Anchorage birth rate drops dramatically, but school district is finding a way to get more money: Add Pre-kindergarten



Readers have been led to believe the Anchorage School District was preparing to close schools due to major budget shortfalls. Instead, two out of the six of the proposed schools are being “repurposed” by the Anchorage School District as pre-kindergarten academies, even though it has no data to prove the effectiveness of such programs.  

When questioned about the “proof of concept” on how these pre-k academies will operate, the administration stated it will just develop the concept once it has the program in place.

Most programs have an approved proof of concept prior to being implemented.  However, the administration doesn’t seem to think it needs one.   

At the Nov. 15 work session, school board member Kelly Lessens asked the vital questions regarding the success of the current pre-k program.  She wants data that show the effectiveness of the current program.

“If we want more preschool funding, I am interested in finding a proof of concept. Are our investments positively impacting our students?” Lessens asked.

Only board member Dave Donley showed an interest by seconding the request for information. Other board members remained quiet. 

Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt responded to Lessens’ question by stating, “Are you seeking data on ASD pre-k programs?”

Lessens answered yes,

“I would anticipate that it would be slightly difficult to produce, and it would be difficult to discern a causal relationship for a number of reasons,”  Bryantt said.

Bryantt noted the district has no data on its pre-k program. He did not explain why it would be “slightly difficult to produce.”

Bryantt also did not explain his reasoning as to why it “would be difficult to discern a causal relationship for a number of reasons.”

Bryantt did offer to provide national research on the effectiveness of pre-k programs. However, member Lessens was more interested specifically in the effectiveness of the ASD pre-k program.

She responded that national data are fine, but she wanted to know what philosophy is dictating the Anchorage pre-k programs. There was no response from the district regarding its program philosophy.

Lessens asked if the pre-k program translates into kids who are more ready for kindergarten and asked if they are succeeding in kindergarten. She was interested in the education outcomes and the value added. 

Lessens wanted data to show the Alaska Legislature before the session starts, so the district can get more funding. Member Bellamy said it would take a long time to get the pre-k data.

There is national research available that shows pre-k has little to no impact on student achievement.

The Vanderbilt Study, which consisted of 3,000 low-income pre-k students, showed that at the end of kindergarten the kids who had not gone to the program caught up with the kids who had gone through pre-k.

More importantly, at the end of third grade, the kids who did not go to pre-k were doing better on state tests and had fewer suspensions than the pre-k kids.

Alabama has had the highest quality pre-k system for the last 13 years, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Unfortunately, that investment in high quality has not seemed to pay off in NAEP scores. Over the last 13 years Alabama has fallen from 47th to 50th in low-income NAEP 4th grade reading scores. Alaska is the only state that scores lower.

Can the Anchorage School District expect any better than Alabama?

The correct question is: “Will these pre-k 3- and 4-year-old children be able to read better than other children?”

Regardless, the Anchorage School District will go forward with growing its pre-k program. The goal here seems to be grow the program to get more State funding due to the decreased population of children entering schools in Anchorage

  The ASD graph below shows that decline:

One can see the quandary the district is in. It wants to maintain its current budget, but the declining birth rate means it will have fewer k-12 students and less funding in the future.

The administration’s solution is to grow unproven pre-k programs and ask the Legislature to fund them. The Legislature needs to have accurate data before it makes a decision.

Member Kelly Lessens should be applauded for her pointed questions. The district needs to respond with data, a proof of concept, and a concept of operations.

Otherwise, it may be saving its funding without helping children to achieve their potential. Any decision should be focused on the children, not the institution.

David Boyle is an education writer for Must Read Alaska.

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  1. In Juneau all students have qualified for 3 meals a day at school regardless of any family income. Some news reports say it is continuing, and some say the opposite. And all Democrats want governmentally provided child care. I don’t know why government doesn’t just attend the birth and take the child right then and there; parents would say OK so long as they could still qualify for WIC and the same amount for SNAP. Taxpayers never complain, and for the most part the cradle to grave elected officials continue to be re-elected.

  2. I also believe that the earlier the system can start working to indoctrinate children the better they will be able to mold them.
    My son goes to Birchwood ABC, luckily I live in the schools zone, not sure of the process but I think he would have to go to Firelake elementary, I have to vote at Firelake, what I noticed was as you walk in the door, they had the rainbow flag colors behind the glass case, I would imagine, they support the LGTBQ community, can’t say they do but that was an interesting display.

      • George, ASD wants to move Birchwood ABC kids to Homestead school. Then move Eagle Academy charter school into the Birchwood school. It makes no sense at all. The district should leave Birchwood kids where they are and move Eagle Academy into the same building. I think the objective is to do away with Birchwood ABC because the ASD Administration doesn’t like the ABC curriculum.

