they contain, and our people can and will thrive by utilizing and stewarding them. Alaska’s resource development continues to bring health and happiness to our people.

Senator Cathy Giessel

Anchorage, AK

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