Plan for Alaska’s first tribally operated public schools inches closer to completion 

An empty classroom at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé in Juneau, Alaska, on July 20, 2022. (Photo by Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska’s Board of Education has approved a draft report that’s a step toward the state recognizing tribes’ authority to operate and oversee K-12 schools. The report would be the basis of legislation to recognize tribes’ authority to run and manage schools in the state.

Educational Commissioner Deena Bishop mentioned that the report would be sent to the governor’s office to be drafted into a bill, and the plan would require funding to get the first tribally operated state schools up and running. The framework for tribally operated public schools was developed by the Department of Education and Early Development after a bill directed it to do so. The proposal is in line with the department’s priorities for inspiring tribal and community ownership of educational excellence.

The Department of Education and Early Development developed the framework for tribally operated public schools after the state’s 32nd Legislature approved a bill directing it to do so. DEED Director of Tribal Affairs Joel Isaak led the process.

Board member Bob Griffin praised the department’s work and suggested the board endorse the yet-to-be-written bill that would come from the report. Member Lorri Van Diest asked if there would be enough teachers for the additional schools proposed by the plan, considering the state’s difficulty with hiring and retention. Isaak said the process was likely to attract a new pool of educators.

Five tribes are anticipated to be part of the five-year pilot program for the first tribally compacted public schools: Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Ketchikan Indian Community, King Island Native Community and the Knik Tribe.

The tribes will have one to three years to develop schools if the plan is approved and funded by the Legislature. The schools will be open to any student, and tribes may choose whether or not to enter into a compact. The board will vote to approve the final draft of the plan at its Jan. 17 meeting.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

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