Alaska Education Commissioner Resigns Abruptly

By Daarel Burnette II — February 04, 2016 1 min read
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Mike Hanley, Alaska’s education commissioner since 2011, abruptly resigned Wednesday, according to local reports.

Hanley came under fire in recent weeks for the rollout of the state’s standardized test, called the Alaska Measures of Progress, according to the Associated Press. District results plummeted, and the contractor tasked with grading the exam released its results weeks later than anticipated. Hanley said last week the exam will soon be replaced.

State officials couldn’t confirm to an Associated Press reporter whether Hanley had resigned on his own or whether he was being forced to step down.

“I appreciate Commissioner Hanley’s past few years of service,” said John Harmon, a member of the state’s board of education and early development. “He is a man of great integrity, and I wish him well.”

I spoke with Hanley last month on a story about oil revenue shortfalls. In recent decades, the state gathered almost 90 percent of its money from oil revenue, allowing politicians to mostly eliminate its sales and income taxes. (The state regularly sent out out annual checks to taxpayers worth up to $2,000 from dividends.) But then oil prices tumbled faster than state officials anticipated, and legislators made a series of budget cuts to the state’s mostly rural schools.

This year, officials in The Last Frontier state predict they’ll have to cut two thirds of its budget, and the governor has proposed installing an income tax. Schools are expected to be hit hard.

During our conversation, Hanley said that in the past year, he has laid off more than a third of his department’s staff and shuttered its statewide preschool program to cope with revenue losses.

There’s a push this legislative session to close schools with fewer than 25 students in them, a move that superintendents warn could eliminate several towns across the state where one-room school houses serve as community anchors.

“Generally speaking, when oil money was flowing well, we decided we didn’t need sales or income tax revenue, and we ended up with a sole source of revenue,” Hanley said at the time. “We’re now looking at that and saying it’s not a very healthy economy when you have a one-legged stool. Legislators have done the best they can to protect our schools, but I’m not sure how much longer they’re going to be able to do that.”

Hanley previously served as an Anchorage elementary school principal.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.