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Episode 41: Alaska Schools on the Edge

By KTVA Alaska 11:11 AM February 8, 2016

To close or not to close…

That is a big question for children in small, struggling schools across the state.

Although no bill has been introduced yet, a proposal from Rep. Lynn Gattis to raise the minimum enrollment for schools has generated a lot of controversy at the State Capitol.

Currently a school must have 10 students to receive state funding. Gattis, who represents Wasilla, would like to raise the bar to 25 — a move that could potentially shut down about 60 schools.

This week on Frontiers, we talk with Gattis about her plan. She chairs the education finance subcommittee, which puts her in a powerful position to influence education funding. Her main argument: small struggling schools cost too much, yet do not provide children with a good education.

Also this week, reporter Daniella Rivera and photojournalist Andy Nichtman take you to two schools on the edge. They traveled to two Bristol Bay communities – Clark’s Point, which closed its school last year after falling below ten students – and Twin Hills, which has about 20 students.

It’s a fascinating look at the importance a school takes on in a small community.

Our guest this week is Lauren Burch, superintendent of the Southeast Island School District. Burch says eight out of nine schools in his district would close, if minimum enrollment rose to 25.

Burch says Gattis’ claims that small schools are failing students don’t apply to his district, which has been recognized for academic achievement and innovative programs, such as a four-day school week.

For more about the Southeast Island School District and some of its unique challenges and opportunities, watch this Frontiers Web Extra.

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