Kenai Assembly may ask state to fund schools at last year's enrollment level - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, September 16, 2021
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Kenai Assembly may ask state to fund schools at last year’s enrollment level

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The chair of the Kenai Borough Assembly has offered a resolution to request that this year’s school funding be based on last year’s enrollment numbers, rather than this year’s. The annual student count takes place between Sept. 28 and Oct. 23.

Many districts in the state are reporting drastic drop in enrollments, as parents decide not to have their children enroll in the various districts’ distance learning programs, but choose instead to homeschool. Parents are engaging in choice — they see the homeschool programs as superior to the district online learning, for whatever reason.

On the Kenai Peninsula, some civic leaders are estimating that one-third of the students have gone to the homeschool model, while according to other sources, it could be as high as half of the overall enrollment.

Homeschool students typically are not enrolled in the local school district but sign up with homeschool programs, such as Denali PEAK, Fairbanks B.E.S.T., or one of a dozen other choices in the state or, in some cases, out of state. This means the district doesn’t get funding for them.

During the last student count last year, Kenai had 8,881 students. A drop of enrollment of one-third could mean over 2,900 students may be already enrolled in homeschool programs, leaving around 5,981 students in the district.

The Kenai Borough budget passed in the spring gave $50 million to the Kenai School District. But funding from the state is always predicated on enrollment.

Voting on the resolution at the next Borough meeting on Sept. 15 will require two Assembly members to decide if they have conflicts of interest: Jesse Bjorkman and Tyson Cox.

Bjorkman is a teacher in the district and Cox’ wife is a part-time teacher. Any reduction in the budget could impact their family budgets, critics have warned.

Both of those Assembly members have already voted on the $50 million school budget in a decision earlier this year, putting them in an awkward position if they now recuse themselves from voting on the Kelly Cooper resolution, which is asking the State for more money than the student count would allow.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • So to clarify, they are asking the budget strapped to pay twice for the students: once to the homeschool program and a second time to their district. Sounds like a great scam to me.

  • If students are not enrolled in the District the District should not recieve State funding period. Fund is soley based on enrollment numbers.

    • The complexity of the situation is that we’re talking about funding for NEXT year being based on enrollment during a very unusual circumstance.

      If funding for next year gets based on this current data, many teachers will get cut and the educational offerings each institution can muster will lessen. Classrooms will effectively be shuttered.

      The problem is that, if (I’m praying its WHEN) the majority of the covid-19 concerns are eliminated or mitigated come Aug/Sept 2021, there will likely be a flood of re-enrollment into those public school districts and buildings. Government has not exactly proven itself quick to respond, so could the funding needs of a huge enrollment spike quickly be allocated? What about those quality teachers who got pink slipped? Could we get any of them back? Or would we have to scrape the dregs of the unhired at that point?

      The plan to fund based on the previous year is in anticipation of this re-enrollment. To avoid the scramble to re-hire IF, as we all hope, the current public health crisis is alleviated.

      The article conveniently ignores the impetus of this enrollment shift. There are parents literally in tears over the decision to keep their kids at home (kids who love going to school). If a large majority of these enrollment shifts STAY in the homeschool sector when all of the uncertainty, covid mitigation plans, online/in-person flip-flopping, etc. comes to an end and schooling can resume in a more normal fashion… well, I guess I’ll eat my words (and be quite shocked).

      Sure, some might find it to be a better fit for them. Great! It can be amazing for some.

      While I understand the funding is a difficult, no-win decision, it is an attempt at foresight.

      • You don’t know how it works. I’m part of a charter and the budget is determined on what the school thinks it’s numbers will be each year the spring prior. So this coming spring 2021, Kenai could estimate again that it will enroll 8,881 for Fall 2021 and they will get funding for that amount of students. It isn’t based on the previous year. Of course, that number gets adjusted once count happens to reflect reality. The schools made a stupid decision to shut down so now they need to pay for that decision. They aren’t spending as much money, or at least they shouldn’t be so they shouldn’t get the same amount. Maybe they will finally learn to manage. Also, schools are getting a large amount of COVID money, maybe they should use that.

  • I love homeschool just for the very fact that the Constitution is not automatically void and can be taught as it should. GOD Bless you Parents for taking the initiative for not only your children , But for your State and your Nation. Home school parents .. Give them a raise.

    • As a social studies teacher returning to American History this year for the first time in a bit, what exactly do you mean?
      The Constitution and our government is literally an entire quarter of my district’s new curriculum guide. Teaching the constitution was the passion and focus of the person I’m replacing, and they were awesome at it! I’m excited to get into it, but have other themes to cover first. Why do you think that public educators “void” the US Constitution?
      I applaud people that home school their children IF it works for those kids and IF those parents do it well. For all those that do it well, there are many others that don’t.
      When we public educators receive students transferring in from home school (1 year, 2 years, sometimes more), they are often academically behind their peers, exhibiting broad skill gaps important in sequential/build-upon skills. I taught math the last 3 years, and I recall several kids returning from home school stints that quickly went into the RTI process and were flagged for aggressive interventions to try and catch them up. Several coming from great homes and great parents.
      Just because test scores of a lot of Alaskan students don’t measure up to national or international competition, does not mean that those public schools aren’t doing amazing work. When it comes to measurable growth, I’d happily compare some of the classes I have taught against the growth of those in a “better” school.

