Scholarship Debate Focuses on Local Costs

By Dave Donaldson

In its opening hearing on a bill setting up a university-level scholarship program the governor is sponsoring this year,  the House Finance Committee today spent much of its time focusing on the costs – and shortfalls – of providing the required four-year curriculum that will fall on local school districts.  Not the money that would go to students who earn the scholarship.  

The plan,  as it now sits,  would require students to earn a minimum grade average of C – for the lowest level of state assistance – after four years of study in math, language arts, and science.  And three years of social studies.   Problems arise in smaller schools where teachers and facilities are not available for that entire course of study.

Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux said he recognizes the problems of delivering the program to smaller school districts.   However, he said those districts are already successfully using distance education programs.  He said they’re using virtual education,  synchronous real time instruction, and internet sites with teachers available online,

We find a lot of creativity.  We find some schools offer all four years… and some do not.  What I find common in all schools throughout the state is when you ask students what they’re going to do when they leave high school, and almost all of them say they’re going to college or tech school.   They all have the dream.  If we continue to create a dream in a child and do not deliver the programming necessary,  then we set students up for failure.

LeDoux said one of the open demands of the scholarship program is that school districts reform – and he said the best assessment and push for change will come from the people, parents and students in those districts,  not from the state’s demanding change.  LeDoux did not estimate the cost of bringing all schools up to the scholarship’s standards.

The time and cost of that change was not immediately accepted by members, however.   Haines Republican Bill Thomas asked about the limits on small schools later,  saying small schools were automatically at a disadvantage – at least in the early years.

I want to see that this scholarship starts when everybody is eligible.  I don’t think we should let school districts have advantage over others.   This is supposed to be a level playing field.  Yeah,   I can see us trying to do something, but to do it before other people are ready to go forward I think would be wrong.   And that’s only because I come from the rural part of Alaska that may be disadvantaged.

The bill was held in the committee with no further hearings scheduled,  although it is available for the committee to bring up at any future meeting.


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