• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 45s

SJR 9 testimony draws overwhelming support for public schools

By Rhonda McBride 5:40 AM February 4, 2014

Above: Sen. Mike Dunleavy responds to Monday's testimony in opposition to the school voucher proposal.

JUNEAU – Gov. Sean Parnell asked for debate over the prospect of state funding for private schools, but there wasn’t much of one at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Monday night.

Instead, there were four hours of public testimony from across the state, and there were very few voices in support of Senate Joint Resolution 9.

Dozens and dozens of people weighed in against SJR 9 which, if passed, would allow voters to decide whether the state constitution should be changed to allow public money to be spent to cover tuition and other costs for students attending religious or private schools.

“Vouchers, I believe, lead to ideological enclaves,” said Mary Hakala of Juneau, who is co-founder of the Juneau Community Charter School. “I believe in options, but I believe in those options within the pubic school framework.”

Many encouraged lawmakers to provide more support for public schools instead of giving state dollars to private schools.

Joan Pardes of Juneau, who is currently not a teacher but has worked as an educator, told lawmakers to put their resources into the current system.

“Fix it and then look at other options,” Pardes said.

“If there’s money for the public school system as a result of this, then there’s money for the public school system,” said Geran Brown, who teaches elementary school in Juneau.

There was testimony from rural school districts. From Bethel to Barrow to Kodiak, many expressed fears a voucher system would pull money away from rural students.

Tina Wegener of Sterling was one of the few to testify in support of SJR 9. She said most of those who testified are members of the teacher’s union. She asked lawmakers to listen to the “real” people.

Lance Roberts of Fairbanks also wants to let voters decide the issue. Roberts believes if students in private schools were given money for tuition, there would be competition for public schools.

Roberts compared it to the deregulation of the phone industry.

“When we got deregulation, we got lots of innovation, because that’s what competition breeds when you let it loose,” Roberts said. “So please do this. Let the people vote on this and help us have a chance of having some competition in this state.”

In earlier testimony, the committee heard from a legal expert who has studied the impact of school vouchers in more than two dozen states. He said there was no shrinkage of public school budgets as a result of vouchers.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, (R) Wasilla, argued before his fellow finance committee members that while the framers of Alaska’s constitution banned direct funding of religious and private schools, they left the door open for indirect aid.

Dunleavy said that’s because Alaska has a different model of delivering education, in which many of the state’s early schools were started by religious institutions.

“It’s been in the last 25 years, as a matter of fact, during my tenure as a teacher, we have seen those models disappear and become a more state-centered model,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said public schools already have partnerships with religious and private schools that are very successful, but constitutionally questionable.

One example Dunleavy gave are online courses offered by Brigham Young University, which are popular with many high school students.

“If we expand those partnerships, or if more and more students are taking those type of vendor courses, you run the risk of a lawsuit,” Dunleavy said. “It could be from the teacher’s union, the ACLU.”

As the hands on the clock in the Senate Finance Committee room turned past 10 p.m. Monday, a retired Juneau minister had the last word for the evening.

“Please do not change such a sterling document and marginalize the most needy,” said Paul Beran, who strongly opposed funds going to private schools, whether directly or indirectly.

Dunleavy said he’s neither discouraged nor surprised by the overwhelming testimony against a constitutional amendment.

“I knew that NEA (National Education Association) would have a number of its folks out,” Dunleavy said. ”This means a lot to them, to not allow us to go to the people for a vote.”

“Polls have been done consistently showing, overwhelmingly, that the majority of Alaskans want the right to vote on their constitution on this issue,” Dunleavy said. “There are no polls showing the opposite. If there were polls showing the opposite, we would have seen them already.”

The Senate Finance Hearing on SJR 9 resumes Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. with more public testimony expected.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Bragaw Street crash sends multiple victims to the hospital

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Aug 30, 0:46

    A late night crash on Bragaw Street resulted in at last six people needing transportation to local hospitals. Two vehicles collided on Bragaw Street near the Glenn Highway overpass and the crash was reported at 12:32 a.m., according to Anchorage police dispatchers. A police sergeant on scene told KTVA at least six people were transported […]

  • Crime

    3,400 and counting: Governor calls for inventory of untested rape kits in Alaska

    by Daniella Rivera on Aug 29, 23:15

    Gov. Bill Walker says the state’s number of untested rape kits is a problem, and he’s on a mission to figure out what to do about it. Last September, he asked every law enforcement agency across the state to report their inventory of untested sexual assault kits. All Alaska State Trooper posts reported their numbers […]

  • Lifestyle

    New FAA commercial drone regulations go into effect

    by Associated Press on Aug 29, 22:06

    There will be 600,000 commercial drone aircraft operating in the U.S. within the year as the result of new safety rules that opened the skies to them on Monday, according to a Federal Aviation Administration estimate. The rules governing the operation of small commercial drones were designed to protect safety without stifling innovation, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta […]

  • News

    Crystal Serenity cruises on amid environmental concerns

    by Lauren Frost / KNOM on Aug 29, 21:48

    The Crystal Serenity cruise ship is making a 32-day voyage from Anchorage to New York City. With around 1,000 passengers aboard, it is the largest vessel ever to travel the Northwest Passage. Meanwhile, the potential environmental impact of a journey of that scope has some worried. Austin Ahmasuk refers to the Crystal Serenity as “a floating city.” It […]

  • Lifestyle

    More parents believe vaccines are unnecessary

    by Dennis Thompson / Healthday on Aug 29, 21:31

    Pediatricians are encountering more parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, mainly because they don’t see the point of vaccines, a U.S. survey found. In the survey, conducted in 2013, about 87 percent of pediatricians said they had encountered vaccine refusals, an increase from the 75 percent who reported refusals during the last survey from […]

  • Politics

    State lawmakers call primary election illegal

    by Liz Raines on Aug 29, 21:22

    The Division of Elections is working to certify results from the Aug. 16 primary despite what lawmakers say are illegal mistakes made on election night. One of the most notable mix-ups happened at the polls in the northern village of Shungnak, part of House District 40, where unofficial results show Rep. Benjamin Nageak, of Barrow, […]

  • Crime

    ‘Disconcerting and sad’: Neighborhood reacts to double homicide

    by Eric Ruble on Aug 29, 20:30

    Early Monday morning, the playground at Valley of the Moon Park was filled with families. Nearby, bicyclists rode down the trail. But Yuki Varnell, who comes here regularly with her daughter, says there are fewer people than usual following Sunday’s double homicide. “Knowing something like this could happen and having the kids around, I would […]

  • Crime

    Former JBER soldier pleads guilty to multiple Anchorage sexual assaults

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Aug 29, 19:42

    A former Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson soldier accused of attacking multiple women and sexually assaulting some of them in 2013 pleaded guilty Monday to charges related to the crimes. Two sexual assault victims reported the attacks to police in mid-July 2013. The victims described the suspect very similarly, an affidavit from Anchorage police officer John Vandervalk […]