Dunleavy education announcement

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the Alaska Reads Act Wednesday afternoon at Turnagain Elementary School in Anchorage. The bill will be cosponsored by Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich, right. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy set his sights on Alaska’s elementary reading levels this week with the announcement of the Alaska Reads Act — a bill to create a statewide kindergarten through third grade program focused on improving reading levels.

Dunleavy made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at Turnagain Elementary School in Anchorage.

“We know that in the state of Alaska, we have a reading problem,” Dunleavy said. “We have schools that perform really, really well. But we know that in some instances, some of our schools — too many of our schools — we’re having trouble with reading. What the bill does is really it just gets us to refocus and reprioritize our resources.”

According to 2019 statistics, only 37% of Alaska’s third grade students were categorized as proficient at reading based on statewide tests. 

The bill will spur an assessment of elementary and pre-K schools across the state to analyze scores and reading levels with teacher training, curriculum and resources available. The governor said he hopes the assessment of the state’s schools and programs will provide data on where reading problems really lie.

“It’s a reset because the scores and the outcomes are showing there needs to be a reset,” Dunleavy said in explaining the impetus for the bill. 

Academic outcomes has been a focal point for Dunleavy since before taking office — a campaign talking point that ran into issues last year as the first-term governor pushed the importance of outcomes while simultaneously cutting funding for pre-K education. Following extreme outcry from the public, much of the previously cut funding was placed back into the governor’s most recent budget proposal released last month.

The bill announced Wednesday boasted bipartisan support with Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, joining Dunleavy for the unveiling and emphasizing that “some things are more important than our political differences and the ability to educate our children is one of those things.”

“The Governor and I have been working together to craft legislation that will provide our youngest Alaskans with an opportunity to succeed. We are still working on some provisions of the bill, but I believe that together we can develop a comprehensive early learning and reading policy that supports kids, and moves Alaska forward. Strong, quality, voluntary, universal pre-K with support through effective reading instruction in later grades is critical for Alaska’s youth,” Begich said in a statement. 

Alaska Commissioner for Education Michael Johnson was present at the announcement Wednesday. 

“Ensuring students read proficiently by the end of third grade was identified as a top priority by the State Board of Education and Alaskan stakeholders in the Alaska’s Education Challenge. The Alaska Reads Acts translates that priority into policy,” Johnson said.

As outlined in a Wednesday release, the bill includes a number of components including:

• an overhaul on statewide teacher training with regard to reading instruction to include job-embedded training with department employed reading specialists.

• focusing current state and federal funding on implementation of new policy.

• administering an early reading screening tool three times a school year to identify students with reading difficulties.

•  timely parental notification of reading deficits.

• individual reading plans developed in conjunction parents and teachers.

• home reading strategies for parents to support children’s reading skills outside of school.

• increased reading intervention programs during the school day and before and after school.

• additional attention to whether students should progress through grades depending on their reading levels with certain exemptions granted to students recognizing special needs and disabilities.

The bill will be introduced on the first day of the upcoming legislative session, Begich noted.

According to a spokesman for the governor, funding for the program was not included in Dunleavy’s proposed operating budget and will be up to the Legislature to decide.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics