Cuts to Immersion Programs Reversed
The Anchorage School District (ASD) no longer plans to cut immersion programs in the upper grade levels for the following year
While the decision, announced at Tuesday’s School Board meeting, saves the programs for the time being, the district still faces a $68 million budget shortfall, and immersion programs could be on the chopping block in future years.
The ASD administration had previously recommended stopping Chinese, French and Yup’ik immersion programs at the 5th grade level. Five more would have ended after 8th grade.
The announcement that immersion programs would be removed from a “recommended reductions” list to an “unlikely reductions” list was met with cheers from the some 200 parents, children and community members gathered at the school board meeting.
One-hundred and forty people signed up to testify, and testimony lasted two hours despite the reversal, announced beforehand. Many testifiers spoke in their immersion languages, which included Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Yup’ik, German and French.
Students talked about what the program meant to them, the dedication they put into learning a second language, and how ASD’s broken commitment to continue the program through 12th grade would bring harm.
“You are not just cutting a program, you are cutting a family,” one student said.
Former students talked about how immersion graduates use their second language to work as translators, health care providers, teachers, engineers, and other professions. Parents testified if the programs were cut early, students would not have the skills to be successful in gaining a Seal of Biliteracy at graduation.
ASD is considering a number of cuts to programs, schools and staff in the face of a $68 million deficit created by the legislature not increasing school funding to match inflation since 2016. Additionally, for several years the Legislature stopped reimbursing school districts for bond debt, and in April, ASD’s $111 million bond proposal was turned down by voters.
These cuts will have a massive impact on Anchorage’s children and families, but do extremely little to address the budget shortfall, which needs to be addressed by investment from Alaskans rather than gutting our education system.
ASD is looking at closing six schools and cutting the IGNITE program for gifted students. The district is recommending reductions to band and orchestra and privatizing sports programs, as well as increasing class sizes.
Constitutionally, the state of Alaska is required to provide a public education for all students. It remains to be seen if they can fulfill that constitutional duty when funding has fallen 15% behind inflation over the last five years. In the past, advocacy groups and school districts have won lawsuits and settlements with the state for inadequacies in fulfilling this obligation.
The State gives the school district a certain amount of money for each enrolled student, which is called the Base Student Allocation (BSA). The BSA has only been increased by .5% since 2016.
School Board President Margo Bellamy recommended that parents and community members reach out to their legislators and ask that they ensure that they increase the BSA to match inflation in this year’s state budget.