        • David, I completely agree with your assessment. The structured ABC program at Birchwood has been an embarrassment to the district, as these students consistently outperform the district average by a considerable margin. Eagle Academy and the Birchwood communities would most likely get along much better, than the optional program from Eagle River Elementary, the powers-that-be moved into that space after the earthquake in 2018. It is further apparent that “closing schools” to save money is just a pretext to make unpopular changes, since the building continues to be occupied and requiring upkeep and operating costs.

  3. “The Vanderbilt Study, which consisted of 3,000 low-income pre-k students, showed that at the end of kindergarten the kids who had not gone to the program caught up with the kids who had gone through pre-k. More importantly, at the end of third grade, the kids who did not go to pre-k were doing better on state tests and had fewer suspensions than the pre-k kids.”

    OBVIOUSLY, the Anchorage School District is NOT doing the Pre-K schooling at the “repurposed” schools for the children. They are just going thru the motions of moving kids out to other schools and bringing even younger kids back in under the guise of “education” and a way to boost enrollment numbers to get more $$$. Nothing to see here, move along.

  4. Said it before ASD has been open about the fact of the 6 facilities only 1 will be demolished and 5 repurposed the other 5 into Pre-K. This “Pre-K” thing started back around 2013-2014 when they did a remodel of Mt View Elementary and has expanded. It’s federally funded day care make no mistake about it.

  5. They are asking the wrong question. The correct question is how much harm does it do to a three year old kid to be dumped by parents into a institutional setting? There is a lot of research that documents the harm of early child separation.

    Three and four year old kids need to be with their Moms, and Dads.

    The legislature should not only not fund this crap, but they should make it illegal.

    The ASD should be ashamed for pushing this harm to children with this mission creep. The ASD seems to only care about building its bloated bureaucracy.

  6. The current child rearing generation isn’t interested in having kids. They’re inconvenient to living ones “best life”.

    Throw in the growing gay population of Anchorage, the outmigration of anyone with a brain, and the ongoing war on the family, this isn’t news.

    If societies valued kids they wouldn’t have cottage industries in their mutilation, sexualization, and poor education.

  7. I believe the information would be hard to produce because every kid in pre kindergarden services has a medical and or social condition that brings some privacy concerns on data releasing.

    • Then why are there valid PreK research studies such as the Vanderbilt study and the federal government’s HeadStart study? Makes no sense if there are more than 500 PreK kids already in the ASD.

    • Maureen, you are incorrect. There are many ASD schools offering general pre-school programs for kids 4 years of age by Sept 1 of that year. Furthermore data (even in SPED classrooms) can be derived without violating individual confidentiality. It is my understanding that in order to receive federal funding certain parameters have to be met and demonstrated.
      These programs have been in place many years and making a comparative chart of test scores for kids, who attended vs those who started regular kindergarten, should not be difficult. I suspect there is very little if any advantage and so the ASD is reluctant to demonstrate this, as they are looking to boost their enrollment numbers to continue to fleece the taxpayer instead of addressing their inherent administrative structural issues as an organization. Further to consider is the poor educational performance outcome for students. Improving standards and test scores and the overall educational readiness of students, should be the focus.

      • I hear your opinion.

        You don’t agree.

        That’s ok.

        It appears you haven’t worked with children in Anchorage, nor the school district given your answer.

        • Wrong Ms. Suttman.
          All 4 of our kids went to Headstart.
          It was income based …. ALL the kids did not have medical or social conditions.
          And why can’t you look at a child’s progress w/out revealing their HIPPA stuff

          BTW – What is a “social condition” Shy? ….hyper? …. restless? …slow reader? … bully?
          I would call that human nature, we are all different.

          Headstart gives kids an edge, they are a bit more mature & rule orientated when they hit the big school.
          But, the advantages go away as other kids catch up & are totally gone by 3rd grade
          There have been studies on the Headstart advantage

          This is just moving child care to high paid, unionized, government workers & paid by Alaskan taxpayers.
          As such it favors liberal politicians in elections, the bigger the AK-NEA the better for Dems
          THAT”S why every AK Democrat supports this nonsense. It is NOT about the kids.

          If we want to have babysitters for low income, single mothers & working parents, why does it have to be done by high pay gov employees?
          It’s just babysitting.

          • Head Start is a federal government funded program, George. A great, effective, needed, federal government program.

            Can’t make this stuff up.

