Leigh Sloan: State’s hold harmless provision rewards schools for losing students



It’s no secret that Alaska’s educational system leaves much to be desired. We currently have the 4th lowest standardized test scores in the nation and we spend the 4th highest of any state on education.

Something is not adding up. It’s not fair to point the finger of blame on teachers, administrators, or even the individual school board members. There is something in our system that is fundamentally flawed and it’s time to take a look at more innovative strategies we can employ to better serve our students and support Alaskan families. 

Our lack of performance is not a lack of concern for our children, but at some point we have to realize that our funding strategies are not producing the results we need. It’s a matter of shifting our thinking from funding public schools to funding the education of students. 

Leigh Sloan

In Alaska, we have the benefit of a number of different charter schools and homeschooling funding available for families who choose these options. However, our funding formula is very complicated and often prioritizes schools over students. For example, part of the funding formula is called a “Hold Harmless” provision. The idea of this principle is that if schools lose more than 5% of its students, the school will continue to receive funding for 75% of those lost students.

What incentive does a business have to retain customers if they are rewarded for losing 5% or more of those customers? This begs the question: who should schools really accountable to? Should they be accountable to the administrators running them? Should they be accountable to the school boards? Or should they be accountable to the families who are impacted the most? 

Good teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to their efforts to increase student achievement because they are not given the freedom to make curriculum choices and necessary interventions that actually work for their students. They are made to jump through bureaucratic hoops that keep schools politically correct instead of academically sound.

While the nation is elevating conversations about critical race theory, gender nonconformity, and other experimental social doctrines, our students are struggling to read, write, and do basic math. Parents and students alike are being forced to compromise their deeply held values just to participate in the “free and appropriate” education that all American children are supposed to be able to access.

Since the pandemic and other shifting fault lines in our culture have been made more apparent, American parents are waking up to the realization that education is one of our most fundamental exercises of liberty and freedom of speech: the freedom to educate our kids according to our values.

We are reawakening to solution-oriented thinkers like Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell who advocated for innovative strategies and reforms in education also known as school choice. School choice, where the funding follows the child, gives parents to power to hold schools accountable to producing real educational outcomes for their students. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently signed a proclamation acknowledging School Choice week on Jan. 23-29. 2022. On Saturday, Jan. 29, 1-3 pm at Anchorage Baptist Temple, Alaska Policy Forum is co-sponsoring a free School Choice Celebration event in partnership with National School Choice Week.

You will hear from parents, teachers, administrators, and public officials on the value of school choice and how we can advocate for greater school choice innovations in Alaska. If you have an organization that would like to reserve an information table at this event, follow this link: akschoolchoiceconvention.com


  1. It is absolutely fair to point out teachers and administrators who are presiding over the collapse of Alaska public education.
    And the unions that support them in this collapse.
    And the school boards most of all.
    Sorry, any validity your position had was lost in the second paragraph.

    • Agreed. That second paragraph undercuts everything. Educators are failing, and there is blame. I’ll start by blaming curriculum. Kids are taught this is an unjust nation therefore it’s ones civil-right to be taken care of by someone else. The grip of leftist teachers unions and school-boards must be broken.

  2. Are we losing students because of population decline or are more students going to private/charter schools? If it’s the latter, we need to adjust our schools for the lower attendance. Perhaps laying off some teachers? Removing the underachievers with the attendance problems or lowest grade averages? Listening in on my daughter’s classes on Zoom last year sure “woke” me up. I would never send a child to a public school.

  3. We should start an initiative for school vouchers. We got ranked choice voting with one. We can play that game too!

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