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ALASKA: Charter expansion bill has Mat-Su roots

alaska-educationMAT-SU — Rep. Lynn Gattis wants more charter schools in Alaska.

The Wasilla Republican is proposing legislation that would give state-vetted private nonprofits, universities and government agencies the power to authorize new charter schools. House Bill 93 would also establish an appeals process and allow hiring outside existing collective bargaining units.

Under Alaska’s nearly 20-year-old Charter School Act, local school boards first approve new charter schools before they are reviewed for approval by the Alaska State Board of Education.

House Bill 93, with four co-sponsors including Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, isn’t expected to pass before the legislative session ends Sunday. Gattis and staff plan to bring it back next session, chief of staff Erick Cordero-Giorgana said Wednesday.

Gattis, a GOP freshman and chair of the House Education Committee, said her two years on the Mat-Su School Board helped inspire the proposed bill.

“There is a natural conflict between school boards and charter schools all over,” she said. “This isn’t something that’s just specific to the Mat-Su. It’s not just Alaska.”

Gattis said she saw that conflict firsthand with a proposed charter school that ended up a magnet program in Machetanz Elementary.

“But it was not without a lot of stress, a lot of public humiliation,” said Ellen Varosi, the owner of Urgent Care at Lake Lucille who served on the failed charter’s board.

Varosi said late Mat-Su schools superintendent Ken Burnley undermined the school. She praised current Superintendent Deena Paramo’s efforts to expand district options.

Still, Varosi supports the charter school expansion bill. The borough spends millions of federal, state and local dollars on education, she said.

“Make no mistake. Education is big business,” Verosi said. “Charter schools aren’t a threat. What’s a threat is if there’s no choice because then nobody can see that it can be done differently.”

Bill supporters say the nature of a charter school — publicly funded, privately run — puts new schools at the mercy of sometimes unfriendly school boards.

More than 1,000 are wait-listed at public charters within the Anchorage School District, according to David Boyle, who testified at a March 15 hearing on HB93 on behalf of the Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative think tank.

“Why doesn’t the Anchorage School District meet the demand from parents?” Boyle asked. “In this school district, there is a philosophy that only a neighborhood school is the model to use.”

But Palmer-based blogger Terry Snyder criticized the bill as “offering a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

In the Mat-Su, some charter schools are down in enrollment, Snyder testified. Maybe Anchorage has a problem, but wait lists can also overstate the demand, she said.

“Everyone’s being told, there’s no money for education, but yet with this bill you will give new charters the chance to crop up like chickweed in every vacant mall to compete with students and public dollars,” Snyder said.

It’s unclear who would be interested in serving as a charter school authorizer in Alaska. In the Lower 48, several big providers have expanded in states with multiple charter authorizers, including the Rocketship network of charter schools, the Knowledge is Power Program and Carpe Diem schools.

Source: Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman – by Zaz Hollander

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2013 by in Alaska, Charter Schools, Reform and tagged , , .

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