Ballot initiative proposes student bill of rights ensuring quality public education
The Alaska constitution provides for public K-12 education, but it doesn't say anything about the quality of that education. That's where a ballot initiative backed by the National Education Association-Alaska comes in. It's calling for an educational bill of rights that goes beyond K-12 to include preschool and university education.
"This ballot initiative wants to make sure that any student in Alaska can be provided a quality, public education, pre-elementary through the university system," said Glenn Bafia, Executive Director of NEA-Alaska.
More than adding or expanding programs, Bafia says the initiative aims to better protect what already exists in Alaska.
"There's constantly talk about making cuts to the university system and we believe that the people in Alaska, if they pass this ballot initiative, are saying to the Legislature and the governor, 'Hey, we want an education for our students in Alaska. They shouldn't have to leave for everything," Bafia said.
Right now, students in the Anchorage School District are selected for preschool based on certain at-risk factors. Bafia says this initiative would ensure a similar system exists across Alaska.
"This wants to make sure that pre-elementary programs are available and accessible around the state, not necessarily that they're free," Bafia said.
As for K-12 education, the ballot measure establishes certain criteria for what should be available to Alaska students, including the opportunity to study world languages, access to vocational courses and the arts.
"Not that these things are in every single school in every single district, but there's opportunities for students to participate — looking at extracurricular activities," Bafia said.
The initiative also calls for the inclusion of culturally sensitive curriculum to preserve Alaska Native identity and history, and for tools to attract and retain teachers.
The Alaska Department of Law has noted some concerns about the proposed changes. When signing off on the group's ability to collect signatures, the department wrote:
"We acknowledge that some of the initiative bill’s language may be inconsistent with existing statutes and difficult to implement because of ambiguity in the bill’s language. For example, some of the new duties imposed on [the Department of Early Education and Development] include areas that are statutorily assigned to, and have historically been decided at, the local school district level.”
The measure needs 28,501 signatures to get on next year's ballot. Bafia says, so far, it's gathered about 15,000.
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