In one Alaska public school, the cost is $139,000 per pupil

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ALASKA’S REPORT CARD: SHOCKING COSTS, LOUSY SCORES

Yakov E. Netsvetov School is home to six students in Atka, a settlement of 35 mainly Unangan / Aleuts on a remote island 50 miles east of Adak. The town has lost two thirds of its residents since the 2000 census, when 95 people were living there.

Back in the 1970s, the New York Times described it thus: “…a settlement of 87 Russian‐Aleuts, the village has no zip code, no post office, no functioning dock, no airstrip, no scheduled transportation. Its only communication with the outside world is fickle 50‐watt radio transmitter that cannot be used for personal calls and an old‐Navy vessel that is dispatched from Adak Navy Base, 120 miles away, once a month, provided weather and military commitments permit.”

Things are more modern these days on Atka. Although it still has some of the worst weather in the world, there’s a zip code and a post office that opens for two hours most days. But the population is dwindling fast.

If your child is one of the six students remaining at Yakov E. Netsvetov School, that education is costing the State of Alaska $139,000 per year.

To compare, it costs $46,000 to attend Harvard University, or $67,580 for tuition, room, board, and fees combined.

The Yakov E. Netsvetov School receives $834,000 of public funds for those six students as money funneled from the State through the Aleutian Region School District.

Also, if you’re one of those students, you’re probably related to most of the others; there are but three households in Atka with minors in the family.

Although it’s the most expensive per-student education in the state, no one really knows how those six students are doing in terms of academic proficiency. The school’s test scores are not reportable, due to privacy concerns. All we really know is how much it costs.

Netsvetov school is an an outlier, but a look through the list of schools in Alaska shows that the median spend per student is about $20,270, while the average spend per student is over $26,000, more than two times higher than the $11,500 spent per student nationally.

According to the U.S. Census, of the 50 states, New York ($23,091), the District of Columbia ($21,974), Connecticut ($19,322), New Jersey ($18,920) and Vermont ($18,290) spent the most per pupil.

But that’s not accurate, according to the self-reporting found at the Alaska Department of Education website, which recently launched school-by-school statistics that drill down into the real costs, based on self-reporting by the districts.

[Check out your local school’s statistics at this Department of Education link.]

The publication of the data is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires greater public transparency for costs and other factors. Not all schools have complied with the reporting requirements, but the remaining ones have until the end of the school year to do so.

Home schools and home school programs are by far the least expensive to the State, ranging from $5,122 for Denali PEAK students to $11,400 for Delta/Greely Homeschool attendees.

HB 236 WOULD ADD EVEN MORE

But in the halls of the Legislature and in the education union establishment in Alaska, money is the object.

Rep. Andi Story of Juneau has introduced a bill to increase the base student allocation for schools, and the districts are now rallying support, pointing out that the base student allocation has not changed since 2017.

Thus, HB 236 would increase that base amount from $5,930 to $6,045 in the first year and to $6,155 per student in the second year.

That is roughly a $30 million per year increase to the state operating budget.

Juneau School District leaders are leading the charge, calling the current budget picture “grim,” since they are also running out of a two-year grant that they had won during the Walker Administration.

READING SCORES HIT NEW LOWS

Grim doesn’t even begin to describe Juneau’s reading scores, however. Less than 47 percent of students in the Juneau School District are reading at grade level.

That information is also in the DEED Report Card to the Public.

Figure: Alaska Policy Forum

At Harborview Elementary in Juneau, the reading proficiency is 40 percent, even though the per-student spend is $22,000.

In the Mendenhall Valley in Juneau, Riverbend Elementary scores higher at 45 percent in reading, while its per-student spend is lower at $21,100.

Both schools are rated ‘mid-poverty.” But surprisingly, so is Yakov E. Netsvetov on Atka, with its six attendees and its $139,000 spend per student.

Juneau students are, even while below average, still above average in Alaska, where the statewide average reading proficiency score is just 37 percent.

What’s worse, is that more than 60 percent of Alaska’s third graders are scoring below or far below proficient.

Fiscal note showing how much each district would get under HB 236.]

Rep. Story’s bill has no accountability measures attached to it. It’s a few lines on a page that add more money to all school districts to maintain the status quo.

That accountability piece for improving outcomes is found in Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Tom Begich’s Alaska Reads Act, legislation that would create a statewide K-3 reading program to improve reading outcomes.

27 COMMENTS

  1. More ‘how to fail’ from our Legislature.
    Don’t fix anything, just throw more money at it and the problem will resolve itself.
    Can’t get any lower than 51st in 4th grade literacy, so I guess the idea is to bring down the rest of the standing from 46th to 51st across the board?

