JUNEAU — A new survey found that most Alaska school districts can provide the courses needed for students to earn merit scholarships, but challenges remained in implementing one of the governor’s top legislative priorities.
The survey, conducted by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, also determined some districts needed to offer more social studies and advanced math and science courses, as well as two straight years of the same foreign language, to be successful in ensuring students have access to the aid.
It also found that three districts — Aleutians East, Kashunamiut and St. Mary’s — would not be able to provide a pathway to allow their students to earn scholarships.
The department said it will work with those three districts to understand their challenges and see what technical assistance is needed to allow for students to take the courses required to qualify for scholarships.
The survey’s findings were provided to the House Education Committee as it considers how best to move ahead with Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to provide scholarships to graduating seniors who complete a set of curriculum at a certain achievement level, including a 2.5 grade point average.
Parnell sees the program as an incentive for students to strive higher and a way to begin transforming an education system now marred by problems such as high drop-out rates. A number of lawmakers support the effort but want to ensure that all students have equal access to aid.
The department said it has provided federal funds to a consortium of districts and nonprofits to build a virtual learning network to provide courses districts can use or access to distance learning opportunities, such as classes taught by a teacher in one area and streamed to outlying schools.
It said the first priority is language offerings, since districts surveyed commonly cited challenges in providing two consecutive years of the same foreign language. Other priorities include social studies and advanced math and science courses.
Senate President Gary Stevens said he’s not sure that distance learning is as good an option as having an actual teacher in the classroom. But he noted this is a long-term program and any problem areas can be fixed along the way.