August 31, 2019 | KTVA | Scott Gross
KTVA The Alaska Public School system will give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos plenty to think about when it comes to her stance on education.
“In Alaska, we do it right,” 2019 Alaska Teacher of the Year Danielle Riha said. “Our charter schools are part of the public school system. There is no fighting over funding going to private schools.”
Anchorage Education Association President Tom Klaameyer echoed Riha’s statement.
“I think we do a phenomenal job of offering not only charters but alternative schools,” Klaameyer said. “If you look at our career tech, if you look at our language immersions, our language immersion programs are models for the country as well. All across the spectrum, you look at Polaris, you look at Steller.”
Klaameyer went on to say, “Whether you’re talking about open optional or more to a back to basics approach like Northern Lights ABC or parents that want something else.”
Alaska even has charter schools for home school students.
“I mean what public school system has a charter school within its own system for kids who are homeschooled?” Klaameyer said. “That’s what parents want choice. Here’s the thing. They are accountable, they have the same labor contracts. they [students] are taught by highly qualified teachers. Same as in public schools. They operate in the same system and oversight and the school board manages.”
DeVos has pushed hard for private school vouchers and funding. Something Alaska currently doesn’t allow.
“You know, I don’t think anyone should make money off a kid in public school,” 2018 Alaska Teacher of the year Ben Walker said. “Between K and 18, you know, K-12. I don’t think anyone should be making a dollar off that.”
The Secretary’s visit to Alaska aimed to help her see and understand how some areas across the 49th state are rethinking the way education is taught. DeVos feels many students in remote rural areas can benefit from online education.
“So if they are living in a remote village that can’t offer all of the kinds of classes that they would really like to take, individual students could buy a course and take it virtually in the village there,” DeVos said.
However, in Alaska, taking classes online in a remote village may seem like a good idea, but the reality is, many places are without reliable broadband. What’s more, in order to provide the services the secretary is suggesting, more funding would be needed. A hard sell when the Trump Administration earlier this year called for a $7.1 billion dollar cut at the Education Department.
“It’s going to affect Title I schools tremendously,” Riha said. “Those are the kids coming to school hungry and those are the kids that have parents who are trying to but they don’t have after school care. Those extra funds provide that and provide them with a safe place to go to school.”
On top of that, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy makes cuts to education in the latest operating budget.
“So if you’re going to say we want to have all access for all kids you have to fund it,” Walker said. “If you want to say we are upping our career opportunities, you have to fund it.”