The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Anchorage school board candidate: Immigration is behind school problems

Immigration to Anchorage, Alaska, is “causing problems” for schools there, a candidate for school board says.

In a wide-ranging interview with Alaska Public Media (embedded above, starts at 9:04), Don Smith, 75, repeatedly said immigrants—and in one case special needs students—were diverting the district’s resources away from other children. Smith, a Republican, is running to unseat incumbent Kameron Perez-Verdia in Tuesday’s Anchorage school board election. Smith has served on the commission that drafted the city’s charter, in the state house and in a number of other positions in Alaska government over the years.

Among the nation’s 381 metropolitan areas, the Anchorage area ranked 73rd in terms of per capita immigration (refugee or otherwise) last year, according to an analysis of Census data released Thursday. The region ranked even lower—99th—in absolute terms. A total of 454 refugees have been resettled to Alaska over the past five fiscal years, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.

Smith’s comments about immigrants and refugees came in response to a question from Alaska Public Media’s Daysha Eaton. Graduation rates have been rising and dropout rates were falling. What was behind that good news and is it sustainable, she asked. To which Smith replied:

There’s lots of problems that have been caused by organizations like the State Department that have somehow convinced Alaskans or Anchorage residents to accept two families a month from Africa and Indonesia to come in here totally unable to speak English, and give us the responsibility to try to educate these kids in the school system.
When I was in Anchorage High School, it was about 98 percent white students, and the balance were probably Native and one or two black students. Today we’re 48 percent white, 52 percent other. And that clearly is causing problems. I think our numbers are dropping because we’re importing all these people that aren’t up to the standards that we had set for the school. Consequently, it’s drawn us downward not upward.

Eaton then repeated her question, noting that falling graduation rates and rising dropout rates have reversed in recent years. Again, she asked, to what can that positive change be attributed? Here’s Smith again:

We might be just in a lucky period. … There’s a big push trying to take care of these new people coming to Anchorage. I watched my grandkids in Kincaid Elementary, I felt like they sat on their fingers for a big part of the day while they were in school because they were having to take care of problems, kids that were special needs students and people that were here from another country that couldn’t speak very well English. So I don’t know.
… There is no solution, we can’t tell all these people to go back to Africa or to go back to Indonesia or wherever they’ve been imported from. And people shake their heads and wonder why in the world are we having so much problem with housing and on and on and on. The reason we’re having some of these problems is that we’re bringing people into our state with nothing.

Eaton asked Smith if there’s anything he would be able to do as a school board member to solve the problem. “Probably not,” Smith said.