Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why Alaskans Wanted Statehood Part 2 of 2

ECHO Magazine:

Read Part One Here

Bob Bartlett

Tangible final steps toward Alaska Statehood began in 1955, but a lot had to happen before that the Territorial Legislature was a creation of the Second Organic Act of Congress, passed in 1912. This act allowed five things the legislature could do and forbade the passage of laws in 17 other realms, including divorce, game, fish, roads, insane persons, or disposal of land. The legislative body met every two years for no more than 60 days at a time.

Some Alaskans chafed at so much congressional involvement in state affairs. ¹
This resulted in the formation of a movement. The strongest voices of statehood at this critical time were Ernest Gruening and Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett.
Gruening received his Medical Doctor degree from Harvard University in 1912, but instead of practicing medicine pursued a career in journalism. As a writer, he became noticed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his service as an advisor led to an invitation to become a permanent member of Roosevelt’s New Deal Administration. Gruening was appointed in 1934 to be the first director of the Division of Territories and Island Possessions in the Department of Interior, which was established by presidential executive order.
Ultimately Gruening was appointed Governor of the Territory of Alaska. He came to Alaska determined to make something out of the Territory.²
A younger contemporary of Gruening, Bartlett was the son of Klondike pioneers. He was born in Seattle and grew up in Fairbanks. He, too, was a journalist—reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner—from 1927 to 1933. Bartlett was appointed Secretary of Alaska, a position equivalent to Lt. Governor, by President Roosevelt. Bartlett resigned in February 1944 to become a candidate for the Congressional delegate of Alaska.
These two had contrasting personalities: Gruening was forceful and determined while Bartlett was quiet and persuasive. They formed a lasting friendship and complementary working relationship. While the governor soon polarized Alaskan politics into pro and anti-Gruening camps, by the sheer force of his personality, Bartlett widened acquaintances among all elements of the territory’s population and built political goodwill.³
The statehood movement soon developed into a crusade under the leadership of these two men. Previous to this, the movement had ebbed and flowed, but they gave it vitality and dynamism. Gruening promoted statehood on a broad front speaking all over the nation and writing about Alaska statehood everywhere. He clearly defined the devils as “outside” interests. Bartlett was not as flamboyant as Gruening, but he was just as tenacious, primarily in the halls of Congress as Alaska’s non-voting Delegate. Against advice from seasoned political advisors, Bartlett ran on a statehood platform in the Democratic primary of 1944 and went on to win the general election by 7,255 to 3,763 over Republican John E. Manders.
Alaska gained national prominence by its strategic and tactical participation in World War II. In the face of a prevailing mood of optimism after the war, and our place as U.S. Air Force “Top Cover for America,” the Alaska House of Representatives sent a memorial to Congress seeking the opportunity to have control over the territory’s destiny as had been proclaimed in the “Four Freedoms” declaration of the Atlantic Charter. This pact between the United States and Great Britain set out a vision for the postwar world. It stated that small nations and minorities had a right to choose their form of government and have control over their destinies.
Following a request to admit Alaska as the 49th state, Gov. Gruening asked lawmakers to establish provisions for a referendum on the statehood question—with a vote to be taken in 1946. Gruening also knew Congress could not be expected to act on such a request without a loud call of support for it from Alaskans.
Alaskan statehood supporters now had their job cut out for them. This was a job for a strong woman!
Mrs. Evangeline Atwood, the wife of Publisher Bob Atwood, of the Anchorage Daily Times, stepped up to lead the charge by organizing a nonpartisan, nonprofit, territory-wide Alaska Statehood Association. It took a while to get rolling, but soon chapters were formed in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell, Palmer, Valdez, Kodiak, and Seward. Mrs. Atwood was a trained social worker, all around do-gooder, as well as the sister of Elmer Rasmuson, Bank of Alaska President. Their father, Edward, was Alaska’s Republican national committeeman.
George Sundborg
George Sundborg was a reporter and editorial writer for the Daily Alaska Empire in Juneau. He was hired, with Gov. Gruening’s blessing, to prepare a study of Alaska for use in making a case for statehood. While statehood forces were organizing their campaign, Congress reassembled in 1946. In his State of the Union message in January of that year, President Harry Truman recommended that the territory be admitted as soon as the wishes of Alaskans had been determined. Sundborg’s statehood report was printed and distributed throughout the state and caused Alaskans to focus on the reasons why Alaska should gain statehood. Of the 56 pages in the report, only five considered arguments against statehood, but arguments for it were appealing, and most who went to the polls at the referendum understood the issue. Delegate Bartlett was re-elected by a vote of 11,516 to 4,822 votes, and statehood was approved by                                         9,630 to 6,822.4
Alaska’s population at the 1940 census was 72,524. A turnout of 16,384 voters amounted to a respectable 23 percent of the total population interested in this issue.
Public hearings on a bill introduced into Congress by Delegate Bartlett on January 3, 1947, gained support on several fronts and many Alaskans flew to Washington D.C. to testify in favor of statehood. The argument against statehood was that Alaska wasn’t ready to take on the responsibilities inherent in statehood–particularly financial requirements. Charges by Territorial Senator Edward Coffey, an Anchorage Democrat, included the argument that the only people being heard were special interests while common Alaskans were not aware of what statehood meant to them. As a result, the House Subcommittee on Territories and Insular Possessions came to Alaska to see for itself and hear Alaskan’s views. From August 30 to September 12 the subcommittee heard testimony from 92 individuals at various Alaskan towns. Subcommittee members who had previously been skeptical of Alaska’s ability to finance the requirements of statehood came away recognizing the potential for modernizing Alaska’s tax system and increasing resource development for an economic base.
These hearings were vital because they focused the issue of Alaska statehood and placed it directly before Congress, but they weren’t enough. Land grant provisions proposed by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior were not acceptable to the committee, and a compromise was worked out. On April 14, 1948, a new statehood bill introduced by Delegate Bartlett was reported to the House, where it was bottled up in the Rules Committee despite a special message from President Truman. After all that had been done, Alaska Statehood died at the end of this Congress.
They had come a long way and Alaskans seeking statehood were still optimistic.
Bartlett’s bill had been discussed in several committees. The national press was giving considerable attention to Alaska and Hawaii statehood efforts. For the first time, hearings had been held in Congress on statehood, and a statehood measure had been approved unanimously by a committee of Congress.
Alaskans now knew well why they wanted statehood, and they were on a roll!
1 Antonson and Hanable, Alaska’s Heritage, P 286 Alaskans See Statehood…
2 Nast, Claus-M., 49 At Last! The Battle for Alaska Statehood, Epicenter Press, 3rd Edition 2009, p90.
3 Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska (1943), pp. 1-5; William R. Carter, “The Sixteenth Alaska Legislature: A Report to the People,” in Gong. Record, 78 Cong., 1 Sess., pp. 8226-27 (October 12, 1943) 
4 ”What Alaskans Say About Statehood,” Alaska Life, September 1946, p9

