Stacie Chappell (at the mic) is joined on stage with athletics coach Ema Babic and the girls basketball team. File photo by Amanda Williams

By Larry Persily 

The governor’s growing obsession with charter schools is frightening for the future of public education in Alaska. 

He believes charter schools are by far the best answer to the state’s low student test scores. 

His affection for charters means he will not support any permanent increase in state funding for regular public schools unless the Legislature also backs his proposal to bypass local school boards when parents want to start up a new charter. 

The governor continues to resist providing adequate support for public school districts that have not seen any real increase in the state funding formula in seven years, falling further behind in what they need to provide a quality education — and yes, higher test scores. 

He admires charter schools and dismisses public schools as money pits. 


Gov. Mike Dunleavy believes charter schools are the future for turning young Alaskans into the best and the brightest. And therefore, they deserve more state help and encouragement. If regular K-12 education has to suffer until he gets what he wants, that’s too bad — he’s writing the lesson plan. 

Yes, charter schools can provide a wonderful environment for some students, often specializing in a particular area of study or approach. Good for those students; not so good for everyone else. 

Charter schools pull the most promising students with the most engaged parents out of our schools, further weakening public education. Charters are not required to provide bus transportation, making it hard on single-parent and lower-income households to enroll their children in a charter if they cannot afford to shuttle kids to and from school. 

Loving charters is not the overriding answer to low test scores, governor, it is an abandonment of the students left out. 

Dunleavy’s embrace of charters says public schools are sinking and it’s too hard to save everyone, so we’ll provide lifeboats for some, while the rest can swim as best they can. 

It separates the potential winners and losers at an early age. 

It’s a reminder of what I experienced in high school in Chicago in the 1960s. 

Back then, Chicago Public Schools believed in a national trend to put students into “tracks” based on test scores. The “smart kids” who tested well got the best classes, the best teachers and extra credits toward our grade point average. 

The schools would put students into one of three tracks: Honors, Star or Century. If your scores were just average, you stayed behind with all the other kids. 

What it meant is that the students who already were ahead in school and in life by virtue of higher test scores and, in most cases, engaged and active parents, had a better chance of learning more and getting into college. 

The kids not enrolled in the Honors, Star or Century tracks, well, they had a harder time. Sure, we all went to the same school, but their classes were much larger. I don’t remember that they had team teachers like we had in Century English and, generally, less was expected of them in school. 

Thankfully, education has changed for the better in many ways since I went to high school. Gym class teams are no longer segregated and the lunchroom food is better (I always wondered why the creamed chipped beef solidified into one shiny blob on the plate). 

But charter schools strike me the same as the tracks of the 1960s. Provide a better educational opportunity for some, not all. That’s what the governor sounds like when he praises charters and degrades the work of regular K-12 schools. 

That is not equal opportunity for all. 

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal public policy work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.