Membership with equity coalition gives rural Alaska a stronger voice
At last month’s regular school board meeting, Nome Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to renew the district’s membership with the Coalition for Education Equity, which works to advocate for public schools throughout Alaska and solve performance issues in underserved areas.
NPS first joined the coalition last school year, gaining membership in the spring of 2017. Membership was recommended to the board as an investment in the future, as the coalition works to develop policy and advocate for Alaskan school districts.
Nome joins a group of sixteen rural school districts with membership in the coalition, including Anchorage School District, the largest member district in the group. While Anchorage is not technically a rural district, NPS Superintendent Shawn Arnold explained that their membership in the coalition is a great support, as well as a strategic move for the district.
“Even road districts (school districts located on the main road system in Alaska) see that rural kids are suffering,” said Arnold. He explained that larger districts like Anchorage get so many transient kids from other districts that they recognize the need to have more interventions in place in rural areas. “They recognize that during cuts, instruction also suffers,” said Arnold.
The coalition, formerly known as CEACC, or Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children, was founded in the late 1990’s to address school inadequacies in rural Alaska. Superintendent Arnold explained that NPS hadn’t joined the group until this year because they were more flush with money in the past, and the district most likely didn’t see a benefit to joining.
Arnold also explained how membership in a group like this coalition that works with policy, advocacy and potential lawsuits could be threatening for smaller school districts, because the coalition seeks action through litigation.
But the threat of litigation can be a positive thing for member school districts, for example, when settlements bring big benefits for the plaintiffs, such as the case of Moore vs. the State of Alaska.
The Moore case was originally filed in 2004 by the parents of several students in the Bering Strait, Kuspuk and Yupiit School Districts. According to the Coalition for Education Equity website, the lawsuit was brought to challenge the adequacy of the educational system under the Alaska Constitution’s guarantee of “a system of public schools open to all children.”
The coalition joined the lawsuit to advocate for this group of parents and the rural school districts they represented, carrying legislation forward until a settlement was finally reached in 2012. In the settlement, the state must pay out $18 million over the course of three years to support programs for underserved schools.
Nome Public Schools hopped on the bus and joined the coalition this spring in anticipation of large education cuts and an over-expended budget. As part of a coalition, rural districts like NPS have a stronger voice at the state level. The coalition employs lobbyists to advocate for education funding by presenting legal arguments to legislators.
“It costs more in rural Alaska to provide an education system,” Superintendent Shawn Arnold told the Nome Nugget. Dollar for dollar, he said it costs about $13,000 per student in an urban district like Anchorage, compared to $20,000 per student in a rural area like Nome – and that’s just enough to keep the lights on and the classroom flowing.
So when cuts happen at the state level, rural Alaska can expect to feel a double punch. A 5 percent cut for education could really feel like a 10 percent cut out in the bush. The cuts that threatened the school district last spring would have eliminated numerous teachers, wiped out various enrichment programs and slashed support staff.
With membership in a group like the Coalition for Education Equity, Nome Public Schools can hope to have a stronger voice when it’s time to speak up and advocate for adequate, equal funding for education across the state.
Membership in the coalition comes at the price of $14,000 per year for a district the size of NPS. The dues paid by each member district help not only to retain advocates at the state level lobbying for equal funding, but also to help grow more Alaska teachers, support Ed Connector (a program which connects school leaders across the state for collaboration efforts), and work to bring voluntary pre-K education to every school in the state.