Panel OKs bill on grant program for correspondence studies

JUNEAU - The Alaska Senate Education Committee moved a bill Monday aimed at creating a grant program to assist correspondence studies.

Senate Bill 100 was sponsored by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla. It called for a grant program to provide materials and equipment for correspondence studies. It would be administered by the Association of Alaska School Boards.

"The progress for the individual learning plan is monitored by the certified teacher," Dunleavy said. "Text book selection is the same as public school students."

Superintendent Pete Lewis with the Fairbanks North Star School District said he sees this as an important piece of legislation allowing the exchange in innovation across the state.

"It's important we have these tools in the students' hands at a time where we are facing increased budget restraints," Lewis said.

The proposed grant program would provide funding for the lease or purchase of such technological equipment as iPads and other tablet computers.

It would allow correspondence schools and home schooling families to purchase educational programs and materials developed by public and private universities as long as such materials are supporting an individual learning plan monitored by a certified teacher and such vendors are from a pre-approved list by a local school district.

It calls for an increase from an 80 percent base student allocation for those involved in correspondence and home schooling to 100 percent.

"The personalized opportunity grant program is exactly what the Sitka School District needs," said Lon Garrison, President of the Sitka School Board. "The ability to put a digital device in each student's hands and to provide individualized opportunities for learning is unparalleled."

Other ways the grant program may be utilized is in providing updated materials and equipment for such remote sites as the many small villages dotting Kodiak Island and Western Alaska without subtracting from a local district's budget.

Dunleavy told Education Committee Chairman Gary Stevens of Kodiak his bill is constitutional since the grant program would be used to support individual learning plans.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said her staff found a court opinion confirming its constitutionality.

Stevens had earlier expressed concerns on the bill's constitutionality because state oversight was not mentioned in the bill.

The bill was moved Monday to the Senate Finance Committee.