• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 58s

As Parnell pushes for public funding for private schools, Democrats fight back

By Rhonda McBride 5:31 AM January 24, 2014

“What I’m doing is generating a public conversation,” Parnell said.

JUNEAU – Gov. Sean Parnell is expected to roll out a package of bills aimed at education reform Friday.

The measures include a digital education initiative, scrapping the high school exit exam, more vocational and technical training and more money for charter schools and regional boarding schools for Rural Alaska.

Parnell announced these reforms on Wednesday night during his State of the State address: “2014 will be the Education Session,” he said.

He also said he would increase the “per student” funding formula, a cause Democrats have fought hard for. But there was a catch: The governor said they would have to support putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to clear the way for a voucher system for private school students.

The governor’s deal didn’t go over well with Democrats, who said they couldn’t trade their vote when an important principle was at stake.

“I would never support using state dollars for private, for-profit and/or religious schools,” said Sen. Berta Gardner, (D) Anchorage, who argues that education money should go towards public schools only.

“Should we take a park strip in Anchorage and say, ‘My share is three squares by three squares — I can do what ever I want and I’ll have choice?’” Gardner said.

Democrats also pointed to numbers compiled by Legislative Research Services, which researches the financial impacts of proposed legislation.

Gardner said she commissioned the research to find out what it would cost the state to give private school students money for tuition.

The researchers based their estimates on the current amount the state spends per pupil, $5,680. They included the number of Alaska students enrolled in private schools — approximately 11,000 students — as well as some other factors which put the price tag for private school funding at about $100 million.

They also looked at the Anchorage School District and estimated that a 5 percent reduction in enrollment translates to a loss to the school budget of more than $16 million.

At a news conference on Thursday, following his State of the State address, the governor called those estimates premature.

“If anybody gives you a number, they’re in the range of wild speculation,” Parnell said.

The governor also appeared to back away from making passage of Senate Joint Resolution 9, the measure which would remove the Alaska constitution’s ban on state funding for private education, a condition for increasing what’s known as the Base Student Allocation (BSA), a formula which determines how much money that state will pay per student.

Even though the governor has opposed raising the Base Student Allocation (BSA) formula in the past, he promised to increase it if Democrats support his omnibus education bill.  He didn’t say how much the increase would be, a number that would be important to school districts in the process of making massive cuts and layoffs.  He said this would be subject to negotiation.

“This is about two entrenched positions that I want to move forward for Alaska’s good,” Parnell said.

Lawmakers had mixed reactions to the ballot measure.

“There’s a lot of scaring going on, a lot of boogeyman stuff,” said Sen. Mike Dunleavy, (R) Wasilla, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a former school superintendent. He is also one of the primary sponsors of SJR 9.

“This idea that public schools are going to collapse, that they’re going to lose funding, I don’t believe it,” Dunleavy said.

He also feels the votes are there in the legislature for the 2/3 majority required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

“I’m confident we’re there,” Dunleavy said. “If there were a vote tomorrow, would we have two-thirds? I believe so.”

Dunleavy said the governor’s strong show of support for SJR 9 during his State of the State speech has given it momentum. Dunleavy also believes voters will ultimately approve the amendment, based on a Dittman Research poll conducted last March.

Of the voters the company surveyed, 84% said they support changing the state constitution to allow for a school choice program in Alaska.

Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, (D) Anchorage, doubts the validity of the poll because of the way the questions were framed. He also said Alaskans should look at history, specifically a 1976 ballot measure that failed by a wide margin. It would have amended the constitution to allow state funding for private and religious colleges.

French also believes the Legislature is a long ways off from reaching a two-thirds majority.

“If it was there, we would have had the vote by now,” French said.

“What I’m doing is generating a public conversation,” Parnell said.

But whether it’s a conversation or a vigorous debate, it’s not likely to end anytime soon.

Latest Stories

  • Crime

    Friend remembers Brandon Merritt, 19-year-old killed in gas station shooting

    by Eric Ruble on May 29, 20:17

    Brandon Merritt had been in Alaska less than one month when he was shot and killed at a Holiday gas station on Abbott Road last week. He grew up here before moving to Hawai’i for his freshman year at Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach, where he met Sam Lewis. “Ever since the day we […]

  • News

    AFD calls Div. of Forestry, JBER for assistance with wildfire near East Anchorage

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 29, 18:01

    The Anchorage Fire Department is responding to a wildfire just less than a mile from an East Anchorage neighborhood. The fire was first reported at 5:25 p.m., according to fire dispatchers. AFD Fire Chief Denis LeBlanc said the fire was located on military land and was difficult to reach, so the department has reached out […]

  • News

    Dead whale found stuck on cruise ship docking in Seward

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 29, 17:26

    A dead humpback whale was found on the bow of a Holland America cruise ship Sunday morning in Seward. The Seward City News reported the Zaandam arrived at the Alaska Railroad terminal with what was initially believed to be juvenile humpback whale on the bulbous, lower bow. The whale has since been tentatively identified as […]

  • News

    DOF battles two wildfires near McGrath, one covers roughly 100 acres

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 29, 17:05

    The Alaska Division of Forestry is battling two wildfires near McGrath, including one that has grown to nearly 100 acres. The larger fire, known as the Medfra fire, was reported at 10:25 a.m. and “started in an old burn area and spread into an unburned area with fresh fuel.” The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reports […]

  • News

    Firefighter: Grass fire at Glenn Highway ramp may have been started by cigarette

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 29, 15:20

    An Anchorage firefighter at the scene of a small grass fire near the Glenn Highway Sunday told KTVA it may have been started by a cigarette butt thrown out of a passing vehicle. The fire was first reported to the fire department at 2:25 p.m., according to fire dispatchers. The fire was out less than […]

  • News

    Missing girl may be with her mother, who has no legal custody

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 29, 14:53

    The Anchorage Police Department is searching for an 8-year-old girl whose mother has warrants for her arrest and doesn’t have legal custody of the girl. Nayla Demings was last seen at her father’s house on E Fifth Avenue around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday. Her father has full legal custody of Nayla and police said in […]

  • News

    Park Service considers visitor caps, expects record crowds

    by Associated Press on May 29, 14:15

    As the National Park Service kicks off a centennial summer expected to draw record crowds, the agency is seriously considering caps on how many people pass through some of the country’s most iconic landscapes and historical sites each day. Park managers have begun looking at whether, when and how best to manage the impact of […]

  • News

    Czech Republic man dies on Denali after 1,500-foot fall

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 29, 12:02

    A Czech Republic man died Saturday evening while skiing on Denali, according to the National Park Service. Pavel Michut, 45, “fell roughly 1,500 feet from an elevation of 17,000 feet” on the Messner Couloir route, NPS spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said in a statement Sunday. “The event was witnessed by multiple parties at the 14,200-foot camp […]