Sec. DeVos, Sen. Sullivan respond to questions on erosion threatened schools

Last month, Alaska’s U.S. Senators accompanied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on a trip to communities around the state. The tour marked DeVos’ first visit to Alaska as a member of President Trump’s cabinet. The group visited schools in Wasilla, Kotzebue, Nome, and Kivalina. Kivalina is one of the Alaskan communities most threatened by erosion. 

Sen. Dan Sullivan leads Education Secretary Betsy DeVos through Kivalina. They visited the village’s McQueen School as part of her tour. (Photo courtesy of Secretary DeVos’s office)

Other erosion-threatened communities include Newtok and Napakiak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The schools in these two communities need to be rebuilt because of erosion accelerated by climate change. When asked during her stop in Nome what federal resources the U.S. Department of Education could provide, she made no promises.

“Our goal is to address and help support states and what they need to do, and local districts at what they need to do,” DeVos said. “So if it does come into the wheelhouse, I’m sure we’ll be taking a close look at it.”

DeVos received a similar question earlier in Anchorage, and passed it to U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan who was standing nearby.

“We’re looking at ways to change federal law to address these, what I would call, slow motion emergencies,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan explained that when a hurricane hits, federal agencies can inject billions of dollars into the affected community to respond to the disaster. He proposes creating a similar funding stream for communities threatened by erosion. He ended by saying that he’d be committed to addressing these issues. Sullivan is running for re-election in 2020.

KNOM’s Joe Coleman and APRN’s Wesley Early contributed to this story.

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Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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