Articles written by Lisa Phu

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  • Lawsuit challenges use of state funds at private or religious schools

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Feb 8, 2023

    The question is resurfacing, but this time in a lawsuit: Can families enrolled in a state-funded correspondence program use their allotment to pay for private school classes? Last June, the Alaska Department of Education didn’t know the answer, so they asked the state’s attorney general’s office, which offered a response that drew some lines but left room for interpretation. Now, some Alaska families are suing the state with the hope of getting a definitive answer. “It’s a constitutional issue,” said Tom Klaameyer, president of NEA-Alaska,... Full story

  • State sued over monthslong delays in issuing food stamps

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jan 25, 2023

    Ten Alaskans are suing the state, saying it failed to provide food stamps within the time frames required by federal law. The complaint, filed Jan. 20 in Superior Court in Anchorage, said the state had failed to provide needed services and “has subjected thousands of Alaskans to ongoing hunger and continues to do so.” Some families have waited four months to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, the complaint alleged. “We’ve got people who are relying on family members. We’ve got people wh... Full story

  • Years of flat state funding create budget stress for Alaska schools

    James Brooks and Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Oct 26, 2022

    Years of flat state funding create budget stress for schools across Alaska By James Brooks and Lisa Phu Alaska Beacon The Anchorage School District, which is considering the closure of six elementary schools amid a projected $68 million budget shortfall, isn’t the only district facing a major fiscal problem. At the end of the last school year, Fairbanks closed three schools. In Juneau, the school board is considering whether to fire specialists intended to help students recover reading skills lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. In rural A... Full story

  • State reports 15th death this year of person in prison custody

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Oct 12, 2022

    Prison reform advocates are calling on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to order an independent review of the state Department of Corrections. The department recently reported its 15th death this year of a person in custody death. William Hensley III, 34, died Oct. 2at Goose Creek Correctional Center in Wasilla after a month in custody. With this death, Corrections matches the highest number of in-custody deaths the department has seen in the past decade. In 2015, 15 people died in Corrections custody. “These are people and they’re dying...

  • Ketchikan assembly member Bynum challenges 4-term incumbent Ortiz for state House

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Oct 5, 2022

    A Republican Ketchikan Gateway Borough assembly member is challenging the four-term incumbent to represent Ketchikan, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Coffman Cove and other communities of southern Southeast Alaska in the state House. In Jeremy Bynum's first time running for state office, he got 44% percent of the votes in the August primary to Rep. Dan Ortiz's 52%. Both live in Ketchikan. About 4% of voters chose Wrangell resident Shevaun Meggitt, who has since withdrawn and will not appear on the...

  • Dunleavy vetoes bill to impose tax on electronic smoking products

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Sep 14, 2022

    Gov. Mike Dunleavy last Friday vetoed a bill that would have raised the minimum age to purchase and legally possess tobacco products from 19 to 21 years old. The bill also included a tax on electronic smoking products that contain nicotine, which is what Dunleavy took issue with. Currently, Alaska has a cigarette tax of $2 per pack. Other tobacco products, like cigars, are taxed at 75% of the wholesale price. Electronic smoking products like vape pens that contain nicotine are not subject to tax at the statewide level, though some...

  • Murkowski outpolls Tshibaka in primary race to retain Senate seat

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Aug 24, 2022

    As election day results came in late night Aug. 16 and into early the next morning, Alaska’s senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s slight lead over Trump-backed Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka widened. By the afternoon of Aug. 17, with 395 of 402 precincts reporting, the trend continued and Murkowski was ahead 68,800 to 61,994. Democratic Party-endorsed candidate Patricia Chesbro held the third spot with just over 6% of the votes, at 9,620, and self-proclaimed “hard right” Republican Buzz Kelley rounded out the final four with 2.22%, or 3,45...

  • State says public funds can help pay for materials, services at private schools

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Aug 3, 2022

    The Alaska Department of Law issued an opinion July 25 saying public money can be spent for homeschool students to attend one or two classes in a private school, but cannot be used for most of a student’s private school tuition. The 19-page opinion said it’s sometimes legal to use public funds for private school classes through the state program that pays for students to attend a correspondence school or homeschool. “But the more it looks like you’re just trying to send your kid to private school and get subsidized by the state, I think t...