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Joy of a New Puppy


ECHO Magazne:

I have known a lot of guys with dogs and no women in their lives.

Dogs are easy to love and don’t have high expectations, except to be fed regularly.

One fellow I knew had a beautiful black Labrador retriever, which a mutual friend had trained to fetch training bumpers in competition, and to retrieve ducks. This fellow was a confirmed bachelor; when asked kiddingly when he was going to find the right woman to be his partner, he would say: “When I can find one that likes to swim in cold water with a duck in her mouth!”
The most important role of any dog is that of a companion. And the most difficult time in a dog’s career as companion is when the dog-to-be is a puppy.
I have a new puppy!
Donn, Adak and Mike
Cathy and I raised our last dog from puppy and I remember how difficult it was to maintain our home as the equivalent of a 5-star hotel with that little Labrador retriever trying to get her mouth around everything. But when she looked up at you, with toilet paper she had pulled off the roll dangling from her muzzle, you could not be upset at that yellow lab face. 

A puppy brings levity to everything.  
We named that dog Aniak and she was such an enthusiastic dog that everyone in our neighborhood grew to know her. Friends who were taking their dogs on walks would drop by and add Aniak to the fun. She would fetch anything and ask for more throws.
Aniak was no bother to anybody and very well trained, but when Cathy’s cancer treatment required extensive treatment, we asked our granddaughter in Tacoma, Washington, to keep her until we would return to Anchorage. Against my wishes, Aniak is still in Tacoma.
So amid my whining to my sister about all of the chaos of having a wife with cancer, and losing our cherished comfort dog, she responded: “I can fix one thing! My dog had puppies and they are ready for new homes!”
My sister and I have never been close. Our family will not allow for that. Our father was a master of sarcasm and ridicule which was passed onto us all to the point that we seem almost incapable of civil communication amongst ourselves. So, the idea of my sister offering to do anything to mitigate the hurt and pain I have been going through since about April of 2017 was totally unexpected.