        • I understand that to you everything looks like a nail…… You lump low-income families in with those families, who have youngsters with disabilities. Sadly not a subtle approach and counterproductive, as the structure in each program varies greatly. Preschool programs are limited in the space available. ASD therefore established requirements to be accepted in these programs, but to paint every single child and their family as in need of “intervention”, robs them of their individuality and independent choices. Being a single parent isn’t a “condition”, it is their life based on the choices these individuals have made and the vast majority make it work just fine, without professional meddling from so-called “experts”.

          • I wasn’t the one who said no to others getting an edge by government, while okay for you to have those benefits.

          • Huh? You again make assumptions not in evidence.
            Taxpayer funded programs should be available to all taxpayers. You are the one who claimed that all kids and families in the preschool programs have issues requiring social services intervention and therefor statistical data can not be derived. I dispute both statements, as there are many families, whose children participate without the need for a social worker. Statistical data can be provided without identifying specific students. It is done all the time. The ASD is desiring to increase its customer base without doing the hard work of proving a better outcome for students. It’s a money grubbing scheme that will not benefit the children the ASD claims to care so much about, while test score and remedial college classes tell a different tale.

    • “…every kid in pre kindergarden services has a medical and or social condition…”
      What? Where are you getting that from?
      Maury Suttman

      • Maury-off the ASD preschool website page. And from personal professional experience working with the kids and ASD personnel from that program.

        • So, anecdotal evidence. And, yes, the ASD website is proof of nothing, they are advocates for themselves, no one else.
          Got it.
          Maury Suttman.

  8. A biological marker for bears is when they have twins and multiple births per pregnancy indicating a prosperous physical environment. Similarly humans declining birth rates is a marker of a decline the country. The left and globalists oppositional to Americans God-given liberties wants the US weakened also in such a way. Turkey actually has a rising birth rate. Imagine that.

  9. Had a run-in with a school board member several years ago over the transition from 1/2 Day Kindergarten to All Day Kindergarten- it’s “best” for the children without any reason given.

    Watching these kindergartners falling asleep during lunch and being to be told to eat was tragic.

    Parents love the “free” daycare and the school district loves the “extra” money and staffing that came about.

  10. They can’t tell you whether or not such Pre-K programs are effective until it has become completely entwined into the School District’s bureaucracy. As NancyP once said: “You have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.” Or maybe as Kevin Costner’s character said: “If you build it, they will come.”

  11. ASD has been hoarding $$ to support the Unions and the NEA Agenda, with all the Democratic garble.. They have to be sending all our $$ to these groups.(memberships) The schools can’t get $$ to support the teachers with their needed supplies in the classroom, and teachwers paying for it out of their salery. The Teachers can’t say anything outside the order from NEA or they’re in the unemployment line. The reason why I say “hoarding”. I remember way back about 5-10 yrs ago, when the School budgts started to fail to pass in in the April municipality elections, they ALWAYS found the money somewhere in their slush pots evenly stashed away in different schools.

    • Where’s the data to support that ASD hoards money for unions? The union members pay, not the district. Facts matter. Furthermore, NEA doesn’t stifle what teachers say. However, evidence has pointed to teachers in districts where CRT is a hot button topic feeling limited to addressing our history when there’s a chance it’d make a student feel badly about coming to the conclusion that systemic racism isn’t fair.

  12. Pre-K has always been available for school districts to receive funding. I’m not sure what your agenda is here. Maybe it’s just to educate people on something that most of us has known for a long time. Some districts only have them for an hour or two because maybe that’s all they can handle at their age. It’s mostly so that they can get used to standing in a line to keep their hands to the self, learning the socialization of the school atmosphere such as not talking out of turn or anything else that might disrupt a classroom. They’re learning there are rules when you get outside of the house which is just a basic function of society. I think the only rule that I’m aware of that would keep a Pre-K out of a school is if they’re not potty trained.

  13. Birth rate dropped,? Well that is to be expected when you cut the tube off that supplies the fertilizer!
    Can’t fix stupid.

  14. When my mother was honorably discharged from the WAF in NH in the late ’40s, early ’50s she decided to use her newly acquired military service benefit, the G.I. Bill, to attend graduate school … at UAF in the first MS program in education, culminating in a degree based on research thesis of benefit(s) of early childhood education in kindergartens. Her research took her to Territorial Archives in Juneau, and small villages such as Kotzebue. If she were alive today, I’m confident she’d have come up with a non-profane but colorful French Canadian expression about the situation right here and now.

    And, yes, she was Republican, volunteering for March of Dimes, and an election volunteer ensuring proper ballot filing and voting protocols were in place and followed at the high school polling location where elections were held.

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