The U.S. Secretary of Education believes certain Alaska schools, like the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center in Nome, offer viable alternatives to traditional public schools.
During Betsy DeVos’s first-ever tour through the state, she stopped in Western Alaska yesterday to learn about the opportunities NACTEC provides to the region.
“I think it’s a great model, and I think it’s a really important way of leveraging facilities and infrastructure, capital, in a way that’s really going to meet the needs of students in a creative way.”
Kevin Busk, the program coordinator with NACTEC, says it’s beneficial any time the regional technical school can show others its positive work and collaborations.
“I think it’s great to be seen at the federal level, to have Commissioner Johnson here to also see it at the state level. And they really got, I think, a good view of what we do for students within our region.”
DeVos is an open supporter of school choice, encouraging programs and plans like federal tax credits that would increase alternative education options, instead of traditional public schools. According to a report from The Washington Post, critics of school choice fear using public funds to support non-public schools will undermine the school system and privatize education.
Having visited Kotzebue’s magnet school, local Kivalina classrooms, and NACTEC in Nome, so far this week, DeVos says school choice could benefit rural Alaskan students who are pursuing specific trade skills.
“Adding some choice into that mix or adding more opportunities for choices would only allow for more creativity and more customizing to the needs of each community and specifically the students in those communities. So, I think about the villages and obviously the connection via air, there’s so many opportunities in the aviation world.”
On Monday, DeVos visited the American Charter Academy in Wasilla with Senator Lisa Murkowski, which Murkowski cited as one great example of the diverse options Alaska offers through its public-school system. Although Murkowski originally voted against DeVos’s nomination as Secretary of Education, the Senator advocated for DeVos to visit the state so she could learn about the unique challenges and opportunities Alaskan schools face.
Now that DeVos has spent time in the Last Frontier, she was asked about potential changes or considerations for education in Alaska. She referenced federal legislation that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015, as the Secretary of Education seemed to imply that one size does NOT fit all.
“Everyone is operating nationally under the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act,’ which has really returned a lot of the flexibility and control to the states to decide and determine how to best meet the needs of students in those states. And we are going to continue to work with Alaska and every other state to make sure that we are not getting in the way and being impediments to meeting the needs of individual students.”
DeVos says she looks forward to working with Governor Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson to meet the state’s education needs. When asked about how she could use her role with the Department of Education to assist Alaskan schools being threatened by erosion due to climate change, she said those issues are not in her wheelhouse, but that the appropriate federal departments would help if applicable.
The Secretary’s last stop on her Alaska tour this week was in Fairbanks, to discuss workforce and education Thursday morning.
Image at top: Betsy DeVos surveys an umiaq frame at NACTEC; behind her is Doug Walrath, NACTEC director. Photo: James Mason, Nome Nugget.