Gov. Sean Parnell visited UAA for a student forum where he touched on two major issues: a comprehensive domestic violence initiative and performance based scholarships.
With a crowd before him and a UAA Against Domestic Violence banner behind him, Parnell briefly spoke on the two issues before taking questions from students and staff during the March 19 event.
In 1993, Parnell began going on rides with Anchorage Police Department (APD) officers. On these rides he discovered a high percentage of calls to the APD are domestic violence related. It was an overwhelming problem everywhere in the city.
He joined former Gov. Tony Knowles and his administration to pass the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 1996 to create a comprehensive and consistent statewide policy. Looking forward to 2010, Alaska is still dealing with a domestic violence epidemic.
“We don’t really want any (domestic violence) at all, but do (Alaskans) really want to be six time the national average? I said no,” Parnell said. “These aren’t just statistics, they’re real people with real problems.”
In order to address the issue Parnell emphasized the need to bring the issue out into the open for discussion, no matter how personal or private individual cases might be. Parnell’s proposed initiative is three pronged: prevention, increasing shelter needs and tougher penalties for perpetrators.
The governor stated prevention would be based around raising self-awareness. On March 31, Choose Respect rallies, as Parnell referred to them, will be held around the state. He is urging cities, towns and villages to gather people together and hold speeches addressing why the gathering has occurred in hopes that more Alaskans will become aware of the domestic violence epidemic troubling Alaska and demand it be stopped for the sake of future generations.
To improve shelter needs, additional money has been put in the state’s budget to help fund shelters and increase the number of available beds.
Law enforcement will become stricter toward offenders of domestic violence in the coming years. In addition, this year’s budget includes 15 new village public safety officers and Parnell pledged to do the same each year for 15 years.
Students were concerned with what else could be done to prevent domestic violence from occurring. The governor stated that individuals need to step up and get involved in others lives, something many of us usually avoid.
“My hope is that your generation will be the last to see and live through epidemic and the first to step forward to stop it,” Parnell said.
Switching the topic to education, Parnell informed the crowd huddled in the Student Union of his newly developed Governor’s Achievement Scholarship (GPS). Increasing tuition is always a problem when trying to attend college, but the governor stressed that many younger students are not taking rigorous courses during high school, often leaving them ill prepared for college.
Thus, the GPS will be offered to students willing to take four years of math, science and English and three years of social studies. Students that obtain an “A” grade point average among those rigorous courses will receive a 100 percent tuition scholarship. A “B” average will earn students a 75 percent tuition scholarship while a “C”-plus average will earn students a 50 percent tuition scholarship.
Parnell briefly touched on a needs-based component being included in the initiative, which many students raised questions about during the Q and A, but he did not go into detail about such components.
USUAA senator Peter Finn believes merit and needs-based components are both extremely important when creating financial aid.
“The real issue with the needs based side of it is that Alaska ranks last in the nation for providing needs-based financial aid to students,” Finn said. “The best way to get people out of poverty is to educate them. From a student standpoint, we decided over three years ago that providing financial need to less fortunate families is the most important thing (legislators) can do scholarship wise.”
Students raised concerns about how the scholarships are to be financed. Currently, the state has over $8 billion in savings. $400 million will be put into a separate state account to finance the scholarships according to Parnell.
Another reoccurring concern during the forum was that many villages do not have the resources to offer their students such rigorous courses.
“It’s always been a severe difficulty to find instructors to go and teach in villages. We need good instructors in the villages to raise up kids to attain these scholarships,” USUAA senator Sean McGrane said. “If the initiative passes ,our focus then needs to switch to obtaining important tools so village students can obtain the scholarships.”
The governor stated his belief that the initiative itself would help “pump kids up” in the villages to obtain the scholarships and provide incentive for school districts around the state to push for the financing of additional courses and resources.
Many left the student forum with multiple concerns still looming in their minds, but tough questions were asked nonetheless. UAA students and faculty will have to remain attentive in the coming months to see desired results.