A new puppy?
All my past dogs have been labs. Before Aniak, we had a chocolate lab named Kowee. We got her as a grown dog from a fellow in Oregon who had a male he wanted to breed and bought this dog to bring him puppies. When she didn’t do that, he sold her to us and we immediately had her spayed–just in case.
That guy called us back some weeks later begging for his dog back—offering twice what we paid for her—because he found out it was the male that was impotent! Too late; although Kowee wasn’t a particularly smart dog she was part of our family now, and was never going to have puppies.
I like Alaska names for my dogs, and Kowee was the name of the Alaska Native Chief who showed the white men where the gold was located near Juneau. 
Our dog, Kowee, was also a friend of my best friend in Juneau, Hugh Malone, who had been speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives when the bill creating the Alaska Permanent Fund was passed. Hugh and I had many walks together on Juneau trails with Kowee and his dog–and many talks about whether Alaskans would protect that endowment for the future or ultimately use it to buy more government.
Before Kowee was Chatham, a yellow lab we raised from a puppy who I trained to be a search and rescue dog with the organization SEADOGS in Juneau. He had made his first “find” and was headed to a career as a trained search dog when he was hit by a car while bringing a training bumper back to me in his mouth. That lousy driver just missed hitting me, too.
Here is the rule for having a dog: Anytime you take on the responsibility of owning a dog you also take on the heartbreak of what happens when one of the most joyful parts of your life turns tragic. No matter how well you care for them, things will happen over the time of their lives that impact you as their owner intimately. 
For me, three dogs, three stories.
For more perspective, since January of 2016, I have been studying the presidents of the United States in order, beginning with George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and so on. I am now almost done with a comprehensive book on President 25, William McKinley. This has been a fascinating journey through our country’s history because each new book about a president must include the experience of the events leading to becoming president, as well as events after being president. This biographical overlapping provides a rich depth of understanding of our nation’s history from the perspective of how the highest elected official impacted–or was impacted by–events of that time. Theodore Roosevelt was vice president to Pres. McKinley who was the third president in our history to be assassinated.
Ultimately, every president I have read about so far has died. When dogs die they leave a legacy of what happened during their lives, too.
New puppy, new chapter in my life.

I am thrilled about this. My new puppy is a black German Shepherd with a tiny white island on his chest. His name is Adak. My sister picked him out for me and he is changing my life. The house I shared with my wife since 2010 is no longer empty of any activity but my own. Adak is active and makes me pay attention to what he has wrought. 
This is a different kind of dog than I have ever had. He has a double coat of hair which will require frequent brushing. He has a sharp snout and he is very smart. The German Shepherd breed is said to be third in intelligence behind poodles and border collies. That is one reason they are the most popular breed for security work, and one of the reasons I am happy to have such a dog as our Alaska crime rate continues to be out of control.
Adak is now a bundle of joy. 

I have gotten him his shots and an identification chip installed. He is figuring me out, and my sister says he will be MY DOG forever if I train him properly. That doesn’t mean he won’t bond with other people, but he comes from a line of dogs bred for police and security work and the trainer is the center of their lives.

I’m ready for that kind of dog. I’m flexible about how the house is kept. I’ve never had a dog you cannot see in the dark, who will mark our area, and cause bears to hesitate about coming into our yard. I’m older now and I am transitioning into a new phase of my life in which my own health and well-being depend upon wise use of resources and anticipation of danger.
My sister tells of a gathering she had at her Wasilla home where the father of Adak singled out an unknown guest and kept nipping him. She told the fellow he would have to leave because her dog said so. He left and later she found out he had stolen something.
Perhaps in the future, Adak will be intuitive enough to assure my protection when I don’t even know I am in danger. But for now Adak is my companion and I am his teacher. He is allowed to be a puppy and grow into his new career as comfort dog.
Thanks, Sis, this is huge!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Why Alaskans Wanted Statehood, Part 1


October 11, 2018 (2019©

ECHO Magazine:
Portrait of Secretary of State William H. Seward, officer of the United States government
Portrait of Secretary of State William H. Seward, officer of the United States Government.
Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.), photographer.
[Between 1860 and 1865].
Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:

As we approach statewide elections for public offices in Alaska, this might be a good time to reflect on why the people who lived in what was to become the 49th State wanted to be a state, and what it took to get that status.

