Compass: Education reform spells a brighter future for state's children

Sean ParnellThe Philadelphia Inquirer

The brightness of Alaska's future depends on the success of our children. That success hinges on whether we are able to provide educational opportunity for all students, and ensure they are well prepared.

Improving Alaska's education system is no easy task. It will take real reform that expands educational opportunity and access for our children.

In my State of the State address, I declared that 2014 will be the Education Session, and I laid the groundwork for the sort of education opportunity Alaska needs.

We must climb out of whichever trench we are in. Both sides of the debate -- those who believe reform begins and ends with increased funding, and those who focus on getting results from public spending -- must work together to craft the solutions our students deserve.

I introduced comprehensive education legislation to bring needed change to our education system and to begin a discussion on funding schools to an even greater degree than the current record levels of state funding. That legislation provides for more charter school opportunities, more vocational training opportunities, more residential schools and more funding.

Expanding opportunity for our kids also means opening charter school pathways and replicating successful models. In Anchorage, for example, nearly 800 students are on a wait list for the Aquarian Charter School. When we have a charter school like this, and others with long wait lists, we have proven schools that work for kids. We should give parents more freedom to replicate them.

Career Technical Education, also known as vocational training, is a strong pathway to success for many of Alaska's young people. That's why I proposed to reauthorize the Alaska Technical Vocational Education Program through 2024. We must offer educational paths that reflect the choices and interests of all our students.

To increase educational opportunity, we must also continue to expand the number and type of residential schools. I propose we do this by increasing funding and guaranteeing access with an annual open application period for Alaska residential schools.

We must also make sure what we're doing now is working. I propose repealing and replacing the obsolete High School Graduation Qualifying Exam. In its place, I propose high school students take either the SAT, ACT or WorkKeys test within two years of their expected graduation date, with the state picking up the tab for students' first test.

Finally, we ought to allow high school students to test out of classes and earn credit for courses they have already mastered. Students should have the opportunity to earn course credits by testing out of math, language arts, science, social studies and world languages using a district-approved assessment. Credits earned by students would apply to graduation as well as the Alaska Performance Scholarship.

Alaska now spends more on education than at any time in state history. Indeed, this year my education package puts an additional $35 million directly into teaching students. In the past few years, I have made major commitments to help districts with energy and transportation cost increases, to ease the strain on local education budgets. If legislators join me in passing real education reform, I pledge to work with them to also increase the base student allocation.

Here's why: If we are successful at real reform and more funding, Alaska's children will benefit, and Alaska's future will be brighter.

Sean Parnell has served as governor of Alaska since 2009.