Alaska’s rural schools may soon find it more difficult to get state funding, as lawmakers ponder increasing the number of students per school required to receive financial support.
Currently, Alaska schools must have at least 10 students to receive state funds. Pending legislation, however, could raise that number to 20 or more imperiling the existence of 60 schools around the state, especially those in smaller towns like Nome, Bethel, Kaltag and Koyukuk.
In Diomede, a small island community, the effects would be felt beyond the classroom, according to Principal Pamala Potter in speaking to Alaska Public Media.
The school there—which has just 19 students—, is “the center of the community … We always have power and we always have heat,” Potter said. “And sometimes, for whatever reason, the community doesn’t. We’re the safe place. We’re the haven.”
Rep. Neal Foster, a Democrat from Nome, told Alaska Public Media that the potential savings from the legislation represents less than “one-tenth of one percent” of Alaska’s entire budget. The state is facing leaner times because of an already existing deficit and diminished oil prices.
“This is a constitutional mandate,” said Foster, noting that state legislators will consider more cost-saving measures in January 2016. “There are a lot of things out there that we want, and then there are a lot of things that we need. And education is a need. If you have to rank things, education has got to be at the top.”