      • “Just because test scores of a lot of Alaskan students don’t measure up to national or international competition, does not mean that those public schools aren’t doing amazing work.”

        How else is the PUBLIC to hold the system accountable? Testing is the obvious measure but Parental Rights trump testing and many parents opt-out. And lest you forget, many of the “homeschoolers” are in the public school system and are counted among those test scores. Test scores have dismal for YEARS yet districts decry it is because of not having the money; the test scores are what the districts use to show how “well” they have invested the public money.

        As for the Constitution, nowhere in that brilliant document (argued, debated, and composed by many homeschoolers) does it give the government control of education. Many think that the rights listed in the Bill of Rights are what the government has granted to its citizens. Quite the contrary, which was why there was incessant debate over whether or not to include them. I digress as education isn’t mentioned in any of the amendments.

        Colonial education and early American education far surpasses any public education today. Attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard was common at the age of 14. The literacy rate of the colonies was almost 100%. The literacy rate began to decline when the states decided to make education compulsory. Coincidence? When the people decided to relinquish their privilege and right to the state, society began to suffer. Many Alaskans see no difference between public education and ignorance.

        • The public (parent and general tax payer) has better options regarding awareness and accountability than standardized testing results. Studies have clearly shown these test scores do NOT predict future adult success of individuals (or the success of a nation).
          “To predict a student’s future success, look at their grades, not their IQ or SAT score” by Oliver Staley, 2016.
          “Do grades and tests predict adult accomplishment?” by Leonard L. Baird
          “Rankings of International Achievement Test Performance and Economic Strength: Correlation or Conjecture?” by Christopher H. Tienken
          “Academic predictors of adult maturity and competence.” by Douglas H. Heath
          Clearly I could go on with study after study. But the system (particularly picking up with NCLB) has pegged this as the measure. To respond to “well that’s all we have to measure with”, that is absolutely false. That is just what is EASY and hands-off to measure with.
          It is telling to me that a majority of people who spout vitriol towards public education funding or their perception of its failings don’t ever actual step foot in schools. You want to know how a school is doing? Fill out a volunteer form (for the background check) and go observe!
          Or get involved. Form a small committee (or join an existing one, like a site-based council or parent-teacher association). Set up a portfolio based assessment that could include traditional tests, performance tasks, work samples, etc. Review student work against existing standards or community-developed rubrics. Provide feedback to the institution and share findings with the public. This is just one example. Community engagement/ involvement in an institution is probably a better predictor in future student success than test scores.
          Or perhaps we instead measure how successful schools are at engaging and involving students in extra-curriculars, because the duration and intensity of that does appear to better predict their future success (study by Gardner, Roth, and Brooks-Gunn).
          As an aside, I’ve witnessed the cultural bias of standardized testing in rural Alaska, in which a very academically competent student becomes stumped by math or reading questions because of context and vocabulary not of their world. What’s a cul de sac? They don’t have curbs or speed bumps. What’s a man hole? While I’d argue that there are a LOT of other worse factors negatively affecting test scores in Alaska (un-diagnosed FASD, violence, trauma, abuse, etc), there are many factors that make Alaska a unique challenge in teaching and the funding thereof.
          While the constitution may not directly mention education, it could be easily argued that this is part of promoting the general welfare of a nation (especially if parents/communities are not adequately covering this base, which many have not in the past or cannot and would not do in the present). And the 14th amendment has literally been applied in Supreme Court cases about education. And if you’re going to die on the hill that the constitution in its original form is perfection, enjoy bearing the cross of protected import of slaves, the messed up three-fifths representation of slaves, the fugitive slave clause, etc… Just as we should eliminate parts of the constitution that prove wrong or unsuitable for the developing world, so should we add to it as needs evolve.
          You are sugar coating early education. Many low and middle-class children did not receive quality education. And almost no black children got any education. Literacy rates were significantly lower in the rural west and south. Compulsory education didn’t arrive until the 1850s in the northeast. 1918 nationally. Please go to this website, scroll down and look at the chart of literacy rates from 1870 to 1979.

      • This is completely false. I homeschool and teach for a homeschool program and what happens is the students that you are getting that are behind are the ones we got from the public school in the first place. When the brick and mortar gives up on a kid they suggest homeschooling to get rid of their problem. I have been doing this for 18 years and 98-99% of the students I oversee are working 1-3 years above grade level in all subject areas and test at the 99% level. Our school tested higher on the PEAKS than the district kids. Also, are you telling me there isn’t a single brick and mortar kid of yours that isn’t in intensive “”RTI”? So what do you blame that on? You can’t blame it on homeschooling. Over the past 20 years homeschooling has see an uptick of SPED students flood to homeschooling to meet their one-on-one needs. This is starting to change the dynamics of homeschool testing and those students who struggle with school. Just so you know Hobbes, I teach math as well and I currently have 2 students in middle school taking Calculus already and many others who finish algebra 2 before they even reach high school. So factor that into your homeschooling myth.