For Background:  Upon purchase of Alaska in April of 1867 the United States immediately turned it over to the U.S. Army to govern after having conducted the transfer ceremonies at the first Capital of Alaska, Sitka. Between l867 and 1877, the Army tried primarily to suppress the sale of liquor to Natives and protect Natives from non-Native abuse. 1
Alaska was a far-away neglected outpost of the United States.

Former Governor and ex-United States Senator Ernest Gruening characterized Alaskan history before statehood as being one of neglect by the federal government. He labels the period of 1867 to 1884 as “The era of Total Neglect”; 1884 to 1898 as “The Era of Flagrant Neglect”, 1988 to 1912 “The Era of Mild but Unenlightened Interest”; and finally the period from 1912 to 1933 as “The Era of Indifference and unconcern.”

The army left Alaska in 1877--except for gold runs law enforcement at the Canadian border--and governance was turned over to the Treasury Department. Having a fleet of armed revenue cutters patrolling the coast of Alaska, this agency was determined to be more suited to enforce laws in a land where most transportation was by water. Also, army leaders believed that civil administration was better done by civilians.
The Navy department became the dominant federal agency in Alaska under President Chester A. Arthur, until 1884. The Navy improved its ability to keep peace in Alaska by appointing Native leaders as police.
During the early 1880s Alaskans began efforts to obtain Alaska-wide self-government. On July 4, 1881, Juneau residents called for a delegate to Congress to work for Alaska legislation. Several other Southeast towns joined Juneau in this quest–and actually sent a delegate–but Congress rejected him. These efforts renewed interest in Alaska and Congress established a civilian government for the territory in 1884.
Under this First Organic Act a district governor and court system were established.
President Arthur appointed the governor and court officials, including a district judge, court clerk, attorney, marshal, four deputy marshals, and four commissioners who could act as judges on minor matters. The First Organic Act also applied the laws of the State of Oregon to Alaska “so far as they may be applicable.” A federal land office was also opened at Sitka to administer a land district for all of Alaska.
The circumstances of Alaska being little more than a colony of the United States set the stage for Alaska Territory status.
The Second Organic Act in 1912 established Alaska as a Territory–rather than a district–and authorized Alaska to have its own legislature. This was the first time Alaskans had any say in laws passed to govern them. 3

The legislature consisted of a Senate and a House of Representatives with members of both bodies to be elected by Alaskan voters. This legislature had 24 members--two senators and four representatives from each of the four previously established judicial districts. It convened for the first time in March of 1913.

Judge James Wickersham
In 1916 Judge James Wickersham--serving as Alaska’s representative to Congress--introduced the first Alaska Statehood Bill in Congress. He also introduced the Alaska Railroad bill and legislation to establish Mt. McKinley National Park. He was responsible for creation of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, which in 1934 became the University of Alaska. 

During the mid-1930s Congress repealed the prohibition on liquor importation, provided some considerations for Alaska Natives wronged by the government, and allowed local governments to have limited powers of taxation to pay for public facilities such as schools, streets and water projects. The legislature was also expanded in 1945 providing two additional senators from each judicial district and redistributed representatives in proportion to the population of each district.

But Outside commercial interests continued to control Alaska and they did not want to pay additional taxes to support the territory. Having an inadequate tax base presented a barrier to self-determination. A tax study in the late 1930s initiated by Gov. John W. Troy was completed by Gov. Gruening, who then developed a tax reform plan. A tax reform bill was presented to the 1941 Alaska Legislature based on the estimated value of the combined physical properties that had by then grown to half a billion dollars. This modest income and profits tax was defeated due primarily to opposition by the mining and fish canning industries.

Alaska was called the “looted land” by journalist Richard L. Neuberger who wrote that of the 434 fish traps licensed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, only 38 belonged to Alaska residents. 245 were owned and operated by 8 large canning companies. The fish pack for 1946, a representative year, was worth $56,571,000 on which the canned salmon industry paid a territorial tax of $630,000--representing 24 cents per case of 48 one-pound cans. That same year the fishing industry hired 10,956 Alaskans while importing 12,484 people from Outside who were paid when they returned home instead of being able to spend earnings in Alaska.4

It all seemed so unfair!

