Johnsen said its education versus dividends

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) Jim Johnsen, President of the University of Alaska, said we have a lot of important choices to make in Alaska. Whether to spend $1.9 billion on dividends or close to that on local and schools.

    “Are we truly open for business or creating a climate that won’t attract in state or out of state capital for investment and growth.”

    Johnsen was among four speakers at a discussion about innovation in education.

    Capital goes to where there is talent.

    Johnsen said the state must consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
    He spoke about world building based on research of what is possible, tapping into imaginations, to show what we would like Alaska to become.
    “Instead or a win or lose, short term planning, put the horizon out 20 years, there is less at stake and less to give up.”

    Economic development, research development, cost effectiveness and meeting needs were among his thoughts on strategic plans for the future of University.  He said a good education system depends on predictable revenues.  The plan is meant to chart the University through 2040.

    Today things are looking tough for the University system.
    The current budget proposal from the Governor cuts the University budget by 41-percent.  

    The university strategic plan focuses on the blue ocean economy, improving education programs, using improved technologies,  places more emphasis on research, and diversifies the economy.
    They created a website to get Alaskans to work together on ideas to improve the state.
    “You can’t have a great state without a great University.”

    He said it is important that political leaders realize the importance of the University and its impact on the future of this state.
    “It’s not just critical for us and our schools, its critical for the thousands of young people in our state who will be running the state in 2040.”

    The panel to discuss education issues included Alaska Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson, Senator Gary Stevens who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Juneau School Superintendent Dr. Bridget Weiss.

    Commissioner Johnson said budget and sustainability is a factor.  “We have to innovate.  Regardless whatever decision is made in the legislature.  We are at a time in public education that we have to innovate.”

    Johnson said the state must change how they do things.  He said more students can learn online at times that are convenient to them.
    “We must get away from time and location.”

    He said students graduate at a higher rate if they take two or more career and technical classes.

    Senator Stevens said they are inundated with budget issues.  He said trying to keep a strong K-12 and university system is crucial.  “It is devastating to see what the Governors’ budget would do to both K-12 and the university budgets.  I hope we come to terms with it.  When you give people a dividend of $3,000 this is the budget you get.”

    Stevens said an income tax is impossible given the composition of the legislature and the opposition of the Governor.  “We must figure out how to fund the budget with some of the earnings reserve of the permanent fund.”

    He said more students will have to get a college education in the future.
    “Higher education is essential and crucial.”

    He added most parents encourage kids to get a higher education.

    Dr. Weiss has been an educator in Washington and Alaska and has seen changes in education in her 26-year career.  She said the proposed budget would cut over $11 million from Juneau Schools.  She noted that equals that amount of budget cuts the district has made since 2011.
    “In our schools the stress level is high.  It is high because of social problems and work load.  We are working on trauma informed practices and the impacts on families.  The world inside the classroom today is different today.”

    She said innovation is critical but is harder to get to due to the stress level.
    “This is not an education issue, this is a state wide issue, on how we invest in the priority of people, building capacity, all the way from our families, to children, to educators.”

    Weiss said she works hard every day to keep morale up and encourages the staff to focus on the students.  She added the school district could take more advantage of technology.  She also stressed ties to the business community and career training courses.

    Johnsen said the student must be the primary focus.  “Education in the future needs to be all about the student, where the student is, and how the student wants to learn.”
    Johnsen said many countries have kids learning in and out of school more than the United States.  Alaska has 180 days of instruction while open countries over at least 210 days of education.

    The luncheon was part of the Innovation Summit at Centennial Hall.


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