UPDATE: Most Charter Schools Are In Urban Areas With Large Populations, Not In The Countryside

COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL COMMENTARY  Cities Seem To Benefit From Charter Schools  ORIGINAL STORY  March 19th, 2024  With New Emphasis On...

Cities Seem To Benefit From Charter Schools 

March 19th, 2024 

With New Emphasis On Charter Schools, There May Be Practical Problems In Rural Alaska 

Abandoned Schoolyard at Copper Center School. (Photo, Country Journal, 2020) 

Copper Valley Has Already Shuttered Five Elementary Schools In The Past Few Decades 

...And The Department Of Education Says 82% Of America's Charter Schools Are In Cities – Not In Rural Areas  

The Governor of Alaska wants new charter schools in Alaska. He is insisting that charter schools' supervision and formation be overseen by a governor-appointed state board under state control. not by local people. This would be a major shift in rural Alaska’s education delivery. According to a study by the Department of Education, charter schools are an urban phenomenon. There are very few of them in rural areas... and  for good reason. Rural areas are struggling to keep their schools open and able to attract enough children to keep them economically viable. And much of Alaska is extraordinarily rural.

It was partly on the rationale of increasing charter schools in Alaska that Dunleavy just vetoed an entire bipartisan education bill. Today in Alaska, there are charter schools and they’re supervised by local school boards, drawn from surrounding communities. 

The Copper Valley has been struggling for years to keep its existing far-flung standard-issue non-charter schools afloat. With its small student numbers, its isolation, and our thinly scattered population, that’s been hard. Today, there are only three brick and mortar schools in the valley left: Kenny Lake, Slana and Glennallen. There's also Upstream Learning, a correspondence study program. 

Not that long ago, the Copper River School District had three more major elementary schools than it has today. These schools were beloved by their surrounding communities. They served Copper Center, Gulkana/Gakona and Chistochina. All three schools have since been closed. 

The closing of those three schools has had a major impact on the social and cultural lives of their surrounding communities, often leaving people without a common bond or meeting place, as well as lengthening the daily commute for many children and families. Chistochina School, Copper Center School, and Gakona School were in the region's most culturally diverse communities, with the strongest mix of Native and white residents. 

However, these three weren't the only schools that have been closed down.

Paxson School and Lottie Sparks School in Mendeltna were both part of the Copper River School District, too. They both came and went, also – shuttered long ago. 

Many people who grew up in the Copper Valley went to one of those  now-closed Copper River School District public schools. 


The State of Alaska is pivoting to a new emphasis on "Charter Schools" as superior to locally run facilities.

How will this work in many parts of rural Alaska? Especially since, in general, charter schools are not “country” schools throughout much of America. Almost all charter schools are in big cities. 

This U.S. Department of Education graph shows the heavy use of charter schools by city residents, not people who live in the country:

There may be real issues in adding one or more new charter schools in a rural Alaska community, such as the Copper Valley, where popular former community schools have already been abandoned as a result of streamlining measures. 

Education Next,  an education website, discusses the practical problems of introducing charter schools to small rural areas: 

...the prospect of a charter school in a rural community is often met with skepticism or outright hostility. And this is not unfounded; charter schools face some real challenges in rural areas. Many rural communities simply have too few K-12 students to sustain an additional school. Moreover, charter schools can and do affect the enrollment of local school districts and their budgets. Many rural school districts are already struggling with tight budgets and low enrollments. Losing just a few dozen students to a charter school can force a district to close or consolidate schools—a decision that can harm the long-term social and economic viability of a community. 

--From, Education Next, Three factors Critical To Rural Charter Schools' Success By Kelly Robson 



UPDATE: Data From Alaska Education Department Shows Breakdown Of Where Charter Schools Are Now Located • March 21st, 2024 

Alaska's Existing Charter Schools Benefit Alaska's City Residents 
The State of Alaska's Official Listing Shows Non-Native Locations Benefit Most From Charter School System Championed By Governor Mike Dunleavy


Summary of Alaska Education Department List Of Charter Schools In Alaska:

28 of Alaska's 31 Charter Schools Are in Cities With White Majorities

Mat-Su Borough Has 8 Charter Schools
Anchorage Has 8 Charter Schools 

Fairbanks Follows With 5 Charter Schools
Kenai Peninsula Has 4

Ketchikan Has 2
Juneau Has 1

There Are Only 3 Charter Schools In Native Majority Communities

The Lower Kuskokwim has 1
The Lower Yukon & Nome each have 1 charter school


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