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Parents host their own press conference on state education funding

Christina Turman leads a parent press conference on April 10, 2024, clarifying grass-roots support for state education funding, after Governor Mike Dunleavy vetoed an increase in the per-student dollar amount .
Christina Turman leads a parent press conference clarifying grass-roots support for state education funding, after Governor Mike Dunleavy vetoed an increase in the per-student dollar amount .

A group of Fairbanks parents held a press conference April 10 to share concerns about governor Mike Dunleavy’s stance on education funding.

Elementary school parent Christina Turman visited the state capital last month to advocate for more education funding, and the legislature subsequently passed a bill with an increase, but Governor Dunleavy vetoed it.

“I was so frustrated reading some of the most recent press releases from our governor, so I was getting ready to write a letter to the editor as kind of a response, and then, sort of jokingly, some friends and I were talking like, well why don't you just have your own press conference? And one thing led to another, and I was like, why not? So, we're just hoping maybe he'll actually listen,” Turman said.

The representatives for Governor Dunleavy’s Fairbanks office, former city mayor Jim Matherly, was in the room at Joy Community Center for the event on Wednesday, April 10 event. A full video recording by local television station KTVF is posted on their website.

Among invited speakers, Sharon Hansen, who volunteers at her kids’ charter school, says they have cut supplies, left positions unfilled and increased class sizes due to flat funding from the state. Hansen said charter schools need a permanent increase in the amount of money the state gives to schools.

“One-time funds outside of the Base Student Allocation are not guaranteed to be equally distributed to charters. This happened just this past year in Fairbanks with the one-time money given from the legislature,” Hansen said.

Another parent who spoke, Jomo Stewart was critical of the Required Local Contribution, or RLC, that requires incorporated municipalities like the Fairbanks North Star Borough, to help fund their schools.

“Our own tax contributions relative to our school district lead to a reduction in the amount of support we get from the state,” Stewart said.

He said the legislature and governor need to change the state school funding formula.

“We are going to keep having this challenge until we deal up the Permanent Fund and how its revenues are applied within our state to fund services,” Stewart said.

The group also discussed Governor Dunleavy’s push for more charter schools as a means to improving education, an assertion the numbers don’t support, according to statistician Beth Zirbes, a Fairbanks parent and AP math teacher. Zirbes spent 50 hours this week examining data on schools in Alaska looking for proof that charter schools are better than neighborhood schools.

“We cannot conclude that charter schools are causing the performance differences we observe between them and neighborhood schools,” Zirbes said.

She said only 7% of students attend charter schools, and most of them skew wealthier in socio-economic status, with greater parent involvement and more resources for students at home.

 “And as it is, the claim that approaches used by Alaskan charters are especially beneficial to lower income students is not very well supported,” Zirbes said.

A new education funding bill contains more of the Dunleavy’s requirements, including moving charter school approval authority from local school boards to the state board of education, which the governor appoints. House Bill 392, advanced from the House Education Committee this week and is headed to House Finance. It also puts back the $680 increase to the Base Student Allocation that was in the bill Dunleavy vetoed last month. If it passes and is signed by the governor, it would mean about $8 million more for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

The parent group is posting recordings of the event on social media and YouTube, and sending a copy to the governor’s office.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.