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.
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.
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.
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.