Fish Trap
Fish traps became the symbol of absentee economic control. Outside interests wanted to extract Alaska natural resources at the cheapest price possible. Alaskans wanted more say over natural resources to provide income for infrastructure development. A referendum on the 1948 ballot asked whether or not Alaskans favored continued use of fish traps. 19,712 voters opposed them to 2,624 in favor.

The 1949 legislature, in recognition of the popular demand for statehood, created the official Alaska Statehood Committee. It consisted of 11 Alaskans nominated by the governor (Gruening) and approved by the legislature, with no more than 6 belonging to the same party.

The main task of the Alaska Statehood Committee was to publicize and educate the public in Alaska and Outside on what statehood would do. Success of the committee became evident at the 1950 Senate hearings when numerous national groups, fraternal organizations, labor unions, newspaper editors, and even state governors testified in favor of the cause.

Alaskans came together to make this happen!

1 Antonson and Hanable, Alaska’s Heritage, P 279 Alaskans and the United States
2 Gruening, The State of Alaska, Table of Contents
3 37 U.S. Stats. at Large, 512 (1912)

4 Alaska Legislature, House Journal, 1915 p.11

Friday, September 21, 2018

No 4-Year Degree Required for Some Smart Alaskans

[This story was originally written as a submission in response to a request by a publisher who ultimately did not use it. 
I regret it was not available for discussion during the election.]

Autumn is the season when deciding whether to attend school is an important consideration for people with low skills who want to continue to live in Alaska. This is also a great time to look at how Alaskans seeking to stay here can find meaningful careers.

The economy here is very specific about what human resources it needs during the current recession. To be successful in this job market, training after receiving a high school diploma or GED must consider what have been identified as in-demand “priority occupations”.

Given Alaska’s place among the states academically, and the amount paid for Alaska Public Education, policy makers must consider new approaches to delivering basic education throughout the state.

Alaska Economy Reality

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) in July issued its monthly Economic Trends magazine looking at the cost of living in Alaska. Economist Neal Fried reports that inflation hovered near a record low for a third straight year during 2017, with the Anchorage Consumer Price Index increasing just 0.5 percent. “That rate has been lower just four other times since 1960, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began producing inflation data for Anchorage,” according to this report.1

The Anchorage rate of inflation is much higher than the national rate over the last few years, mostly due to a cooling Anchorage housing market with continuing recession. By contrast, the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased at the end of July by 4.1 percent (April through June). This is the fastest growth in four years while Outside housing markets are generally robust.2

A prosperous Outside economy provides incentive for young Alaskans to leave for better job opportunities elsewhere.

“No other economic indicator has more daily ramifications for people than inflation. It’s tied to bargaining agreements, wage negotiations, child support payments, real estate agreements, and—as of 2017—minimum wage adjustments. Because inflation has been so low, Alaska raised its minimum wage by just a nickel in 2017 and four cents in 2018,” explained Fried.3

Unfortunately, Alaska’s economy was rated worst in the United States in the third quarter of 2017, according to Business Insider: Alaska is among the top 10 state’s GDP rates--with a per capita of $70,574--while average weekly wage rate is $1,012.09. But Alaska’s labor market is the weakest in the country with a December 2017 unemployment rate of 7.3 percent.

Alaska was one of only two states that lost nonfarm payroll jobs.4

There are good paying jobs in Alaska for people trained for them, but it costs more to live in Alaska--always has. That is the first reality of anyone expecting to make a living here. The second reality is that this state has been losing jobs; May 2018 was the 32nd consecutive month Alaska has recorded job losses—down -0.6 percent statewide.

Remember when we had great increases in summer employment? This was a destination for many young Americans going to college and working in cannery slime lines or setting chokers for Southeast logging operations. High pay long hour natural resource opportunities have been lost, and replaced by low-pay tourism service jobs.

Total visitor spending in 2014-15 was estimated to be $4.17 billion producing 39,700 jobs and a total Labor Income of $1.29 billion, according to the Alaska Department of Commerce.5

The best spin to be put on Alaska’s employment situation is job losses during the current recession were at their worst back in September 2016 (-2.5 percent).
While Alaska’s unemployment rate is highest in the nation, it is right at its 10-year average, according to Fried. Alaska is still losing ground on wages, but the losses are getting smaller: Overall Alaska ranks 50th in the nation for unemployment rate, 50th for private sector job growth, 50th for overall job growth, 46th for government job growth and 42nd for construction job growth.6

Given this reality, what are the possibilities for a young person determined to stay in Alaska expecting to enter a career that would provide long-term employment security? Let’s look at the unemployment profile:

Unemployment is highest in rural Alaska, according to DOLWD: During May of 2018 the Interior Region was at 7.0% unemployment, Northern Region was 12.1%, Southwest Region was 11.8%, Gulf Coast Region was 7.3% and Southeast Region was 5.7%, bettering the Anchorage/Mat-Su rate of unemployment, which was 6.4%.

