Students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District have had to endure a combination of divisive and aggressive leftist ideas, Covid closures and controversial masking policies. Many families have had enough, and are pulling their kids from traditional schools in favor of home education.

This has left the district reeling. Over the past two years the district has lost roughly 1,000 students. Many are likely enrolled in other statewide homeschool programs like Raven Homeschool or IDEA, the largest two statewide programs that provide greater freedoms, flexibility and parental control over education.

Others have opted to attend Fairbanks BEST, the district’s publicly-run homeschool program. BEST has grown from 287 students to 743 over the past three years. When students choose to enroll in BEST, the district is still able to capture state and federal funds which are allocated to these students. But with most homeschoolers opting for rival programs outside the district, Fairbanks is upgrading its homeschool offerings with hopes of attracting families back to the district.

Over the past several weeks the Fairbanks School Board has voted to close down three standard elementary schools and cut 70 full-time teachers for next year. In large part, this has to do with rapidly declining enrollment in traditional public schools.

As students leave status-quo government schools, resources are being reallocated to accommodate new realities.

One of the shuttered schools, Nordale Elementary, will be repurposed to better serve the growing number of students moving to homeschooling.

Starting next year, Nordale will become ground zero for alternative options to standard government schools. Support teachers who work with parents in the BEST program will relocate their offices to the old Nordale facility, as will educators who assist with an at-home alternative learning option called E-Learning. Students enrolled in these alternative education programs will have access to the Nordale school gym, playground and classrooms.

Overall, the Nordale building is expected to serve about 1,000 students next year – 800 from BEST and another 200 in the E-Learning program.

Fairbanks School Board Member April Smith said Fairbanks is in the midst of a fundamental shift in how it provides public education. Due to Covid, many parents discovered that they are able and willing to homeschool.

“It showed that many parents can actually rearrange their life and spend more time with their children,” she said. “That’s a good thing for society.”

But not everyone is happy with the district’s new emphasis on homeschooling. A recent op-ed in the Fairbanks Daily News Minor urged the community to oppose the district’s plan. Smith said many long-time educators believe it is unfair to spend more money on homeschooling options while cutting teacher positions and closing traditional schools.

The reality, however, is that public education is in the midst of a profound shift in Fairbanks and across the state. As students leave status quo-government schools, resources are being reallocated to accommodate the new reality.

The challenge in Fairbanks is to convince parents that the retooled Fairbanks BEST program is competitive with other long-standing and reputable state-funded homeschool programs.

“Nothing prepares you for a diverse and changing society like a diverse and changing educational system,” said Fairbanks School Board Member April Smith. “We’ve got to change.”

According to Smith, BEST has long been derided by the Fairbanks homeschool community as “the worst” homeschool option because of limited monetary allotments for students and an overzealous approach to nitpicking curriculum parents choose for their children.

She said the retooled BEST program will be unique among the other homeschool programs in Fairbanks in that it has a quality school building. Smith added that she wants parents to know that the revamped BEST system will not be like the old program.

“We’re not going to be nitpicking your curriculum, which was a big annoying thing they did in the past,” she said. “We’re here to just be a team with the parents and offer them their right, which is to access facilities that are paid for with their local contribution and their state funding.”

Smith said it is important that the Fairbanks homeschool program match other programs like IDEA, Raven Homeschool and others, which have always supported how parents want to educate their children.

Smith said she believes the new focus on homeschooling reflects the district’s strategic plan of “preparing students for a diverse and changing society.”

“Nothing prepares you for a diverse and changing society like a diverse and changing educational system,” she said. “We’ve got to change.”

For those who claim the district is abandoning teachers and traditional students in favor of homeschooling, Smith said the price of keeping the Nordale building open is just $150,000 a year, the cost of a single teacher.

Overall, she said there is an additional $750,000 going towards homeschooling in the coming school year. This due to increases in the homeschool student allotments to make them more competitive with other homeschool programs available to Fairbanks residents, and to hire additional teachers to support the ballooning ranks of homeschool families.

They have also reworked one district position to create an alternative schools director.

“Right now, there are thousands of students who are outside of our school district, but inside of our boundaries,” Smith said. “And that’s disappointing because it means we have failed to meet the needs of all of those students and their parents.”

For those who remain in the standard brick-and-mortar schools, Smith said they should also be able to enjoy a quality education – and one free from controversial political agendas.

“Kids deserve to be able to go to school and learn how to learn,” she said.

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Burgeoning homeschool movement forces Fairbanks district to respond

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.


  • Andy says:

    Great job Fairbanks! With the filth the board was allowing I often wondered how the parents were taking it and it looks like an appropriate action that reflects a nationwide pattern.

