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Adequacy Trial in Alaska: The Remedy Phase

In June, 2007, in a highly unusual decision, Judge Sharon Gleason of the Superior Court of Alaska upheld the validity of Alaska’s education finance system, but nevertheless ruled that the state was violating the adequacy clause of the state’s constitution. Moore v. State, No 3AN-04-9756 Civ. (Superior Court,Anchorage.) Indicating that accountability is an important part of adequacy, Judge Gleason found that school districts, particularly low-performing school districts, suffered from a lack of sufficient state oversight. Plaintiffs intend to appeal the ruling regarding funding since, as Bill Bjork, president of the National Education Association-Alaska, stated, “…To say that money doesn’t matter simply defies logic.” In an attempt to allow the state to address the constitutional violations, Judge Gleason stayed her final decision—and all appeals—for one year.

Since 2007, the steps that the state has taken to remedy the constitutional violations have apparently been minimal. A report commissioned by the Alaska Attorney General identified state-directed efforts to address the concerns of low performing Alaskan school districts. The report stated that, “In the face of policy uncertainty, the most appropriate strategy is to specify goals, encourage pursuit of diverse tactical solutions, incessantly measure progress toward success, quickly learn from failure, and reward success.” The plaintiffs contend that this approach is unacceptable and that the state continues to place the heavy burden of responsibility for the state’s failing educational system on the shoulders of the schools and districts.

In June 2008, Judge Gleason ordered the parties to enter into mediation discussions, but the mediation proved to be unsuccessful. The State offered a proposal which included a pre-K “pilot program,” a small increase to the staffing of the Alaska Department of Early Education and Development, and a moderate funding increase for teacher mentoring.

The plaintiffs’ main objectives were to ensure the presence of highly qualified teachers in all classrooms, and that plans be developed to retain those highly qualified teachers. The plaintiffs also sought the development of classroom curriculums based on proven teaching methodologies and for students to have access to programs that support their specific needs. The plaintiffs further contended that many schools lack the support that teachers and students need to succeed, such as guidance councilors and speech therapists. Additionally, access to pre-kindergarten programs was a significant issue in the mediation.

Since mediation did not resolve the outstanding issues, the remedy phase of the trial is now scheduled to take place the week of October 6 and the week of October 20, 2008. The state must explain the steps that it will take to remedy the constitutional violations regarding a lack of state oversight of public schools districts, primarily in low-performing districts. The plaintiffs will seek to emphasize the programs that children need to succeed and accentuate the need for highly qualified teachers in the classrooms.