  • No! Follow the science.

  • And this is an ethical dilemma because???? It’s a no-brainer. If they can’t see the and recuse themselves, they should be removed from office.

  • Of those 2900 students that are now “homeschooling” — Denali PEAK, Fairbanks B.E.S.T., I.D.E.A., Cyberlynx, Raven, Iditarod, Focus, etc., etc., — each one is also a public school that relies upon enrollment numbers for its state funding. Kenai would like last year’s enrollment numbers instead of this year’s numbers. Is that just for Kenai? Or would the legislature decide to do that statewide for all schools? What about the “homeschool” programs that have doubled in enrollment? They are hiring teachers and additional administrative staff to accommodate their own spike of enrollment. Are they supposed to just “suck it up” and figure out how to survive on last year’s numbers? If Alaska had never started subsidizing homeschooling in the first place, the argument over which public school gets the money for the student wouldn’t be happening. Public education, in whatever form it may be, does not care about the child; it is all about the money.

    • It’s because they don’t expect the enrollment in said home school and distance programs to last, and that they DO expect the enrollment in Kenai schools to return to numbers closer to pre-covid numbers.
      My wife told me just tonight of a mom in tears over the decision to home school her kids. She wants them to be back in school. They love school. But there are extenuating circumstances right now.

      • And those homeschool programs are also public schools that are relying on their enrollment numbers THIS YEAR to cover the allotment “loans” given to their influx of students. Rob Peter to pay Paul seems to be the theme of the day regarding these extenuating circumstances.

        • Don’t both of these decisions leave someone out in the cold? If we’re talking about NEXT year’s funding, and if most of the enrollment that shifted to home school THIS YEAR has shifted back by the next fall… then those home school programs will be flushed with money but without students to spend it on. Meanwhile the public schools will be strapped, underfunded, understaffed, and flooded with returning students.
          NEITHER decision is easy or inherently good. Neither decision is fair to both parties. And none of us can see the future. I expect those serving on the borough assembly will reach out to their constituents whom have shifted and ask what their potential future plans might be to inform their decision.
          I don’t want to see either side cheated. Your perspective seems to be different in that regard, just wanting what will benefit home school programs vs what’s best for a majority of people/parents/students in this borough. Perhaps a better, blended proposal is necessary. Maybe some fact finding research would reveal a potential middle ground.

          • Sadly the pot is fixed and likely shrinking. One side may feel cheated but the law is the law, not some ethereal suggestion. Maybe enrollment will change next year, maybe not. Facts and figure can be harsh things.

          • My perspective matches the law and formula set forth by the legislature. To fund schools at last year’s enrollment numbers, for this year, will put those homeschool programs (that are public schools and rely on enrollment numbers for funding) in the same crunch that the brick & mortar schools are trying to avoid by asking for last year’s numbers instead of this year’s. Would this even be an issue if the state had never chose to fund alternative education? This doesn’t just affect the Kenai borough; it affects the entire state! This funding change talk first started with the Anchorage School District. What do the village schools have to say? Are they in the same boat as ASD and Kenai?

  • School districts hire supers and asst. supers to manage public education. These over paid admins. should have foreseen that forcing parents to on line education would change their funding. Suck it up Kenai and other districts. Maybe if we all returned to in school learning the student count would come back up!

    • The enrollment count may go up but your teacher count may go down. I saw on the news down here that three young teachers died from the virus. Their school districts went back to work, and the teachers got sick three days later were dead.

      • Down where? Cite your source. Three “young” teachers? I smell a lie. Also did they die with COVID or because of COVID. Maybe check your news source.

  • So who on Earth couldn’t see this writing on the wall? We have been hearing all summer how the COVID drop in enrollment was going to effect the school districts purse. School Boards across the nation have been trying to figure out how to satisfy their hunger because once the dust settles, Americans will have finally seen the failure of our public education system and will be in favor of homeschooling. Parents will have adjusted work and life schedules to figure out how to educate their children which will finally bring families closer than recent history has shown. The death of brick & mortar Taj Mahal’s is inevitable.

    • That’s some Thomas-More-Utopia stuff you’re smoking over there. I expect that, if the issues surrounded Covid are settled, some will continue the home schooling because it is a good fit for them. Many more will happily, thankfully return to public school buildings.
      Many families just couldn’t handle the uncertainty of online/in-person cycles (and I can’t blame them for that). Others struggled with mask mandates. Others struggled with the fears/health concerns of family.
      It’s more nuanced than “they’ve all seen the light, like me!” My fear is that brick & mortar institutions are going to swing the pendulum too far towards the online/digital delivery and we’ll be one step closer to some sad dystopia like Asimov’s “The Fun They Had”.

  • Too much month at the end of the money and the begging continues. people are blind to the fact the virus was a pandemic that never happened, that educating kids shouldn’t cost north of $15000 per kid per year, and the state doesn’t have endless cash.

    • Amen!

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