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Legislature Passes Bill Expanding Alaska’s Boarding School Programs

Senate Bill 47 increases stipends and expands residential education programs

JUNEAU-Today, the Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 47, which will expand Alaska’s successful boarding school program.   The Legislation, sponsored by Senator John Coghill, R-North Pole, increases stipends to state funded boarding schools as well as expanding the program to boarding schools started after 2005 and magnet schools for shorter periods of training.

“Boarding schools offer students an option other than homeschooling and give students in smaller high schools the opportunity to attend schools which offer classes needed to get into college and programs proven to keep kids interested in school such sports, band and art,” said Senator Coghill.  “Many times these programs are the difference between a student who drops out and a student who goes on to succeed by either going to college, getting further vocational training, or joining the armed forces.”

The stipends help school districts cover monthly costs of residential care, including meals, 24/7 supervision, and round trip transportation to and from the school once a year.  The legislation also adds a provision that allows school districts to contract with Alaska Native organizations and non-profit corporations for these essential services.

“This bill is about offering opportunities to students in rural Alaska in a similar way that kids in urban areas have,” said Representative Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, who sponsored a companion bill in the House and carried the Senate Bill on the House Floor.  “Some of the educational opportunities offered in these schools will also help many of these students attain career-ready skills.” 

The bill also enables hub communities in rural Alaska to expand vocational-tech magnet schools to train rural students to work in the regional industries such as the air freight industry centralizes in Bethel, the third busiest airport in the state, or in Kotzebue, where students would be trained at the Red Dog Mine.

Senator Coghill first spearheaded efforts for the stipends back in 2005, when he introduced and the Legislature passed a bill expanding the stipend program to all students who wished to attend a boarding school instead of just those students who did not have a high school in their community. 

Three schools currently qualify for the reimbursement: Nenana, Galena, and Bethel.  However, the Department of Education is currently soliciting applications for three additional boarding schools statewide.

“Boarding schools are not a new question or new solution in Alaska.  Most students attend these programs because their hometown schools can’t offer the classes needed,” said Senator Coghill.  “The process has gotten better and better over time.  I want to thank my colleagues for their support of this bill which will provide new opportunities in training and education for Alaska’s high school students.”

Senate Bill 47 now heads to Governor Parnell for his signature. 

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