Dunleavy pursuing educational compact with Alaska tribes

Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, a school in Bethel, Alaska. (Photo by Airn Carl, KYUK – Bethel)

The state is looking to partner with tribes to educate children. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration plans to introduce legislation during the next session that will create the possibility of an educational compact between the Alaska Board of Education, tribes and local school districts. In early December, the state hosted a teleconference to begin the discussion on what that will look like. 

Assistant Education Commissioner Niki Tshibaka began the teleconference call by explaining why the state is interested in compacting with tribes.

“We know that our system of education is working well for many students, but the reality is that it is not working well for many students,” Tshibaka said.

He said that students in Alaska have lower test scores than students in other states, and that the state’s Department of Education believes that tribal and community ownership will help raise those test scores.

Joel Isaak, a tribal liaison for the education department, said that would be because students do better when they see themselves in their educational environment. Isaak pointed at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, a Yup’ik immersion school in Bethel, as a model of what can be achieved. 

“Their PEAKS [Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools], ELA [English Language Arts], their math and their science scores are showing marks nearly double the average of the other LKSD schools around it,” Isaak said.

Isaak said that tribal educational compacts could improve not just test scores, but also health outcomes. He cited a study done in tribal areas in Canada.

“When half of their tribal members reported having conversational knowledge of their own native language, their suicide rates plummeted to near zero,” Isaak said.

The details of what an educational compact between tribes, the Alaska Board of Education and school districts would look like have not been completely fleshed out. Isaak says that the board is looking for public feedback. The next teleconference call will be on Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m.