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Lawmakers disagree on school intervention

Posted: February 13, 2012 - 7:08pm  |  Updated: February 14, 2012 - 12:56pm

JUNEAU — The Senate Education Committee on Monday discussed a plan that would change how the state intervenes in struggling school districts, while a House bill takes a different approach to the same issue.

Intervention in districts stems from the state’s 2008 response to the Moore v. Alaska case, which showed the state failed to meet its constitutional requirement of providing education because it had ineffective oversight. The case also resulted in a proposed $18 million settlement between the state and rural schools.

A law passed in 2008 gives the Department of Education and Early Development the ability to provide a variety of responses when interacting with struggling districts. For less severe cases, the first step is to provide extra training for teachers and to make on-site efforts to help improve students’ reading and writing skills.

Those efforts have been lauded as successful by district officials who have testified to the House Education Committee.

But controversy lies in the next method employed by state officials. The state can appoint a trustee who can dictate curriculum changes and other aspects of school decision-making. Officials from Yupiit School District, the only to ever be appointed a trustee, told the House Education Committee their voice is not being heard in the process. 

Legislators agree that is a problem in need of a fix.

A bill commissioned by Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, for the Senate Education Committee, SB194, would affirm local involvement and draw from lessons learned from similar policies enacted in Michigan, Texas and elsewhere. That bill would also rename the intervention process “revitalization” and would consider community struggles such as substance abuse and unemployment when considering how to craft a fix for those districts.

Meanwhile, House Education Chair Rep. Alan Dick, R-McGrath, suggests in HB256 that the process needs a complete overhaul that should begin with removal of the state’s ability to send anyone with the type of authority currently allowed to a trustee. Dick has said after the intervention process is repealed, he would then work to describe in legislation a process that learns from mistakes and uses what has worked.

Discussion of SB194 will continue at a Senate Education Committee hearing Wednesday; HB256 could be heard before the House Education Committee Friday.

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