Alaska Native Tribes Can Now Apply for Interstate-Tribal Compact School Pilot Program

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Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Tribal Liaison Officer Joel Isaak speaks about SB34 at the Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage on Oct. 17, 2022. (Screenshot from live stream from the First Alaskans Institute.)

Alaska Native tribes have until Dec. 30 to apply for one of five spots in a pilot program designed to encourage more tribal control of local schools.

It’s part of a new law, Senate Bill 34, which Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed into law in July. The bill initiates a multi-year process of creating compact schools between the state and tribes. Compact agreements would allow tribes to develop their own K-12 program, independent of an existing school district.

Joel Isaak, Tribal Liaison Officer for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, spoke about the law at the Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage on Monday.

“Compaction is a government-to-government mechanism,” he said. “It’s a partnership. It’s a communication tool, and it’s really about acknowledging government-to-government agreements.

This process will begin with a pilot program in which tribes will receive grants to establish new schools and provide input into future legislation that may make state tribal schools more widespread. Isaak said that makes this process unique.

“Generally, it’s hard to get all the tribes in the state to sit down, like, ‘How are we going to draft this?'” he said. “What Senate Bill 34 does is it provides a framework for tribes to help write the legislative report on what needs to be in a bill to make compaction a reality.”

Isaak asked participants to share how they would measure the success of a school. Isha Twitchell leads the academic policy committee at Knik Cultural Charter School, which opened in Wasilla this year. She said the enthusiasm of students and parents was invaluable.

“We measure our success right now by kids being happy, wanting to go to school, and parents giving nothing but positive feedback,” Twitchell said.

Participants also discussed the importance of language preservation in future schools.

The Federation of Alaska Natives convention will also include a panel discussion on Alaska Native education moderated by Isaak. It’s scheduled for Friday at 2:55 p.m.

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