Strides in K-12 outcomes outweigh cherry-picking one or two negative stats

We’ve heard people spreading stories lately about how Alaska lags behind the nation in K-12 public school performance, so why throw good money after bad? They want you to believe what we’re doing isn’t working anyway, so we may as well shake things up.

These opinions, masquerading as facts, are being used to defend massive cuts to public education. We find this annoying and disingenuous. Cherry picking a few statistics and presenting them as justification doesn’t do anything to improve public education for young Alaskans.

The truth is, our student performance is a lot better than you may be hearing. For example, did you know:

Alaska’s high school graduation rates have increased in Alaska by more than 10 percent since 2011.

Alaska students score at, or above, the national average for SAT and ACT scores? For SAT scores, Alaska students are in the 69th percentile.

The dropout rate in Alaska among high school students has decreased by nearly 50% since 2005.

Alaska, as a state, leads the nation in improved reading.

Despite now being 31st in the nation in teacher pay, Alaska school districts are putting into place new methods based on the science of reading, and those strategies are working.

A quality public education is the greatest equalizer in life. Public education is an opportunity to reach for a better life that is available to all, regardless of socio-economic status. This counts for a lot in Alaska.

Our founding fathers, Alaska Native elders, and territorial and state leaders, have long supported public education. They knew it represented a chance for people from modest means to make a better life for themselves, and their children in the future.

It’s easy to blame teachers and school districts for society’s ills, but it’s not accurate.

Our state’s real problems are more complex and harder to solve. Alaska leads the nation in statistics for poverty, domestic violence, and inter-generational trauma. High turnover of superintendents, principals, and teachers have a direct causal relationship to poor performance by students in the classroom. These issues are even more challenging in rural, remote and isolated school districts.

What is this administration doing to address the real challenges facing Alaska schools? What are you doing?

In today’s world of deeply divided politics and “facts don’t matter” mentalities, its a good time to take an honest look at our own children and their struggles and successes and ask ourselves; will simply cutting public school funding in Alaska somehow make the world, our state, and our communities more open for business and better places to live, work and raise families? Is this really all we can offer our future generations?

The parents, teachers, and community leaders we talk to every day know better.

Norm Wooten, AASB Executive Director, Sarah Sledge, CEE Executive Director, Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady, ACSA Executive Director

Subsistence is more important

Man destroys earth like the Donlin Creek and Pebble mine in Alaska in the preliminary stages of the contribution to the destruction of the earth. Called man following money. And the Yup’ik Native Alaskans fell for it like a log in the road rather than protecting the subsistence tradition which is more important than money. We can replace money but cannot replace the destruction of the subsistence resource. It is a once and for all action. I’m also Yup’ik, Siberian Yup’ik, and Islander Cup’ig so it’s not name-calling; just plain fact.

Gilbert Keywehakl, Mt. Pleasant, MI

State Troopers

I have great respect for our law enforcement, without our courageous public safety officers our world would be a big mess. My name is Darlene Otten-Carl and have been using my freedom of speech for over 30 years because of corruption in our great state of Alaska.

I’m Alaska Native. I have been writing about our law enforcement for years. Most of my family, my kids got beaten and hurt by our law enforcement. I myself got injured by a trooper last month.

I moved to Willow recently, I have been calling for assistance since I moved here. I bought a home used to make or grow drugs and have been harassed by these people. The troopers never did come to my home until last month, these people were trespassing on my property again.

I was told that they can go on my property, that I can only call if they are at my front door. I’m so sick and tired of being treated like I don’t own my home by law enforcement.

I have also called for help regarding an adult child of mine who is mental and have been on drugs. Every time I’m treated like I don’t own my home. When someone is breaking my stuff in my home, don’t we have a right to protect them and protect ourself?

I was beaten up, I refuse to hit this person, who I love. Three troopers came, one yelled at me that there was no evidence. My other kid saw what happened, told the truth, yet I was treated like a criminal. I was cuffed very tightly on purpose, cutting off my blood supply. I was told I couldn’t take anything. My lunar nerve was injured. I ended up going to the emergency room after I got out of jail.

The State of Alaska does not have the right to control, we the people. I’m so sick of corruption in our law enforcement. God bless us and our great state of Alaska.

Darlene Otten-Carl, Willow, AK

Budget cuts cause for concern for nonprofits

Last November, we were reminded of something that offers us great hope about the future of our state.

In the aftermath of the earthquake last November, we saw Alaskans at their best — neighbors helping neighbors; Alaskans supporting and comforting each other. We saw people rolling up their sleeves, ready to help, whatever the need might be.

For a few days, your political affiliation didn’t matter. Divisiveness was superseded by the shared experience we’d just gone through and our drive as Alaskans to overcome yet another challenge.

Let’s channel that same positive spirit as we address Alaska’s fiscal situation.

When Rasmuson Foundation was created in 1955, its permanent endowment was set up to grow along with our state. It was established to promote the tradition of Alaskans helping other Alaskans. Since then, Rasmuson Foundation has invested more than $400 million in this state, on hospitals and clinics, libraries and museums, senior centers, parks, food banks, domestic violence shelters, treatment centers and more.

For each one of the thousands of projects we have invested in over the decades, we have had a partner in Alaska’s nonprofit community. We believe nonprofits are the social fabric behind a strong community, doing critical community work better, with greater innovation, and often more efficiently than if it were left to government alone. Nonprofits are connected to the people they serve and know and understand their needs.

Since Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his proposed budget, we have been talking with nonprofits across Alaska about the impact $1.6 billion in cuts will have on their work and on the Alaskans they serve. We are deeply concerned. Here is some of what we’ve learned:

The governor’s budget eliminates 90% of funding to housing and homelessness programs across the state. According to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, these programs served 10,934 people in 2018. Brother Francis Shelter, operated by Anchorage-based Catholic Social Services, housed 240 persons a night on average in 2018. If the cuts are implemented as proposed, the organization will be forced to reduce shelter hours and decrease the number of people served. This will result in 140 more people per night unsheltered on the streets of Anchorage. Where will they go? Our parks? Green spaces? How many people who simply needed a one-time boost as a result of a dramatic life event will no longer receive assistance and risk falling into an even deeper spiral?

The proposed cuts eliminate all state funding for Alaska Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm that has offered free civil legal services to low income and disadvantaged people since 1967. In 2018, the organization provided services to 7,400 Alaskans in 197 communities. Without state funding, an estimated 2,809 Alaskans will have nowhere to go for legal services including our highly vulnerable population of seniors, individuals with disabilities, domestic violence victims, veterans and victims of crime.

The proposed budget not only eliminates all state funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts, it also removes authority for the state to receive private money from Rasmuson Foundation and others to support the council and its programming, such as bringing artists into schools. Why? What message does that send to our students about the arts? What message does it send to Alaska artists?

Facing unsustainable deficits, Gov. Dunleavy took office with a promise to balance the budget. It’s something that must be done. As an organization rooted in banking, we understand the importance of having your financial house in order. But the abruptness and magnitude of the $1.6 billion in proposed cuts unduly burdens Alaska’s most vulnerable citizens and will leave communities across the state with significant service needs. Moreover, making reductions of this size over such a short period of time will make it impossible to address these gaps.

Rasmuson Foundation was created to benefit Alaska forever, using 5% of its assets each year to benefit Alaskans. Many of our investments — in housing, domestic violence, libraries and clinics — have been accomplished through a beneficial partnership with our state government. The state is our most important partner. So, we care deeply about the current budget discussion.

Over the next few days and weeks, we will share more information quantifying the impact these significant and dramatic cuts would have on our quality of life. We believe Alaska needs a thoughtful approach to a sustainable budget, a strategy that balances the financial reality of living within our means, without sacrificing the things that make our state a great place to live.

As we were reminded last year, we are at our best when we are working together. And when the ground around us is shaking, we need each other. Let’s harness our collective power to overcome our fiscal challenge. And let’s find a solution we can all live with. Rasmuson Foundation does not claim to have all the answers, but as an organization established to serve Alaska in perpetuity, there is no way we could stay out of the conversation. Please join us at the table.

Ed Rasmuson is a lifelong Alaskan, retired banker and chairman of the board of the Rasmuson Foundation. Rasmuson Foundation was created in May 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband, E.A. Rasmuson. Through grantmaking and initiatives, the Foundation aims to promote a better life for all Alaskans.

Medicare helps Seniors use opioids safely

Doctors may prescribe opioids, a class of drugs used to treat pain, after surgery or an injury. Although opioids can be an important part of treatment, they can also pose a serious risk of addiction, abuse, and overdose, especially if used continuously. This is true even for seniors and other people with Medicare coverage.

That’s why Medicare is working with doctors and pharmacists to help you use opioids safely. Medicare is also using new drug management programs to look for potentially high-risk opioid use. These new policies aren’t “one size fits all”—instead, they’re tailored to different types of Medicare prescription opioid users. And, these new policies don’t apply to people who are in long-term care facilities or being treated for active cancer-related pain, and they don’t apply to people who are in hospice or receiving palliative or end-of-life care.

Safety checks at the pharmacy

When a prescription is filled at the pharmacy, Medicare drug plans perform additional safety checks and may send the pharmacy an alert to monitor the safe use of opioids and certain other medications.

These safety checks may cover situations like:

•Possible unsafe amounts of opioids. The pharmacist or Medicare drug plan may need to more closely review a prescription with the prescribing doctor if a patient has one or more opioid prescriptions that total more than a certain amount.

•First prescription fills for opioids. These may be limited to a 7-day supply or less for acute pain if a patient hasn’t recently taken opioids (like within the past 60 days). This safety check applies only to new users of prescription opioids.

•Use of opioids with benzodiazepines (a class of drugs commonly used for anxiety and sleep), which can be dangerous when taken in combination.

If a prescription can’t be filled as written, the pharmacist will provide a notice explaining how the patient or doctor can contact the Medicare drug plan to ask for a coverage determination (the first coverage decision made by the Medicare drug plan). The patient or doctor can also ask the plan for an exception to its rules before the patient goes to the pharmacy, so they know in advance whether or not the prescription will be covered.

Drug Management Programs

As of January 1, 2019, some Medicare drug plans have a drug management program in place to help people with Medicare use these medications safely. If a patient gets opioids from multiple doctors or pharmacies, the Medicare drug plan might connect with the doctors to make sure the patient needs these medications and is using them safely and appropriately.

More information about safety checks and drug management programs is available on Medicare.gov at Medicare drug plan coverage rules.

John T. Hammarlund, Regional Administrator

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Seattle Regional Office

Example: 9075434113

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