Gov. Dunleavy wants to make an experimental public reading academy permanent

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is asking to make permanent an experimental new reading academy launched earlier this year.

The reading academy was quietly added to the current year’s spending plan with a one-time $5 million appropriation passed by the Legislature at Dunleavy’s request.

An initial budget document provided by Dunleavy’s office when he proposed the program in March said the academy would serve “up to 100 students total,” but a spokesperson for the governor later backtracked on that statement.

Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said Friday that the program “has had multiple iterations this past year.”

Lawmakers questioned earlier this year whether the institute had sufficient oversight and tools to serve the students in the state with the greatest need for reading support, particularly in rural Alaska.

Now, Dunleavy’s administration is asking to make the $5 million per-year appropriation permanent.

[Gov. Dunleavy’s budget draft has hundreds of new funding proposals. Here are some.]


The Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute “functions as a culturally relevant resource center, rather than a school, serving students, families, and educators. The ARAI’s focus is to provide Science of Reading instruction using highly trained teachers and reading coaches to underserved students,” the funding request from the state Department of Education and Early Development states.

Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican who oversees the operating budget in the Senate, said earlier this year that the funding had been approved on a one-time basis in the current budget to make it easier for the Legislature to decide whether to make the program permanent once there was more information on its operations.

“You can be assured that there will be a reasonable if not a significant number of legislators that will have some concerns about this,” Stedman said in June.

According to information provided by the education department earlier this month, the funding for the institute has so far been used to hire a director for the institute at a salary of around $129,000, an administrative officer at around $70,800, a network specialist at $63,600, and a teacher at $100,800.

The Alyeska Reading Institute’s website advertises a “high impact tutoring model.” Department of Education spokesperson Caroline Hamp said Sitka School District is implementing the model, but “there is no direct financial support provided to districts who implement the tutoring services,” meaning the salaries of teachers dedicated to providing the tutoring must be covered by the district’s per-student allotment.

Dunleavy earlier this year vetoed more than $87 million that the Legislature had appropriated to be divided between the state’s school districts. In the spending plan released Friday, he included no change to the state’s per-student public education funding formula, despite urgent calls for the funding from schools and districts.

[Dunleavy proposes budget with $1 billion deficit and no new revenue sources]

The reading institute also advertises professional development opportunities for teachers and paraprofessionals. Hamp said that as of earlier this month, the institute had provided professional development for teachers in two rural schools involving four teachers and two reading specialists.

Institute staff also traveled to Kashunamiut School District and Lower Kuskokwim School District “to provide in-person support in development and implementation” of individual reading improvement plans, Hamp said.

The institute planned to mail 700 manuals to educators across the state from the University of Florida Literacy Institute, which focuses on the use of phonics for reading instruction, and provide teacher coaching for 12 school districts.

The institute also rented a 17,000-square-foot facility in Anchorage at a cost of over $21,000 per month. The facility includes 10,000 square feet of classroom space and a 7,000-square-foot outdoor playground.

The lease was signed in August but the facility has yet to open, Hamp said earlier this month. Once it’s open, it will be used to provide professional development, “live lessons with students,” and tutoring.

“Continued funding is necessary to meet the needs of school districts, families, and educators and to provide them with the necessary reading instruction support,” the funding request states.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.