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2/11/15 - Proposed bill would authorize Native language charter schools

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says successful programs in other countries are the model for proposed Native language immersion charter schools

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska

New legislation will propose a system of encouraging and supporting Native language charter schools in Alaska. Sitka Democratic Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says the bill will be introduced this month. He says it will follow in the footsteps of successful programs in New Zealand, Hawaii and Israel.

"The takeaway is very simple," said Kreiss-Tomkins. "To revitalize a language, you need immersion language education. You need children to be surrounded by an immersive language environment from a young age. And that is how you create a new generation of fluent speakers. That is how you turn the tide of language loss."

Kreiss-Tomkins says the bill will propose a special designation for charter schools following immersion programs already offered in several Alaska communities:

"It includes what is an academic policy committee, which is basically the school board for the charter school," said Kreiss-Tomkins. "It would include tribal representatives and elders and fluent speakers in order to ensure that school successfully embodies the culture of the language that that school is teaching." 

The effort follows last year’s legislation establishing all Alaska Native languages as official. Kreiss-Tomkins led that effort, which was supported by tribal organizations statewide.  The new bill will also change rules about donated food.

"We want schools, especially these Native language charter schools, to be able to take subsistence foods that members of the community might donate and allow that to be part of the school lunch program," said Kreiss-Tompkins. "Simply put, salmon’s a lot more healthy than some deep-fried corndog from goodness knows where." 

The Sitka legislator announced plans for the bill yesterday at a Native Issues Forum in Juneau.

Legislators to take up political advertising in official election materials 

A bill that would do away with political party ads in Alaska's election pamphlet has advanced from a House committee. A rewritten version of the bill would repeal sections of law that allow political parties to buy space in the pamphlet. Last year, the state Republican party used one of its pages to try to tie then-U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to President Barack Obama.

Lack of snow drives Iditarod Trail Sled-dog Race north to Fairbanks

For only the second time in its 43-year history, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is headed to Fairbanks.

A decision to start the race in Interior Alaska was announced Tuesday evening during a special meeting of the Iditarod board of directors and only hours after members returned from a trip to view problematic sections of the traditional Iditarod race trail.

Organizers said too-little snow on troublesome parts of the trail led to the board’s decision.


State legislators object to subsistence gillnet fishery on Kenai River

Two Alaska state senators have sent a letter protesting a new fishery on the Kenai River.

Sens. Mike Dunleavy and Peter Micciche sent a joint letter to the Federal Subsistence Board asking for reconsideration of a recent decision to allow a subsistence gillnet in the Kenai River.

The board voted in January to allow the Ninilchik Tribal Council to use a setnet in the federal subsistence fishery on the Kenai River. Residents of certain rural Kenai Peninsula communities, including Cooper Landing, are also eligible to apply to use a setnet there.

The fishery targets red salmon, but king salmon and other species also could be caught in the nets.

Rep. Les Gara wrote a letter to the board last month asking for reconsideration.