Thursday, February 04, 2016

Teacher, students turn to technology to save rural Alaska schools from proposed state budget cuts

A teacher in the small town of Twin Hills, Alaska (Wikipedia map) has turned to technology to try to save the state's rural isolated schools from proposed budget cuts that could force some schools to close, Austin Baird reports for KTUU-TV in Anchorage. Republican state Rep. Lynn Gattis of Wasilla, 40 minutes north of Anchorage, "set off a firestorm last fall when she suggested that cutting funds for small, rural schools could be part of the solution to the state's nearly $4 billion budget deficit." Gattis oversees the education budget for the House Finance Committee.

"Lawmakers from both parties, school advocates, and many rural residents are part of the chorus of critics that have spoken out against raising the minimum enrollment for a school to receive state funds from 10, to 20 or 25," reports Baird. "Many have questioned whether a projected savings of $7 million is worth the impact to villages."

Meghan Redmond, a teacher at the K-8 school in Twin Hills, a Bristol Bay community of fewer than 100 residents, started a Facebook page as part of an online movement "to show policy makers who exactly would be impacted if Gattis' proposal gains traction and eventually becomes law," Baird reports. Remond told him, "We didn't want a bill to come about or to pass without a lot of conversation, without a lot of input from as many sources as possible."

As part of a state program—Alaska Close Up—that gives students a chance to see how government works, Redmond and five students have been at the state Capitol in Juneau this week to bend Gattis' ear about the importance of rural schools to local communities, Baird reports. Redmond met with Gattis, giving her letters from students expressing concern that their school could be closed, forcing them to move.

Gattis "said it remains important to keep talking about the possibility of closing small schools in broader talks of cutting the budget in general and school spending in particular," Baird reports. She told Baird, "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't look at it. Many of our villages are losing students. So what do we do as a state as we continue down that trail?" 

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