Senate passes bill to close correspondence school

Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The Senate voted Monday to give the state's only certified correspondence school just one more year of operation before being closed.

The bill calls for eliminating funds for Alyeska Central School's summer school program but letting the regular correspondence program continue for another year.

In that time, the school's supporters can try to arrange for the program to be taken over by a school district, perhaps as a charter school.

Gov. Frank Murkowski's administration has said closing the school in Juneau will save the state at least $1.2 million a year.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, spoke in favor of House Bill 174. He said there are alternatives for the students that weren't available when the school was founded in 1939.

Alyeska's supporters argue the state should not close the school entirely because no other correspondence programs in Alaska are certified.

Alyeska supporters also say closing the program will cost more money because the foundation formula pays less for a correspondence student than one attending a public school.

The correspondence school employs about 38 teachers and support staff and has an enrollment of about 1,100 students.

Alyeska should be kept open because it provides a quality education to students with difficult-to-meet needs, said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. He cited several examples including a student with Tourette syndrome and another with a panic disorder.

''This is a fantastic program. I don't know why we are shutting it down,'' French said during debate.

But Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said the state has four other correspondence schools that have conditional accreditation that could educate Alyeska students.

Closing the school would not necessarily save money because the state spends 20 percent less to educate correspondence students than it spends on regular public school students through the foundation formula, said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

Senators voted 12-8 for the bill. It has already passed in the House.

Senators also passed House Bill 165, another bill pushed by the Murkowski administration. That bill would cut $500,000 for the community schools program, which helps fund after-school programs and adult education classes.

French said the community schools program helps bring communities together.

''I'd like to see the program rolling forward,'' he said.

Rep. Gary Wilken, F-Fairbanks, said voting for the bill would not necessarily eliminate community schools. In Anchorage, the program receives $150,000, which could be made up by an additional small charge from students, he said.

In another move, senators passed House Bill 154. That bill would restrict school districts from enrolling most 4-year-olds to enter kindergarten a year early. Gifted students would still be able to enroll, under the bill. The Department of Education has estimated the bill would save the state $3.9 million.

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