• 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

  • Politics

    Governor, lawmakers find common ground on one issue: Alaska’s heroin epidemic

    by Liz Raines on Jan 19, 20:56

    It’s only the third day of the 2017 legislative session, but already the dialogue in Juneau has been dominated by the state’s budget problem — a $3 billion shortfall, according to Gov. Bill Walker. Lawmakers and the governor may not agree on how to fix the state’s finances, but there is one issue they say […]

  • News

    Crashes involving school busses on the rise in Anchorage

    by Lauren Maxwell on Jan 19, 20:22

    The Anchorage School District is reporting an unusually high number of crashes involving school buses over the past few weeks. Chuck Moore, head of pupil transportation for ASD, said there have been eight crashes since mid December. In every case it was a driver that hit a school bus, almost all with students on board. No […]

  • News

    Where’s the weed? Anchorage pot shops cope with cannabis shortage

    by Shannon Ballard on Jan 19, 19:30

    If you’re hoping to pick up some legal marijuana in Anchorage, you may be out of luck. Currently, there are three stores open locally. Budtenders at Alaska Fireweed say they still have some flower on their shelves, but Dankorage and Artic Herbery say they’re sold out. It didn’t take long for Anchorage’s first pot shop to […]

  • Court docs: APD officer shook hands with suspect wanted for stealing car with toddler inside

    by Daniella Rivera on Jan 19, 18:21

    Anchorage police are still looking for the man they believe stole a running car with a toddler inside on New Year’s Day and has allegedly stolen two more vehicles since. Court documents explain the series of events that led the Anchorage Police Department to their search for 37-year-old Bruce Allen King. In a criminal complaint […]

  • On-Air

    Reality Check w/ John Tracy: The legitimacy of Donald Trump

    by John Tracy on Jan 19, 16:38

    America will swear in a new commander in chief Friday. The ceremony in Washington, D.C. is intended to demonstrate, once again, that a peaceful transition of power is central to our democracy. However, many members of Congress now say they will boycott the inauguration. When Georgia Rep., and civil rights icon, John Lewis said he […]

  • News

    Alaska gasline corporation opens office in Japan

    by Liz Raines on Jan 19, 16:28

    The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) is opening an office in Tokyo, according to a Jan. 12 notice from the agency and Gov. Bill Walker. The notice specifies Masatoshi Nick Shiratori as director of the office. Aside from the notice, the decision has not been publicly announced. Grace Jang, a spokesperson for Walker, called use […]

  • New Anchorage nonprofit promotes positive police interactions

    by Daybreak Staff on Jan 19, 15:22

    Newly formed nonprofit Anchorage Cops for Community is looking to help foster positive relations between police and the community they serve. It’s an outreach program sponsored through Anchorage Police Department Employee Association (APDEA), but chair Angelina Fraize says they hope to do more, like their popular monthly Coffee with a Cop events. The APDEA felt that […]

  • News

    EPA proposes OK of Fairbanks air plan, but more steps needed

    by Associated Press on Jan 19, 14:04

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to accept a state of Alaska plan for cleaning up the air in Fairbanks. EPA region 10 air office director Tim Hamlin says the agency is recommending approval of the plan even as it works to reclassify pollution violations in Fairbanks as serious rather than moderate. Reclassification would […]