Alaska Education Commissioner
Reviews Recent Legislative Session
April 25, 2009
The just-completed legislative session lays the groundwork for
significant improvements in Alaska's public schools, Education
Commissioner Larry LeDoux said recently
"We are grateful to Governor Palin and the legislators for
their leadership in taking steps to address the needs of Alaska's
school children," Commissioner LeDoux said.
Among other education-related accomplishments, the Alaska State
Legislature approved a pilot preschool program and authorized
more money for Head Start; appropriated the second year of a
three-year increase in school funding; financially supported
efforts by the Department of Education & Early Development
to assist struggling schools; and took steps to ease the transition
of military families to their new schools when they move to Alaska.
Governor Sarah Palin praised the Legislature for approving funding
for numerous education initiatives and programs she requested,
including the $2 million pilot preschool program.
"This is great news for Alaska," said Governor Palin.
"Working together, we have made decisions that are going
to positively impact the lives of many children. My goal is to
try and make sure education funds actually produce measurable
improvements in student achievement, particularly for minority
and special needs students."
In the pilot preschool program, school districts, in some cases
in partnership with the private sector or nonprofits, would apply
for state grants to operate preschools and provide educational
resources to parents of young children who educate their children
The pilot will serve up to 500 children, mostly four-year-olds,
in a half-day program during the school year before they enter
kindergarten. The programs would offer age-appropriate opportunities
for learning and socializing, health screenings, and nutritious
Additionally, the pilot programs will support parents -- both
those who use child care centers and those who educate their
young children at home -- with library materials, instructional
materials, or home visits similar to "parents as teachers"
The pilot has four purposes: to serve children who are not now
being served by preschools; to help parents who want more guidance
in educating their young children at home; to form partnerships
that would strengthen existing child care providers; and to try
out different ways of achieving quality preschool care.
Additionally, the Legislature added $600,000 to the state's contribution
to Head Start, allowing the program to serve approximately 60
The legislature also funded year two of a three-year increase
in education funding. Details include:
- An increase in the base student
allocation of $100, from $5,480 to $5,580, for a combined increase
of up to $23 million, depending on enrollments.
- An increase in funding for
intensive-needs students from $49,320 to $61,380 per student,
for a combined increase of up to $21 million, depending on enrollments.
Intensive-need students are children with disabilities who require
the care of an adult throughout the school day.
- An increase in the district
cost factors for districts other than Anchorage, for a combined
increase of up to $12.4 million, depending on enrollments. District
cost factors account for the higher operating expenses of school
districts outside the transportation hub and population center
The Legislature approved $824,000
to fund state efforts to work with school districts to improve
chronically low-performing schools. Often these improvement steps
include using better methods of instruction, implementing the
state's academic standards in the classroom, and using assessment
data about children to help adjust instruction to meet each child's
needs. All of these improvements require well-trained staff and
The Department of Education & Early Development will increase
its own staff and employ contractors to provide support services
-- such as Alaska experts in reading, math, social studies, science,
the arts, and career and technical education -- to assist school
The funding also will allow the department to hire a Director
of Rural Education, who will work with communities, organizations
and schools to improve the academic success of rural and Alaska
Native students. The director also will supervise the school
districts' implementation of the state's cultural standards,
which were created in 1998 and designed to ensure that students
are well-grounded in their community's traditions.
"The position of the Director of Rural Education is an important
step in building bridges between rural schools and their communities,"
The legislature approved a number of additional Palin administration
education requests, including: $350,000 to allow the Galena School
District's boarding school to serve 55 more students; an increase
of $150,000 for an autism resource center, for a total of $350,000;
and an increase of $50,000 to help rural secondary students transition
from school to adult life, for a total of $150,000.
The Legislature approved the administration-supported bill for
Alaska to join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity
for Military Children. The multi-state agreement makes it easier
for military children to transition to public schools when they
move to a new state. Although Alaska school districts already
do much to help military students make that transition, the interstate
compact will provide an opportunity to share effective practices
with other states, and it relieves military families of some
of the anxiety about moving to a new state.
The legislature also funded the first 23 school district projects
on the state's major maintenance list, at a cost of $42.4 million,
and appropriated $1 million for major maintenance projects at
the state-operated boarding school in Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe High
School. In the supplemental budget is approximately $18 million
to rebuild the school that burned in Kalskag.
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