Legislature creates pathway to try out tribally operated schools

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 direct role in transforming systems and providing the cultural support many students need to succeed,” Bethel Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky said during House consideration of the measure May 17.

The House voted 37-2 to pass the bill. There was only a single no vote when the measure passed the Senate last month.

“The state-tribal education compacting is a tremendous opportunity, I believe, to embrace the Alaska Indigenous history, its culture, its language and put that into our curriculum for these schools, not just for Alaska Natives, but for all students in our state,” bill sponsor Kodiak Sen. Gary Stevens said during Senate consideration of the measure on April 4.

The bill does not create the compacts or establish any schools. Instead, it sets out a timeline and lays out a process for the creation of up to five demonstration schools open to all students.

Through that process, Alaska Native tribal entities and the state Board of Education would reach a compact, or an agreement, that sets forth the terms and conditions of the relationship, and formally recognizes the tribe’s authority to operate and oversee K-12 schools. That proposal would then go to the Legislature.

Joel Isaak-Łiq’a yes said the legislation brings tribal voices into the process – along with the state, the school district and teachers union. “So that what the Legislature is seeing is something that comprehensively accounts for these voices in a way that has not been seen previously in our state.” Isaak, the project coordinator and tribal liaison for the Department of Education, spoke during the May 6 House Education Committee meeting on the bill.

Tribes from across the state have expressed interest, according to Isaak, “and now that we have something that’s solid, we’ll have to see who goes through the process and works with us on this.”


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