How does school choice pertain to students in areas of Alaska that have no choice?
Many rural students throughout Alaska only have one choice when it comes to their education. That is the only school that they have in their village.
There is no driving across Anchorage to get to a special school or riding a city bus. All there is, is the place where everyone else in the area goes.
Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has been touring the state with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
"Hey, when you're in a community like Kotzebue or in a community like Kivalina, there obviously is no choice," Senator Dan Sullivan said. "There's one school and sometimes it's really hanging on by a thread. How does that idea of academic freedom or school opportunities fit in communities like that? It's a really important question for Alaska and something I mentioned to her in D.C."
The Secretary's response, according to Senator Sullivan, is to look at the situation differently.
"She actually had a really good answer which is, if you only frame it in regard to a building, then of course places like Kotzebue or a lot of our other rural communities that don't have school choice, then there are ways to provide resources to parents or students in places like Kivalina," Sullivan said. "Say you have a student who is very advanced in math and they want to do like an online university program in math, they have the broadband connection and they need a resource to help fund it. That's where she said you can even do this in a setting where there is only one school."
However, some of the problems throughout Alaska are based on the lack of broadband.
"It's going to be very interesting to me when Secretary Devos goes to our remote areas and tries to talk about how she can solve this problem with remote and distance education when we can't even get the infrastructure for quality sustained broadband out there to do this," 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year Ben Walker said. "She offering opportunity but who is actually going to help bring that opportunity to fruition."
"Well they certainly will be in for a shock when they go to Kivalina and they certainly will be in a shock when they go to Nome," 2019 Alaska Teacher of the Year Danielle Riha said. "And I hope they are. I have a thank you letter I wrote for Ms. DeVos a thank you letter for coming because she said she was coming and she did. I suggested she go to a village and she is."
Sen. Sullivan says the broader goal right now is having DeVos in Alaska to see first-hand some of the difficulties many of the schools face.
"I think she's going to come away with a bit of a different view and when she answered it that way, you saw a lot of nodding in some of the meetings we were in," Sullivan said. "There's more opportunities to get resources to parents and I always say you need engaged parents in order to have a good education for your kids."
Getting parents more involved is one way but it still doesn't solve the lack of technology or school choice many students go without.
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