  2. I see Galena fourth highest on proficiency (still unacceptable at 59%), but wonder the cost per pupil in the home of IDEA program. Our system is broken, and rather than point fingers (which is very easy to do and most point to the same problems), perhaps we just need to turn the clock back 100 to 150 years to basic education that worked. My father ran away from home during sixth grade in 1926 but had received enough education to ultimately found and run a successful business based on math-electrical contracting and electronics repair. How about giving our kids the education that our ancestors had?

    • From the article: “Home schools and home school programs are by far the least expensive to the State, ranging from $5,122 for Denali PEAK students to $11,400 for Delta/Greely Homeschool attendees.”

      The allotment families get through programs is pretty much in exchange for letting the state oversee that you’re actually teaching your child. The state gives you money, you turn in quarterly portfolios or work samples. You don’t make progress? They put you on an education plan.

      100 years ago, children weren’t expected to sit for 6+ hours a day. They were in multi-grade classrooms. Parents stood behind the teacher and because of this, there weren’t bullying problems like there are today. And if the kid smarted off or refused to do their work, they were punished for it. The children also weren’t expected to start reading until later, when their brains were better equipped to do so. When they get an interest in doing something, that’s the BEST time to teach it. Not when a school says they’re supposed to.

      As for the test scores on the PEAKS…. have you looked at their sample questions they put online? It’s like they purposely try to trick the kids. And the months leading up to the tests? Go sit in a classroom and tell me you can’t cut through the stress in the air. The teachers stress about “Gotta do good on the test!” and the kids are stressed out because of it. Do YOU preform at your best under immense stress? I know I sure don’t. And these are kids who aren’t mentally ready for that stress.

      Add in the students who disrupt teaching time with poor attitudes, the general disrespectful behavior, and the treatment of each other between the kids. Schools are doing horridly right now. And we as a state are paying entirely too much towards the dysfunction.

  3. The richness of an education does not imply that it must be expensive thus we must “invest more money to get the bang for our educational bucks.” We live in an amazing age of technology. Home Schools know this and avail this to the fantastic advantage for their students. I suggest let there be a reasonable standard base, let there be transparency of the educational funds allocated in schools, let there be standardized testing for public, charter, and private schools that is published for comparison, let our educators be accepted to include the elders, journeymen, proven members of our community, and let our criteria of education start with the premise of reading, writing, arithmetic, and those traditional values of living. These truths do not have to cost us for education, but without them it costs us greatly in ignorance and survivability.

    • Ken,
      I agree with your statement:
      “We live in an amazing age of technology. Home Schools know this and avail this to the fantastic advantage for their students.”
      As technology advances and resources like “online learning” are available in rural communities, more families should consider the homeschool option throughout Alaska.
      Unfortunately much of the public educational system has become more of a “daycare center” for younger parents and a very expensive one at that.

  4. Alaska’s K12 education system is a product of the Education/Govt Union complex. They fly to Juneau every year (some several times) to ask for more money to fund a completely mediocre system and they get $$. The root cause of the problem is the LEGISLATURE. The legislators do not ask for any return on the investment. They incentivize bad performance and get more of it. Hold legislators responsible for the failing K12 system. They OWN it.

  5. How can it cost almost a million dollars to educate 6 students?? No wonder we have a budget problem!

    • Thanks to Molly-Hootch, those students can’t be boarded at a larger school where they would get a better (and less expensive) education.

  6. Both my daughters did Home School clear through High School and I bought all the books, my wife taught them and it never cost the Alaska one single cent. Both have continued on in self-education at no cost to any State just like it was done in Colonial times. Education is suppose to be the sole responsibility of the parents. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  7. My Dad was born in 1898 and quite school during his 9th Grade and never looked back. Most of his life he was self-employed. He taught himself to multiply 4 numbers in his head to buy and sell and he trucked and owned outright a farm and a ranch at different times in his life. It’s called self-determination. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  8. It is my understanding that there is a minimum student enrollment number required to be eligible for state funding. I recall a few years ago the legislature talking about raising that number from 10 to 20. If the number is still 10 then how is this school still eligible for state funding?

  9. The state should pay the median cost per student. If the citizens who choose to live somewhere like Atka (I’ve been there) and expect their kids education to receive the amount required for schooling in such a remote area, they should either teach their kids online or pay the difference themselves between the median cost and their kids outrageous educational costs. Is something “fishy” in Atka? Certainly appears that way. Aren’t area schools in Alaska cutting back or closing down due to lack of students?