  • Statewide teachers shortage gets worse every year

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jul 27, 2022

    Bobby Bolen is trying to fill around 50 teaching positions at the North Slope Borough School District. “This is our focus 24 hours a day right now — to get classrooms staffed for students,” Bolen said. Bolen is the brand-new human resources director at the district, which has about 2,000 students in 12 schools, some of which start as soon as Aug. 8. He’s exploring options like long-term substitutes and the prospect of international teachers to round out the district’s usual teaching staff of about 170. “Our worst-case scenario would be distance...

  • New 988 mental health crisis line starts up in Alaska

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jul 20, 2022

    Alaskans who find themselves in a mental health crisis can now call or text 988 to access a trained crisis counselor. Support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to individuals of all ages. The three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health crisis support became operational in Alaska and across the nation on July 16. Leah Van Kirk, statewide suicide prevention coordinator with the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health, said 988 “provides an easy to remember three-digit number for someone to use when they’re in crisis or...

  • Historian traces lineage of Chilkat weavers back to 1850s

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jul 13, 2022

    It's called Between Worlds. And it features a diving whale. "Peering through the bones of this diving whale pattern is this ancestor with her face and hands pressed against the veil between worlds," Alaska Chilkat and Ravenstail Weaver Lily Wooshkindein Da.Áat Hope said. "Because we talk about the Chilkat dancing blanket as the veil that separates our physical realm to the spirit realm on the other side." Hope and weaving assistant Nadezdha Hughes are working on a full-size ceremonial Chilkat da...

  • Both sides of abortion debate in Alaska look to constitutional convention vote

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jul 13, 2022

    With last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights advocates in Alaska are encouraging voters to vote no on a constitutional convention during the general election this November, while abortion opponents are encouraging voters to vote yes. The right to have an abortion in Alaska is protected through the state constitution’s provision on privacy, as recognized by the Alaska Supreme Court in 1997. This November, voters will be asked whether or not to call a constitutional convention, which would pave the...

  • Wrangell dancers lead the way at Celebration

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jun 15, 2022

    Wrangell's 10-year-old Quinn Davies was "super nervous" to dance for the first time at Celebration - a biennial dance-and-culture festival of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures, held in Juneau last week. "I'm using my dad's regalia that he used when he was in Celebration, and I'm using his hat that he also used," Davies said June 8, opening day of the four-day event. His sister Madelyn Davies, 12, said being at Celebration is "kind of mind-blowing." "It's a lot of people. We're all together....

  • Unique 360-degree totem goes up at Sealaska Heritage in Juneau

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|Jun 8, 2022

    A new totem pole in Juneau is 22 feet tall, almost 4 feet wide at the base and about 7 to 8 feet wide where Raven and Eagle are carved. You have to walk around it completely to see all of the elements. Unlike most poles that are carved on one side, the Sealaska Cultural Values totem pole is carved all the way around, a full 360 degrees. According to Sealaska Heritage Institute, there are only three others like it, all in Canada. Now, there's one in Alaska. "They're pretty rare, done within...

  • State trying to decide if public education funds can go to private schools

    Lisa Phu, The Alaska Beacon|Jun 8, 2022

    The issue of whether public school funds can go toward private education is currently being reviewed by the Alaska Department of Law. Specifically: Can families enrolled in a state-funded correspondence program use their allotment to pay for private school classes? A state statute paves the way for it, there are families in Alaska excited about the option, and at least one correspondence school in the state already allows it. But the Department of Education is unclear if it’s allowed under state law, and opponents of the practice say it v...

  • Legislature updates 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|May 25, 2022

    On May 18, the last day of the legislative session, the House and Senate voted unanimously to change how sexual assault can be prosecuted by modernizing the definition of consent. “Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,” said John Skidmore, deputy attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Alaska Department of Law. He spoke during a governor’s press conference the day after the session ended. Under the bill, consent is defined as “a freely given, reversible agreement specific to the conduct at issue … ‘Freely g...

  • Legislature creates pathway to try out tribally operated schools

    Lisa Phu, Alaska Beacon|May 25, 2022

    Legislation that creates a roadmap for establishing tribally operated public schools has passed the Alaska Senate and House and is headed to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 34 directs the state Board of Education to work with Alaska Native tribal entities on an agreement that would formally recognize the tribes’ authority to operate and oversee K-12 schools. “This creates an option for self-governance in the delivery of culturally relevant place-based education in Alaska, essentially empowering tribes and their communities to have a direc...