‘Students and families are counting on elected leaders to provide the resources to meet the education challenges COVID presents’
JUNEAU – Today, the House and Senate Education committees met jointly to review preliminary school enrollment numbers, which are being negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Members heard from the Alaska Department of Education, University of Alaska, and rural and urban school districts throughout the state about changes in enrollment and other effects they are experiencing. Officials testified that the pandemic is causing upheaval for students, parents, teachers, and school districts.
Statewide, there is a 13 percent loss in regular enrollment and a 93 percent increase in correspondence enrollment. Overall, approximately 22 percent of the state’s K-12 students are enrolled in correspondence programs, with 78 percent of students continuing to attend neighborhood schools, in-person or remotely. There is tremendous variation between school districts and the challenges they face. Enrollment changes for neighborhood schools range from a decrease of 56 percent to a net increase of 10 percent. Correspondence programs across the state have seen increases between 24 percent and 1,300 percent.
Under state law, changes in enrollment numbers will result in a harmful decrease in funding for schools due to temporary enrollment losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic – unless policymakers act in the upcoming legislative session to correct course.
“Alaska education funding statutes were clearly not designed to account for the drastic but temporary impacts of a pandemic,” said Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage), co-chair of the House Education Committee. “The Legislature will have to act swiftly in January to provide relief to school districts faced with difficult fiscal decisions while continuing to educate Alaska’s 127,000 K-12 students.”
Rep. Andi Story (D-Juneau), committee co-chair, added, “Alaska’s students and families are counting on elected leaders to provide the resources to meet the education challenges COVID presents. Our children are resilient yet we need to do our part to ensure the best quality education possible, whether in-person or virtual. This takes resources, and planning. COVID is a temporary crisis. It’s important to look to the long term to ensure a strong, responsive education system that serves every Alaskan child.”
Other factors addressed during the hearing include challenges accessing high-speed internet faced in rural communities and in low-income households statewide, a severe teacher shortage that is exacerbated by travel restrictions, and difficulties of working parents accessing childcare.
Alaska House Majority