Basic Skills are Necessary to Access Higher Level Training

An estimated 92 percent of Alaskans have a high school diploma or higher, compared to 86 percent nationally. This is good as far as it goes, but the academic decline of Alaska Public Education makes this a meaningless statistic.

Let’s use the government’s own numbers to examine the problem. The Alaska Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Combined Plan 2018 Update was released July 2. Each governor of each state must submit a plan to the U.S. Secretary of Labor that outlines a four-year workplace development strategy. Among the requirements of the plan is a “Strategic Planning Elements” section that analyzes the State’s current economic environment and identifies the State’s overall vision for workforce development. Additionally, since Alaska receives significantly more Federal spending than most other states, this is a critical piece of the state’s economy. According to this report, Alaska also enjoys a concentration of typically high-wage natural resource and mining jobs that are more than three times as concentrated here than in other parts of the nation.7

These are the jobs Alaska should be targeting to be filled.

From the WIOA Report:

Overall job growth of 5.8 percent is projected by a gain of 19,700 anticipated Alaska jobs between 2014 and 2024. Health care and “social assistance” sectors are expected to grow 16 percent. Leisure and hospitality are projected at 11 percent. Professional and businesses services, seven percent.

By contrast, mining employment--including oil and gas--is expected by DOLWD to lose 1,100 jobs over those 10 years. Our once mainstay Alaska construction sector is expected to grow only 11.7 percent.7

These projections should not cause young Alaskans to give up on their dreams of living here, however. Being a report to the federal government, it is meant to provide arguments for more funding.

But there is more to worry about:

This Alaska WIOA Plan says there is ongoing concern that 15 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds have not completed high school. According to the “2010 Alaska Career and Technical Education Plan”, every year approximately 8,000 Alaska students graduate from high school. This report was generated as a joint effort between the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED), DOLWD, and the University of Alaska, establishing that several thousand Alaska youths reportedly exit without securing a high school diploma. Of the graduates, less than half transition into college and only 18.5 percent will still be in school by age 19. The report states: Alaska ranks fifth in the nation for teens not in school and not working. 8

Our state has 54 school districts, including a statewide boarding school, most of which have at least one career and technical education program (CTE) geared toward one or more of Alaska’s “priority industries”, according to the AWAI Plan Report. Many districts have articulation agreements with the University of Alaska so students can earn concurrent secondary and postsecondary credits, making the UA system our new statewide high school.

High school CTE programs are aligned to industry, academic, and employability skills, and to school-to-apprenticeship standards: “Districts are trying to keep CTE programs viable by forming consortiums with other districts or programs, offering alternative delivery models such as intensive academies, using equipment simulators for training, or partnering with local employers or other agencies to share facilities or instructors,” says the report.9

Additionally, many Alaskan parents unhappy with public education options in their respective ZIP codes have enrolled their children into enterprise programs from far away rural districts like Delta or Iditarod, and taken on the job of homeschooling their own children. The measure of this is hard to determine in terms of actual students being home schooled, but DEED lists 30 such Correspondence Schools in its directory.10

PEAKS tests

A list of most Alaska school districts, with superintendent salary correlated to Alaska PEAKS Test scores is provided herein. Given the outcomes from investment some may ask how long can we accept this broken system?

Employer Training to Supplement Public Education for “Priority Occupations”

The “trickle-down” effect of inadequate public education is high-level employers must find potential employees who can train up to skill levels needed to meet the challenges of Alaska’s core GDP needs. Some are even setting up their own apprenticeship programs, as unions have long done with apprentice training programs. For typical Alaskans the choice is either college or skill training through a trade school and apprenticeship. DOLWA has prepared a comprehensive Employer Tool Kit for establishing a registered apprenticeship program for almost any business.11

As an Adult Basic Education instructor at the Mat-Su Job Center 4-1/2 years I learned that the first thing asked of any new job seekers is: “Do you have your high school diploma or GED?” If not, visitors are urged to get one before attempting to find work using available state databases.