  • David H says:

    I live within the Fairbanks area and have been with Raven for three years. The flexibility, resources, and cooperation from Raven’s staff has excelled our homeschooling expectations. My family will monitor the BEST option, but it sounds like they have a lot of work to do to catch up.

  • Ruth Ewig says:

    Through homeschool Christian/Western Civilization values are being reintroduced. The board’s disregard of parental input has resulted in this exit from government schools. The school board has pushed a dangerous agenda on public school students which destroys their innocence and requires them to learn immoral practices rather than the focus being on learning academics and character education and how to grow good citizens in the community. The government agenda in curriculum is progressive and damaging with the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory being taught throughout the curriculum here in Fairbanks. Since 1990 and before this switch to progressive Darwinian curriculum is inhumane and Darwin’s theories already have been proven to be false (See Answers in Genesis) yet treatment of the students in these so-called public schools and undermines the family, calling the the students humans instead of respectfully considering their hearts and minds and their families.
    This exit from public schools is a clear signal to the progressives that have been recklessly disregarding the traditional families. It will be interesting to watch what the school board comes up with. The problems are greater than just the North Star Borough School District. It reaches up into the UAF and academia. Godly lessons are being reintroduced in the homeschool movement and the Classical Education model. We thank the Lord for this!.

    • Terry Tiree says:

      You’ve perfectly underscored what is wrong with homeschooling. You will educate your children to be anti science, anti reality Christians. And you cite Answers in Genesis as an information source! This is true: Since AiG are young earth creationists, they claim that people and dinosaurs co-existed. The AiG museum displays an exhibit with a horse sized dinosaur WEARING A SADDLE!

      Public schools teach evidence-based concepts and we need more of it.

      • Ed says:

        And you’re perfectly ignorant.

      • Opus says:

        People like Terry evoke a strong emotion in me. I would like to open her mind to the truth but there is nothing to open.
        The evolution myth is powerful!

      • Herman Nelson says:

        Naaaa… They’re teaching their kids to think for themselves and to follow the science, not the politics. It’s refreshing to see parental units saying no to socialist indoctrination camps (public schools).
        Have a great American day!

      • Jim says:

        Look in the mirror Terry, ask youself a simple question, “could what I am seeing come into being through random chance?” Your an incredibly complex being! Would you believe me if I told you an entire roomful of working computers were designed and built (everything including mining the minerals etc) by 5 year olds? That would actually be more likely than evolution happening. Everything you see in nature is designed, think of the complexity, not just in what your seeing, but in the cellular and even sub atomic levels, nothing but intricated design.

  • John says:

    Throw the scared, insecure nazi, leftists Dems in jail
    When this is over for the hell they put everyone through. These deviants should NEVER be allowed in a position of power or to force their immorality on others.

  • j says:

    The only reason they’re doing any of this is to retain your money. This is pandering. That’s it.

  • Lobo says:

    The leftist/communist cancer got it’s foot hold (government authority) back in the 50s when the public schools started accepting federal funds.. Once they took one dollar, the feds took control, and started setting their indoctrination platforms.. The one thing that would be a first step in taking control of the “public school” agendas would be to reject any federal funding. The actual map was laid out in the 1800s, with the idea that in order to establish a communist society, is to infiltrate the educational establishments with Marxist indoctrination. The higher education (colleges) were targeted more heavily in order to cultivate, and harvest the so called teachers for public schools.. That is one of the main reasons for our home schooling our children.

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    But not everyone is happy with the district’s new emphasis on homeschooling. A recent op-ed in the Fairbanks Daily News Minor urged the community to oppose the district’s plan. Smith said many long-time educators believe it is unfair to spend more money on homeschooling options while cutting teacher positions and closing traditional schools.

    It’s about time to tell these “Long Time Educators” were tired of your new leftist rules for our schools.
    Good for you Fairbanks, taking your kids out of theses woke schools. Your kids will love you too, for taking action

  • Steve P Peterson says:

    “Smith said many long-time educators believe it is unfair to spend more money on homeschooling options while cutting teacher positions and closing traditional schools.”.
    And there you go! It’s not about the students; their needs and wants. It’s about employing the teachers and keeping “traditional” facilities open. People vote with their feet, and it appears that many families have had enough of the failure to educate and the emphasis on social engineering.

  • Jen says:

    If it gives a 3000 dollar annual allottment to its enrolled homeschool families, then it might entice families back. But! I think the familes should continue disenrolling until the teachers union is gone, They are the culprits why alaska keeps paying more and more regardless seeing any academic improvement.

  • Jim says:

    Homeschooled all my girls and never regretted it. All are very successful people, a nurse, an editor and an artist/mom. Homeschooling sure messed them up! lol