Last Thursday Governor Walker’s office issued a press release announcing that, the following day at an in service training for some of its middle and high school teachers, the Anchorage School District intended to start rolling out proposed course materials “to bring Alaska’s fiscal challenge to the classroom.” That was the first I, and from various reactions, a large number of others had heard about the intent to do so.
What caught my eye about the proposal was the following statement in the Governor’s press release: “the lesson plans center on Alaska’s Revenue and Expenditure Model developed earlier this year by the Alaska Department of Revenue.”
As readers of these pages likely already realize I am not a fan of the Department of Revenue’s model. As I wrote on these pages in June, in my view DOR’s model then was short-sited and strongly biased toward requiring new revenue options. While there have been some improvements made in the model since the version I reviewed in that piece, it continues to contain limitations and deficiencies which continue to drive users toward those options.
More importantly, the model fails to identify and lead users to understand — and find pathways to solve — the structural defects in Alaska’s current fiscal model. Following oil price and production ups and downs, Alaska’s historic fiscal approach repeatedly has led to boom and bust cycles in government spending over the last several decades. Rather than address that fundamental issue, which goes to the heart of Alaska’s current fiscal situation, DOR’s model instead merely leads users to try to find ways to fill in the current bust cycle with “new revenues” — largely a PFD cap and broad based taxes.
During his campaign, now Governor Bill Walker recognized this fundamental flaw in Alaska’s historic approach and outlined a solution:
I will make the hard choices necessary for a sounder fiscal future, including putting in place a sustainable budget. I will make sure the investment climate in Alaska supports those goals, which includes a favorable fiscal climate for citizens and companies investing in our economy.
When asked during the campaign by others what he meant by a “sustainable budget” then candidate Walker almost invariably referred to the plan developed by the University of Alaska – Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research’s Dr. Scott Goldsmith. As I outlined in the June piece, the model developed by Dr. Goldsmith provides a thoughtful and perhaps mos importantly, non-partisan analysis of Alaska’s fiscal future.
Somewhat inexplicably to me, since the campaign Governor Walker has turned away from that approach and instead, his Administration has gone down the road of developing the DOR model, using it as a basis for arguing for a PFD cap and broad based taxes. Because of the bias inherent in the model, in essence it has become a partisan campaign tool for his preferred outcome.
While I respect any Governor’s — or any politician’s for that matter — right to develop campaign tools for their preferred outcomes, I have concerns when some propose then to inject them into the school systems as part of the curriculum. As I wrote elsewhere, to me that has the effect of politicizing the school system.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to the Superintendent of the Anchorage School District and the members of the Anchorage School Board outlining my concerns. As a conclusion I suggested that they
… send the curriculum back to the drawing board for further work before proceeding. Instead of starting with the DOR model, I suggest that the curriculum center instead on Dr. Goldsmith’s well-tested model and work with him on any changes appropriate to classroom delivery.
And once the changes are made, I suggest that ASD post the resulting curriculum for public comment before proceeding with a roll out. There are a number of individuals and groups throughout the state that have studied these issues. Enabling them to provide their thoughts on the result before the roll out would seem a much better approach than simply presenting the district with a fait accompli.
The full letter follows below. I hope the Superintendent and Board take my suggestions to heart.