Senate transforms Education Transformation Act

The Senate Finance Committee heard Senate Bill 96 on Thursday morning with a changes to a controversial section that called for the consolidation of schools at less than 80 percent capacity that are located on the road systems within 25 miles of each other.

The bill, being dubbed the Education Transformation Act, now directs the Department of Education and Early Development to analyze schools with under 70 percent capacity and any unintended consequences that merging schools may bring, said Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Eagle River) during the committee hearing.

“Where it makes sense, we want to make sure (consolidation) can happen,” she said. “So, that will be something that comes back to us coming next year, but the department will be working on it.”

Currently, 53 percent of Alaska schools are under capacity with 229 schools falling under 75 percent utilization, Hughes said. The bill is asking that the department look at schools that fall below 70 percent capacity and are located within 25-miles of another school via year-round, state maintained roads.

Sen. Donald Olson (D-Golovin) questioned whether or not this could include schools located on the marine highway.

“We’ll try to get the information from the department about whether they plan to analyze the marine roadways. I only think it’s fair, if we’re using the brick and mortar highway that we look at the marine highway as well,” said Senate Finance Committee Co-Chair Sen. Anna MacKinnon (R-Anchorage).

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, the Susan B. English school in Seldovia is located on the marine highway and could be negatively affected with this inclusion in the bill, said Pegge Erkeneff, spokesperson for the school district.

“Seldovia is on the marine highway, but there is not a daily service back and forth between Seldovia and Homer for transportation of students on the marine highway,” she said.

Other sections of the bill look deeper into transforming Alaskan education with an overall reduction in administrative costs.

“There is a large achievement gap that has plagued us for too long,” Hughes said. “Our testing scores and graduation rates have put us at the bottom of the pile of the 50 states. It’s our obligation to do better and that’s what SB 96 is about, to provide tools to allow districts to improve classroom instruction and reduce admin cost.”

The bill will incentivize districts to collaborate with neighboring districts, local businesses, government and other organizations, Hughes said.

“Every dollar spent on administration is a dollar diverted from the classroom. This bill provides districts the tools to streamline and modernize,” Hughes said.

In a further effort to move money from school administration to the classroom, the bill sets forth the groundwork for a virtual education consortium which would allow Alaska schools to share virtual classes for students and professional development for teachers.

“It’s not about parking students in front of computers,” Hughes said. “Our goal is to have interactive courses where certified teachers that are experts in their field can inspire students across the state and students will have a menu of courses that they would not have otherwise, including ones that are very relevant to them that will go on to inspire them to graduate and do great things.”

District Board of Education member Mike Illg of Homer voiced concerns about how virtual education would be implemented on the peninsula during public comment.

“Our Alaskan learners are diverse,” he said. “Our district is broad in size and diversity. Students learn in village schools, Russian Old Believer schools, home-schools, brick and mortar schools. … As you move forward, I ask that you thoughtfully keep in mind that what works in urban schools may not work in rural schools.”

Illg also asked that the Senate work closely with the Department of Education and Alaska Education Challenge as they move forward in addressing virtual education.

“When we have this bill up again, we will have the administration of (the department) speak to us on the plan,” MacKinnon said. “We do plan on advancing this piece of legislation this session.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

The Seward welcome sign is photographed in July 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Seward vice mayor and council member resigns

The council accept the resignation of Tony Baclaan during its Monday night meeting.

Ben Mohr watches Kenai River Junior Classic participants head out to fish on the Kenai River in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Mohr resigns as director of KRSA

He has been the executive director of KRSA for nearly three years.

Heather and Hunter Phillips walk through the Kenai Community Library Haunted Hunt with their mom Kumi Phillips on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Scary reads

Spooky literary characters come to life at Kenai library haunted house.

Alaska state Rep. Laddie Shaw, an Anchorage Republican, waits for the start of a so-called technical session on the House floor, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The fourth special legislative session of the year began Oct. 4, in Juneau, but there has been little action at the Capitol and little progress toward resolving Alaska’s fiscal issues. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Special session plods on with little action

Many legislative offices have been dark and floor sessions in some cases have lasted seconds.

The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. After the Kenai City Council postponed a vote to approve a grant funding health and wellness books, community members set up a GoFundMe to support the purchase of materials. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
After cries of censorship, community raises funds for library

The Kenai City Council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone acceptance of a $1,500 grant for materials related to health and wellness.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
11 new deaths reported

Statewide there were 244 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Tuesday, with 37 of them on ventilators.

Rep. Don Young talks during a June 2021 interview with the Empire. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Young to face off with a Begich yet again

Young, 88, seemed unfazed by Begich’s entry into the race.

A remote galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope is greatly magnified and distorted by the effects of gravitationally warped space. (Image via NASA)
Grant brings NASA to library

The grant supports science, technology, engineering, arts and math programming for patrons.

Most Read