  10. Thank you Suzanne. It is such scenarios that are inflating our per student annual cost for our state. It is angering when you see us at the top of the nationwide list for per student spending but no one has bothered to truly explain why. This does need to stop though. Why are these students not on a correspondence program like remote students in our state used to be? Does this tiny community employ a teacher and maintain a brick and mortar building that is not necessary? This needs to end.

    As for reading proficiency, oh dear, pulling out my soapbox…..— So much money has been spent over the years, so many different ‘this will solve our problem’ programs initiated with minimal results. I am not an expert but I do hold a teaching degree and had a daughter whom was a delayed reader. After much investigation and researching as well as private testing out of our own pockets, we found she had an auditory processing issue. At the time our district was not recognizing this glitch hence there was not much in place to deal with it. Auditory processing issues typically affects phonemic awareness and visual memory. I came upon a program called Spelling To Write and Read – SWR. I began initiating this with daughter at age 9, homeschooling her her also as it was easiest, continuing the program into middle school. This program is amazing and only requires a short bit of training or guidance to get started. By high school daughter was reading and writing far beyond grade level and her spelling, albeit not strong, was improving at a steady pace. SWR is an amazing program developed by a reading specialist in Oregon and used heavily by home schoolers and private schools. It is phonics based.

    Fast forward, that daughter graduated from college with honors and finished in four years while also being a standout student athlete. Hence my recommendation – parents putting some sweat equity into their kids reading – read aloud together frequently, have lots of books in your home and make trips to the library. Bring back strong phonics in the primary grades. Make writing important again. Realize also that every student is not at same developmental pace and the brightest kids could be developing slower but will catch up and excel. Quit buying into all the expensive gimmicky programs. I have reviewed many of them over the years. Too many with bells, whistles, distractions, and cost.

    Ok done. ??

    • Sadly this is one big place where there are two societies: one in which parents raise their children and another in which they only create them and expect someone else to raise and educate them. When parents fail to take responsibility, no amount of money will correct the deficiency.
      Childhood is an apprenticeship to adulthood. What children learn in their early years they will reflect as they become active members of society. If they learn all play without responsibility, likely they will end up as irresponsible adults. If they learn the importance of education and curiosity, very little formal education will be needed as they will teach themselves.
      Every child deserves the best chance at life and opportunity. If we give them the chance to excel, all of us will be better off for it. They will be the ones to decide our nursing homes and to care for us there.

  11. This does not include the cost to build schools. The state built schools in many rural Alaska communities at the cost of $30 million plus. This went on for years of one to two schools built every other year, if not each year. Oftentimes there was no person in the village who knew how to keep the mechanical systems operating, thus increasing the maintenance costs. As our budget continues to shrink we will have to cut education costs at some point. It’s time to be smart about it and plan.

  12. There is a very big and relatively new building housing the UNANGAN Native Corporation. The State of Alaska should stop funding education in these remote villages and let the Native Corporations take on that responsibility. This is why we are in so much trouble as a state. We simply cannot afford it.

    • Hahaha, I’m shocked I tell ya shocked! They moved kids there long enough to keep the gravy train for another year. This is outright corruption.

  13. The question would be, what are we getting for that investment? Are any performance stats available for past students at this little “50 miles east of Adak” enclave?

    Doubt it. That would be racist.

  14. We taught there the 2017/2018 school year. We were literally run out of town for reporting instances of child abuse, dangerous conditions in the school, and basically what amounted to looting of the school. The district seems to have sent the superintendent to Europe 4 times the year we were there, for a student teacher program that no one we talked to thought was a good idea. The mayor got nearly $30,000 in school funds for her “not affiliated with the school” dance group to take a trip to Anchorage. I started writing a grant for a greenhouse, but APIA had already written a grant for a greenhouse so no one wanted to do another. Guess where there will never be a greenhouse from now until the end of time? Another teacher was basically run out of the profession for reporting child abuse. Her letter of non retention (from the superintendent who lives in Las Vegas, and whose travel was paid for by the district) states “there was no probability of abuse” from the person it turned out was the abuser, and we found an OCS safety plan about how to protect the child from that abuser. We’re planning on suing the district very soon, and others who were involved. I emailed the state commissioner of education about the problems and…crickets. MRAK knows about the story and, so far, no follow up. I have copies of the fire marshal’s reports going back until 1993, and other supporting information. The cliff’s note’s version is basically if a corrupt superintendent and a corrupt school board decide to loot millions of dollars from the state treasury, no one asks any questions, and they do their best to destroy teachers who do.

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