Opinion: Capital Perspectives

By Michael Farrell
Special to the Sun Star

Reports from Juneau: This is the second in a series of opinion pieces by students who are participating in the legislative process. Michael Farrell is an ASUAF senator who recently returned from the Student Legislative Conference lobbying trip to Juneau.

Only five of us made it on the second attempt to reach Juneau, but we were still excited to see the state’s capitol. Two weeks prior, thirteen UAF students had left Fairbanks for Juneau. We ended up traveling over 5,000 miles and three days because of fog socked in over the Juneau airport (the city itself had no fog). We ended up staying in Sitka, so close and yet so far away. Returning to Anchorage, overflying Juneau and landing in Seattle before returning to Anchorage had not kept the determined few among us from getting our message through.

Our mission was to advocate for a needs-based component to the Governor’s Performance Scholarships (GPS) proposal, funding for a UA Life Sciences Building and full funding for the UA Board of Regents. So, what did we accomplish? Well, that’s easier asked than answered. Almost everywhere we went, we were warmly received and the senator or representative or aide made sure we left knowing that he or she supported us, felt education was “good,” and loved Alaska. Unable to argue with such platitudes, we left our business cards and moved on to the next office.

After a few days in Juneau we got wind that some changes had been proposed to GPS and that an amendment to include needs-based scholarships had been approved. Naturally we were quite pleased with ourselves. On closer inspection of the legislation’s wording, however, we were disappointed to find that the needs-based component was contingent on first meeting the stringent merit-based requirements. By no means were we asking for lower standards, but how are students in rural Alaska with financial need and a limited high school science program supposed to meet a requirement of four years of science?

Without teachers qualified to teach four years of math, science and language, we certainly can’t expect these students to meet those academic requirements. The financial needs of these students will remain, but funding may not be available.

In the end, the wording was not perfect, but the money will help those who meet the qualification for the merit-based scholarship but still need additional aid and qualify for financial need. Alaska is currently one of the few states without a needs- or merit-based scholarship and any progress towards appropriating funds towards education should be seen as a step in the right direction for Alaska. If we can get the program started, successive sessions of the legislature should be able to amend it as needed.

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