• 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

    New Dillingham courthouse set to open mid-June

    by Matt Martin/KDLG on May 06, 16:46

    Choggiung Limited is building the facility and then will lease it to the Department of Justice. The original completion date was May 1st but had to be pushed back more than a month because of material delays. Rick Tennyson is Land Manager at Choggiung Limited. “Now these doors are several hundred pounds each. These are sound lock […]

  • News

    What’s that smoke?: Anchorage airport conducting fire training

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 06, 15:40

    Large plumes of smoke may be visible at or near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport while airport fire and police crews conduct training. Roughly 500 gallons of fuel are being used in the training, scheduled from 2p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, according to airport fire officials. As the training is located near […]

  • Crime

    AST: North Pole man sends accidental text to trooper offering to sell drugs

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 06, 15:07

    Three North Pole men were arrested Tuesday after one of them says he accidentally texted an Alaska State Trooper while trying to sell drugs. Logan Martz, 31, sent a text message to a Fairbanks AST drug investigator offering to sell him heroin. “Martz thought he was contacting someone else,” according to an online dispatch. Troopers went […]

  • News

    Greenpeace wants Shell’s lawsuit over protest dismissed

    by Associated Press on May 06, 13:52

    Attorneys for Greenpeace Inc. have again asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by Royal Dutch Shell PLC seeking expanded, court-ordered safety zones to keep protesters away from Shell’s Arctic drill fleet. In a motion filed Monday in Anchorage, Greenpeace attorneys say Shell has demonstrated no property damage or delay from protesters last month […]

  • News

    Schools around Alaska received threatening calls

    by Associated Press on May 06, 13:30

    At least seven schools in Alaska have received threatening messages in the past 10 days, prompting officials to place campuses on lockdown or stay-put mode in most cases. Calls have been received since April 27 at schools in communities including Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage. Of schools targeted, Juneau-Douglas High School was called on two separate […]

  • DayBreak

    On the couch with vlogger Cory Williams, May 6

    by Daybreak Staff on May 06, 11:57

    Viral vlogger Corey Williams joined Daybreak Wednesday to recap his latest Alaskan Adventure. In his recent vlog he talked about how much he loved the spring scenery of Alaska. While he was basking it all in, he became worried a bear would get him. However, his fans warned him of another animal he should be […]

  • DayBreak

    Anchorage spring cleanup continues with free dump day Saturday

    by Daybreak Staff on May 06, 11:47

    Spring is here, the official time to start cleaning up the streets of Anchorage. Over the past week, people have volunteered their time to pick up trash at parks, trails, roadsides and other public areas. It’s all part of a citywide cleanup coordinated by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. Kennis Brady with the Municipality of […]

  • Crime

    Police take suspect into custody following East Anchorage shooting

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on May 06, 11:13

    Anchorage police have taken a suspect into custody following a shooting in East Anchorage Wednesday morning. At about 10:17 a.m., the Anchorage Police Department was dispatched to a residence on the 6700 block of Lunar Drive to investigate reports of a shooting victim. Witnesses told police two men with a painting crew working in the […]