The GED Assessment is updated periodically. In 2014 it was changed from a paper and pencil test to a controlled computerized assessment nationally normed at 12th grade.10 The normed grade level of Alaska public education graduates is unknown, but statewide assessments in 2018 have placed Alaskan students at or near the bottom of all U.S. states.12

Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exams (HSGQE) under the federal No Child Left Behind Act initiative were given twice to high school sophomores, and twice again each successive year—11th and 12th grades--until passed. HSGQE measured 10th grade skills. Certificates of Graduation were given in lieu of diplomas until the HSGQE was passed, even allowing students to take the test when they were no longer in attendance.

When the Alaska Legislature revoked requirement to take the HSGQE in 2014, with passage of HB 278, all students who could not pass it were given their diplomas retroactively, thus reducing the value of all public education graduation certifications for the past nearly two decades. 13 Sec. 14.03.075. College and career readiness assessment; retroactive issuance of diploma

DOLWD provides an Adult Basic Education program separate from the Department of Education. At each job center “WorkKeys” assessment of employees is utilized to assure basic skills of applicants prior to referral to potential employers. According to the website:  ACT WorkKeys® assessments are the cornerstone of ACT workforce solutions. The assessments measure foundational skills required for success in the workplace, and help measure the workplace skills that can affect job performance.14

This is all part of our hodge-podge approach to training people to find a career.

Professed outcomes of the Adult Basic Education program at DOLWD is “for adult learners to reach a higher level of self-sufficiency as individuals, community members, and employees.”16 People as young as 16 years old can now take the improved GED (with parental permission) and skip traditional high school for direct access to college or career training options. To take the GED a student must withdraw from the public school they are attending. The GED is also an appropriate way to validate a home school education.

Priority Industries require certain skills in Alaska’s Workforce.

Alaska hire--the prioritizing of Alaskans over bringing other skilled workers to the state---has always been a challenge, and methods have been developed to measure it. Alaska has long been the only state that requires employers to report the occupations of their workers as part of mandatory unemployment insurance reporting.15 The detailed occupational data reported by employers, together with Permanent Fund application data on residency of individual workers, allows Alaska to produce a report each year showing the industries and occupations with the highest percent of nonresident hires. Certain “Priority Occupations” have been identified as generally providing a livable wage and being either difficult to fill with qualified Alaskans or in high demand as a result of projected growth or attrition/turnover.16

Likewise certain industries have been identified as “Priority Industries” because they are thriving in Alaska and need employees in identified Priority Occupations. Reliance on nonresident workers in priority industries and in-demand occupations indicates a skill gap.

A McDowell Group 2016 study titled Cross-Industry Workforce Development Priorities identified key skills, trainings, and concepts needed across Alaska’s construction, oil and gas, mining, health care, and maritime industries. The Alaska Process Industry Consortium (APICC) is made up of companies in those Priority Industries. They paid for the study whose goal was to identify priority occupations and workforce needs in common between the various priority employers.17

A young person looking for a skill set leading to a broad-based career in Alaska’s economy should consider what they want to do and how they might assure employability, as explained in this study.

Pathways of interest in those industries include 1. Manufacturing production process development, 2. Engineering and technology, 3. Transportation operations, 4. Therapeutic services, 5. Construction, 6. Natural resources systems, and 7. Maintenance, Installation, and Repair.

The McDowell study found: “Common skills needed include critical thinking, active listening, reading comprehension, social perceptiveness, speaking, writing, complex problem solving, mathematics and science, time management, and active learning.”
Instructional note: This is boilerplate jargon for what employers want in ANY high skilled position. Basic skills, plus training for specific employability lead to a workplace tailored for Alaska’s economy.

From the McDowell Report: The following first pair of charts detail identified top “priority occupation” skilled jobs in Alaska, with number of expected openings, and wage ranges available.

These are identified Alaska “Top Jobs.”

Of 53 listed Priority Occupations in this report, 17 require a minimum of HS Diploma/GED while 8 more mandate an Associate Degree or Postsecondary Non-degree Award. 21 other job categories call for a Bachelor degree and only 3 require a Master’s Degree.

