Budget director repeats lie about school spending, while Dunleavy stays silent

Temporary budget director Donna Arduin is still lying to Alaskans about an important statistic regarding education spending in Alaska.

It’s part of the deceptive campaign by the Dunleavy administration to portray public schools as failing institutions.

At the Koch Network/Dunleavy budget meeting in Anchorage Tuesday, Arduin repeated the false claim she has been making since February about the percentage of school funds that spent on instruction in Alaska.

“Compared to the rest of the country, they’re spending very little on instruction,” Arduin said. “We spend about 54 percent of our educational dollars on instruction right now. So if you’re asking how we’re going to ask the districts to spend more efficiently and put more money in the classroom, clearly there are ways for them to do so.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who makes much of his career in public education in Alaska, listened and said nothing. He either doesn’t know or care enough to correct Arduin’s false statements or he accepts lying to advance his narrow ideology.

Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman, another long-time state employee who ought to know better, invented a false statistic of his own last month. He told a statewide radio audience that districts only spend 52 percent of their money on instruction. “We’re in last place when it comes to that, the amount of funds that are actually going into the classroom,” he said.

What’s it going to take to get the governor and his staff to admit that schools spend about 76 percent of their funds on instruction, based on the accounting method long used by the state Department of Education?

Alaska school officials gave a detailed presentation on instruction funding Monday to the joint education committees in Juneau in which they provided solid information and analysis, a sharp contrast to the comments of Arduin, Tangeman and the silence of the governor.

The state had a law for many years that required districts to spend 70 percent of their funding on instruction, a category that includes guidance counselors, principals and other who work in individual schools. The Legislature repealed the law in 2016, but most Alaska districts still exceed that target.

District administration expenses, operation and maintenance and student activities were not counted as instruction expenses. Small rural districts with extreme costs for operation and maintenance and small budgets routinely failed to meet that target, which is why the law was repealed.

Dr. Lisa Parady, the executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, said the 54 percent claim is a false assertion based on a false premise, “the use of aggregated census numbers over discrete Alaska data.”

In a newsletter, she wrote that despite the facts, the Dunleavy administration keeps repeating its talking point, “unimpeded by reason” or the rules and definitions created by the state education department.

“I am stunned by this disconnect. Alaska's long standing and well recognized criteria for this statistic proves beyond reasonable doubt that our districts put 76 percent (statewide) of their dollars directly into instruction. Conversely, only 6 percent of our funds go to administration,” she wrote.

“Here is a cold truth—you can't run systems as big as public education across a state as vast of Alaska without administration. Someone has to make payroll, hire staff, determine content, pay bills, set policy, sort out problems, settle schedules, parse differences and stay the course. None of this happens in a vacuum, it all requires administration and leadership. Any commercial business would be hard pressed to meet the 6 percent.”

“To close, don't be bamboozled by such nonsense, by propaganda masquerading as insight. Keep pounding on the truth, for it will carry the day with our citizens. For as we all know and have demonstrated, by far the majority of Alaskans care about and prioritize education, and are willing to pay for it.”

The temporary budget director and the revenue commissioner need to retire their false talking point.

(If you want to contribute financially to this Alaska reporting project, you can do so here through PayPal. Or write to me the old-fashioned way: Dermot Cole, Box 10673, Fairbanks, AK 99710-0673.)

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