School board finalizes its priorities

The board unanimously passed their 2020 state and federal legislative priorities.

Just months after the school year began, the school board is now preparing for January’s state legislative session by outlining a number of priorities focusing on a safe school climate, a state education funding plan and rising health care costs.

At their regular meeting, Oct. 7, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education unanimously passed their 2020 state and federal legislative priorities.

Their first state priority is to support an “equitable and suitable” public school system that provides opportunities for the preparation of all Alaska children for effective citizenship in the state and nation, as laid out in the Alaska Constitution, the priorities document said.

The second priority calls for a “timely, sustainable and adequate” education funding plan that addresses inflation.

“State funding must be consistent, reliable and predictable to provide full funding to meet increasing costs and the diverse and significant needs of our students,” the school board said in their priorities document. “Early notification of funding is critical for sound financial management, as well as recruitment and retention of quality educators.”

The school board lists the ability to provide a safe school environment conducive to learning a high priority. Schools across the country have experienced safety challenges in recent years. The board said the state must provide the funding to retrofit facilities to provide more secure schools, which will take a significant capital improvements budget.

State funding to provide support for mental health services was also listed by the board as a priority. The priorities ask for additional funding to increase, recruit and retain school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists and mental health specialists.

“The state must provide financial support so schools can partner with local communities to implement comprehensive, culturally appropriate school-based mental health programs that support and foster the health and development of students,” the priorities document said.

Rising health care costs were the last highlighted priority at the state level. Health care costs for the district increases every year between 6% and 12% per covered employee, and has been a sticking point in employee contract negotiations for the last several years.

The school board’s document asks the state to develop a long-term, sustainable plan addressing increased health care costs impacting all of Alaska.

“KPBSD has worked hard to find efficiencies to lower these costs; yet, the district has not been able to eliminate the increases,” the priorities document said. “More funds expended for health care, reduces the amount of funding available to the classroom.”

In regards to federal funding, the school board reiterated their priorities to offer public education and create a safer school climate through funds that seek to increase school security and students’ access to mental health professionals in the school.

Other federal priorities ask the U.S. Department of Education to work with local districts and states with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a law replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, governing U.S. public education policy.

The document also asks the federal government to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which seeks to provide public education tailored for individuals needs. The law was previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

“The Federal government was able to establish this program with a promise to provide States with at least 40% of the costs associated with serving our students with disabilities,” the document said. “Currently, the Federal contribution is under 20% of costs with little to no discussion on keeping the original funding promise.”

The school board and district are requesting that the promised funding level to implement the act be provided to states and districts as soon as possible.

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