Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy today announced his intent to sign into law the Alaska Reads Act, a bipartisan effort with rural and urban support, which lays the groundwork to improve students reading skills through increased accountability and resources. The announcement was made during a celebration of successful legislation with members of the Alaska State Legislature and the Dunleavy Administration at Turnagain Elementary School in Anchorage.
The Alaska Reads Act, which became housed in House Bill 114 (HB 114), was passed by the Legislature in May and included three key elements: the Alaska Reads Act, a public-school funding technical fix, and an enhancement of Alaska’s student loan program. Governor Dunleavy and Senator Tom Begich first introduced the Alaska Reads Act in January 2020.
“Two and a half years ago, Senator Begich, Commissioner Johnson, and I first shared our mutual vision of improved educational tools, resources, and outcomes. Today, we again come together to celebrate the historic combination of investment and accountability. Improving outcomes won’t happen overnight, but other states have proven it can be done with determined, focused efforts. We can’t, and we won’t, accept that last place is the best we can do. This legislation will ensure Alaska’s students have a bright future while providing our steadfast educators with needed resources,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “All in all, this education package shows that legislators and the executive branch can come together around common goals, in a bipartisan fashion, to achieve good things for the people we serve. We are sent to Juneau to do this work, and I’m proud of the work we did together for Alaska’s students, parents, and educators.”
“Today is transformational for public education in Alaska. As a young Alaskan, I saw my dad help establish kindergarten for this great state. To be part of providing universal, voluntary pre-K for every Alaska child is truly humbling,” said Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage). “Through bipartisanship and dedication, we’ve provided a proven path for every child in Alaska the opportunity to start their educational career on a strong foundation. Universal, voluntary pre-K coupled with an evidence-based and culturally responsive approach to reading ensures those early gains are retained. This is how we move the needle to improve education outcomes for Alaska.”
“The Alaska Reads Act begins a new chapter in Alaska’s public education journey. It is more than just funding. It is an expectation,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development. “On behalf of Alaska’s students, I thank Governor Dunleavy, legislators, and those educators who were brave enough to abandon the status quo and supported this student-centered policy.”
“After working on this for multiple years, I was thrilled the Alaska Reads Act finally passed. This is a real game-changer for students. Ensuring children master reading will improve academic outcomes overall, but more importantly, it will open doors for students to more opportunities for success as adults,” said Senator Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer). “Proficient reading by third grade is key to unlocking future doors to rewarding careers and productive citizenship. I am grateful my bill was one of two used as the basis for this transformational policy and am proud of the bipartisan coalition that came together to make it happen.”
“Every Alaskan child should have the opportunity and the tools for a successful educational outcome,” said Senator Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna). “For Alaska to increase gains in education, we must make crucial changes to the system, and it starts at the earliest of ages. To be prepared for a fulfilling life ahead, an effective reading program will ensure that every child in Alaska can read by nine years old. I am pleased to see we are finally putting some accountability into education for Alaska and this bill is the cornerstone of that effort. Thank you to Governor Dunleavy for actively engaging with the Senate Education team throughout the process.”
“The Alaska Reads act is the most important piece of education legislation that has been passed in the last 20 years,” said Representative Mike Cronk (R-Tok). “It fulfills the #1 strategic goal for the D.O.E in reading. Empowers students, parents, and teachers. It modestly increases the BSA to help combat inflation and establishes a grant program for highly qualified pre-k programs. This legislation is the first step towards accountability in education and benefits the children of Alaska.”
“The Alaska Reads Act is the most meaningful improvement in public education policy this state has ever seen, and this is just another step in the process,” said Senator Roger Holland (R-Anchorage). “With early reading intervention programs, well-placed resources, and increased accountability, it will be up to our teachers, students, and, yes, even parents, to utilize these tools to improve the performance of our K-3 students. I am proud of this bipartisan effort by our legislature to improve education in Alaska.”
“Today we celebrate a commitment to young people in Alaska to provide high-quality education, grounded in the evidence-based teaching of reading skills through The Alaska Reads Act to all children,” said Dr. Deena Bishop, ASD Superintendent. “There is nothing more foundational to building success than learning to read well. This Act will implement the programs and the funds for schools and teachers across Alaska to be supported in leading our state towards literacy for all.”
“I am proud to have worked on this legislation in the House Education Committee over the past two years. It took a lot of compromise and all sides coming together, but this bill is a long-overdue step in the right direction to getting our Alaska students to grade-level reading in elementary school,” said Representative Ron Gillham (R-Soldotna). “Reading is fundamental to success in school and life, and I am grateful we were able to finally see this bill over the finish line.”
“The Alaska Reads Act has the potential to transform our education system. By putting significant investment in our classrooms, focusing on reading proficiency, and expanding pre-K across the state, this legislation will set up generations of Alaska’s children for success in life,” said Representative Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage).
“One of the most important aspects of this bill is that it will help schools and parents measure students’ progress toward reading proficiency and develop more effective reading instruction programs. Helping our children to become proficient readers is essential to their future success,” said Representative Mike Prax (R-North Pole). “My hat’s off to all who helped get this bill through the legislature.”
Today, HB 114 contains the Alaska Reads Act, which creates four new programs within the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED): an early education program, a comprehensive reading intervention program, a school improvement reading program, and a virtual education consortium. This portion of the bill addresses the number one priority of Alaska’s Education Challenge, “support all students to read at grade level by the end of third grade,” and has been a bipartisan effort to improve reading skills through increased accountability, well-placed resources, and by leveraging the modernization efforts, we have already begun during the pandemic.
The bill includes language that requires the Department of Education to ensure its regulations and policies to implement the bill are culturally responsive and will meet the needs of rural and Alaska Native students. The bill aims to retain local control to avoid pushing statewide policies in smaller communities. Each community will have control over implementing programs that meet the needs of the students in a way that best serves the unique needs of the community and its culture. The bill also requires an annual convention, including representation from rural Alaska, that will facilitate conversations with the Department of Education on how the bill is meeting, or not meeting, the culturally responsive standards outlined in the bill.
The bill remedies a technical problem in the State’s public school funding formula which only affected the Hooper Bay School within the Lower Yukon School District (LYSD). The problem occurred when the district, which is a single school with more than 425 students, opened a charter school, and cost them about $1 million per year in formula funding.
Additionally, the bill responds to requests from Alaska’s students and higher education community, including current student loan borrowers repaying their loans, by enhancing the ability to meet the financial aid needs of borrowers. The Governor originally introduced this portion of the bill through HB 114 and Senate Bill 94. It allows the state to assist more Alaskans in their educational needs while expanding the market for the student loan program.