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Study: New Teacher Pay Plan Would Overly Burden Rural Alaska Districts

Efforts to raise teacher pay across Alaska would disproportionately affect rural districts and may cost too much to implement, according to a new study detailed by the Alaska Daily News. 

The study, conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage, was completed for the state Legislature in response to an education bill passed last year, which requires the Alaska Department of Administration to draft a proposal for a teacher salary and benefits schedule. 

Researchers created a potential salary schedule for the study, which would increase salary costs by 15 percent for districts. In some rural areas, that would lead to a 105 percent raise for teachers, while urban teachers who already have higher salaries may see only a 10 percent raise.

The pay schedule proposed in the study took into account factors like student demographics and teacher turnover rates, which would lead to some rural districts offering higher salaries than urban areas.

Because teacher salary is only one factor in teacher retention, "we feel that while [the hypothetical salaries] accurately reflect teachers' preferences, we cannot be sure that implementing them would actually result in rural districts being able to attract and retain qualified teachers," the study concludes.

Rural Alaskan schools have struggled for years to recruit and retain educators, with some remote districts flying staff members to other states to recruit mostly inexperienced or new teachers. According to a September article by the Alaska Daily News, each year nearly 400 teachers are recruited from outside the state, specifically for positions in rural schools. Like many states, teachers in rural Alaska often are not paid competitive salaries, despite the high cost of living in many rural parts of the state.  

In place of a new standardized statewide salary schedule, researchers recommended that the state consider a step-and-lane system, or commit to further research around a merit pay system. The researchers also recommended finding ways to better support teachers, especially in rural areas.

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