Commentary: Rural education

The following editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on Tuesday, Oct. 28. 2008.

Schools in many remote parts of Alaska are losing students as high energy prices and lack of economic opportunity push families to relocate to larger cities.

Losing the local school can be an almost fatal blow to a community. Principals and superintendents understandably struggle to keep enrollments at 10 or above, the level that triggers full state funding. Sometimes a single family's decision to move away can lead a school to close. Intense personal lobbying can help maintain enrollment until the magic date in the fall that locks in state funding for the entire year, even if students later move away.

When families do move from the Bush to Alaska's cities, urban schools feel the strain. Stable home lives are one big key to success in school. If families move after the school year starts -- say, right after Permanent Fund dividends arrive -- it's disruptive to the student and to the school. The newcomers may need extra support services as they adapt to unfamiliar ways of urban life, but state funding has already been locked in for the year.

Students who remain behind in tiny rural communities aren't left to fend for themselves. The state still has a constitutional obligation to ensure they are educated.

State-funded correspondence programs, also known as distance education, are another option for rural students. Those students do all their work by computer and mail rather than coming to a school building.

To read this complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News