Parnell seeks Native backing for scholarships

Gov. Sean Parnell addressed the Native Issues Forum April 4 in Juneau. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

Governor Seal Parnell is asking Alaska Native leaders to lobby the Legislature in support of his education initiatives.

He addressed officials of the Tlingit-Haida Central Council, Sealaska Corporation, Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission and other groups at Wednesday’s Native Issues Forum in Juneau.

Parnell asked for support of his merit-based performance scholarship program, which began last year.

He said he’s willing to include a needs-based component. But he opposes using the program for students who pass the high school equivalency exam, earning what’s called a GED.

He said that would create a double standard.

“You have one class of kids that were counting on it and earning it and another class of young people who don’t have to go through the same rigor, yet are being given a scholarship. And that’s not something I support. There are other ways to address that. But certainly not to incentivize getting a GED rather than get a high school diploma,” he said.

Parnell also asked for support of his kindergarten-through high school school funding plan. That would give Alaska school districts a one-time payment to help cover inflation. He criticized Senate plans for a several-year increase.

The governor was asked if his administration would enforce tribal child-support orders. A judge recently told the state to turn over about $50,000 garnished from permanent fund dividends to the Tlingit-Haida Central Council. The money went to custodial parents.

Parnell said his administration will work with tribes. But his support was qualified.

“You should expect that we will continue to work on a daily basis as we do with the tribe on these matters to the best of our ability. And we will also work through and abide by lawfully obtained orders,” he said.

The governor was also asked to push for more support of subsistence rights.

He said his administration would manage fisheries for long term sustainable harvests. But it would not match federal standards, which place a higher priority on subsistence.

“What I can pledge to you is that we will listen, we will treat the cultures with respect … and we will work with the federal government so much as it is within our power to do so, from a lawful, legal perspective, from what we’re sworn to uphold,” the governor said.

Parnell also pledged to provide a village public safety officer to communities that want one. And he said he would try to help tribes with rising VPSO administrative costs.

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