Given this cross-section of job categories, a person seeking career stability by training into skills having multiple priority employment possibilities, can also cross reference priority jobs to skills with the following charts:

Our economy is in the doldrums. We have a mediocre top-heavy K-12 system in which our Alaska students rank below the national average, and high unemployment for low-skill workers. Young Alaskans wishing to have a sustainable career must use smart strategies that correlate with what our state economy needs to find a career ladder that will remain connected at the top over a working life. What is your passion? Where can you get the training you need? How does what you what to do align with what Alaska’s economy needs now and in the foreseeable future? Some smart Alaskans don’t need to go to college to figure this out.

Education to Career Policy Considerations

The current structure of Alaska Public Education pre-dates discovery of oil on the North Slope and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It is time to update how education funds are spent.

In 1975 Anna joined as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, Tobeluk v. Lind in what became the Molly Hootch Case for the Eskimo girl whose name headed the original 1972 list of plaintiffs suing the state for failing to provide rural community high schools. In 1976 Marshall Lind, Commissioner of Education under Governor Jay Hammond, signed a detailed consent decree providing for establishment of a high school program in 126 villages covered by the litigation, unless people in the village decided against a local program. This was the easy political way out; Alaska was about to become wealthy beyond most people’s imaginations from oil development, and throwing money at public education meant construction jobs building schools and communities keeping their young people at home in programs run mostly by Outside teachers on their Alaskan Adventures. With more than 50 Alaska school districts, each with an elected school board, this was a political win-win-win for Gov. Hammond.18

Over the: decades since oil began flowing from Prudhoe Bay our public education system has been a crazy quilt of programs in schools with mostly itinerant teachers. We should have been able to hire the best teachers in the world for what we pay but instead we have a wave of teachers coming and going each year leaving a legacy of lower academic outcomes with ever higher costs.

Suggested Policy Considerations:

Policy 1: Establish a commission to research and consider public education needs for Alaska in context with past commissions established for that purpose.

Policy 2: This commission shall review all possibilities for consolidation of current school districts into 12-14 regional school attendance areas, each with at least one regional high school fed by multiple k-8 schools. Mt. Edgecumbe has been a successful boarding school and could serve as a model exemplar.

Policy 3: Examine and consider Alaska Native organization current efforts in public education programming. Seek to establish partnership potentials for sharing the challenges of enhancing quality and effiient public education throughout the state.

Policy 3: Examine the University of Alaska involvement in teacher training and establish guidelines recognizing training and career objectives with curriculum expectations.

Policy 4: Inventory current technology applications in public education and potential for consolidation and economic efficiencies for all schools.

Smart Alaskan parents are helping their young adult children identify their passions, consider entry points to entering chosen careers, and taking steps to find the training paths necessary for lifelong Alaska employment success. An examination of how Alaskans can benefit from our tremendous investment in infrastructure and personnel can result in delivery of better academic programs suited to Alaska’s unique needs and opportunities.

Donn Liston, MEd. Is a retired Alaskan teacher whose family first came to the state in 1962 so his father could work as a civilian contractor with RCA Service Company on the White Alice System.


Alaska Labor Trends Publication

3Ibid Labor Trends, Pg 14



6Ibid Labor Trends, Pg 17

16  Ibid pg 22

17 McDowell Group Cross-Industry Workforce Development Priorities Report, PG 1

2018 ©


This is the season when deciding whether to attend school is an important consideration for people with low skills who want to continue to live in Alaska.  The economy here is very specific about what human resources it needs during the current recession and training after receiving a high school diploma or GED must consider what have been identified as in-demand “priority occupations”. Alaska Public Education needs new policy considerations.

Alaska Economy Reality

1.     High cost of living and inflation
2.     Highest unemployment in the US
3.     Seasonal jobs are low-paying
4.     Minimum number of Jobs exist in rural Alaska

Public Education’s expanding mission

1.     High School Diplomas aren’t worth much
2.     GED option provides direct route to training
3.     Districts around the state are expanding their missions

Alaska employers have identified “priority occupations” which will be in demand in the foreseeable future.

1.     Identified in-demand employer needs
2.     Training required to meet those needs
3.     Routes to get to those jobs

Recent federal actions provide hope for increased opportunities for Alaska workers.
1.     Drilling in ANWR
2.     Other development options

While Alaska is in recession Alaskans are resilient people and smart ones will choose career paths leading to long-term success in this difficult economy.

Policy Considerations for Improving Career Success for Alaskans

We have Options

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