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Alaska Educators Fight to Keep Small Schools Open

Teachers and administrators in some of Alaska's smallest and most rural schools are taking part in a statewide campaign to try to keep them open as legislators warn that the schools may be shut down to decrease the state's education budget.

According to a story by the Alaska Dispatch News, state lawmakers are considering increasing the requirement for the minimum number of students that must be enrolled in a school in order for that school to receive full funding. If that minimum is increased from 10 students to 25, that could lead to the shuttering of nearly 60 schools, most of which are in small, rural villages. That has led many educators to hand out stickers and other materials, lobby at conferences and meetings, and take to social media to bring attention to the impact of potential closures.

Legislators say that although no legislation has been written, they are considering a host of solutions to save money.

"Everything's on the table and everything's going to be discussed, from school size to distance delivery to broadband to partnerships with the university where professors might be able to teach the courses," said Sen. Mike Dunleavy, chair of the Senate Education Committee, in the article. "The list goes on and on and on."

More than 62 percent of schools in Alaska are rural, and those schools serve mostly minority students. One in five are English-language learners, and the state has one of the highest rates of rural adult unemployment, according to the Rural School and Community Trust.

In the past few years, several small, rural schools have already closed due to shrinking enrollments, which means some students have to travel long distances to attend another school.  A resolution passed by the Alaska Superintendents Association in September said that increasing the minimum count would cause a "significantly disparate impact on rural communities and Alaska Natives" and could "force other remaining students into correspondence programs that may not be appropriate if the student does not have the community and family supports necessary for a successful and constitutionally adequate educational experience." 

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