Governor tries to sell school plan to students

High schoolers quiz Knowles on state's tests for graduation

Posted: Thursday, February 03, 2000

Gov. Tony Knowles tried Wednesday to recruit some young lobbyists to support a bill to spend more money on education.

But the Juneau-Douglas High School students mostly wanted to know why the government was making them take a test and what will happen if they don't pass it.

Knowles went to the high school to sign his transmittal letter for a bill to spend more money helping students meet new standards. He also talked to students about the exam that will measure whether they meet those standards.

``Our purpose is that every single person passes,'' Knowles said. ``But we also want to back it up with the resources'' to help students pass.

Knowles' bill would increase the amount of money schools can receive to help students meet the goals of the state's Quality Schools Initiative.

The initiative, which was passed in 1998, requires among other things that Alaska students pass a test, starting with the Class of 2002, before they can receive a high school diploma.

This year's sophomores, including many of the students in the Global Studies class Knowles visited, will be the first group required to take the test in March.

That test was a bigger concern to students than the bill Knowles was introducing.

``Why exactly do we have to take this test?'' 16-year-old Michael Petershoare asked.

``State law,'' Knowles replied.

Then he went on to explain how the state wanted to make sure that when students leave high school, they have the education they need to compete in the workplace and lead full lives.

``That diploma should mean something to you,'' he said.

Students also wanted to know what the math part is like, whether their teachers had taken the test and what happens if they don't pass the exam.

Department of Education Commissioner Rick Cross fielded some of those questions. Students were assured they'll have multiple chances to take the test up to age 21.

Knowles said the money he's seeking will help schools provide assistance, such as after-school tutoring and summer school, so students can learn what they need to pass the test. The money will also be used to help students in younger grades who are falling behind.

Elizabeth Price, 16, wanted to know where the money for Knowles legislation is coming from.

The general fund, he said, adding that the state will save money next year because of declining school enrollments and some of that money can be used to fund the legislation.

The total cost of the change in funding would be about $7.5 million statewide. Juneau would be eligible to receive about $280,000.

However, Republican majority lawmakers have expressed reluctance to spend any more money on government programs this year. Instead they plan to cut spending by $30 million.

Knowles said he's taking his case to the public.

``The most successful route may be showing legislators there's broad public support for this,'' he said.

``You know where the Capitol building is,'' he told students.

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