Saturday, March 02, 2013

Alaska State Legislature Mulls Over Prospective Constitutional Amendment To Allow School Vouchers, But Vouchers Could Lead To Government Control

The Alaska State Legislature is currently discussing legislation which would allow a constitutional amendment permitting school vouchers to placed on the ballot in a future election. Two sections of the Alaska State Constitution would be amended. The identical language is recorded in both SJR9 and HJR1; see the screenshot of HJR1 below:

Senator Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who sponsored SJR9, denies it's a voucher bill. He says he's not going to advocate for vouchers that give money directly to religious schools or to advocate for public monies to go directly to private outfits. His concern is that some school districts may already be in violation of the state constitution by employing private contractors to provide tutoring or other special education services.

Previous testimony before the legislature indicated the public is evenly split on the issue. Governor Sean Parnell supports allowing a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The Alaska Home Educators Association supports it as does the Conservative Patriots Group, which has posted links to three Freedom Works supporting school choice. These include "School Choice In America Part 1", "Why I Support School Choice", and "Empowering Parents: The Trigger Law - Should We Enact It in Alaska?" But lining up against it are the usual suspects; the Alaska Association of School Boards, Alaska and national PTAs, the National Education Association-Alaska, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. Even local school board candidates are weighing in; while Seat B candidate David Nees thinks the voucher debate will have little impact upon the Anchorage School District, his opponent Stephanie Cornwell-George explicitly opposes amending the constitution in regards to school choice because she believes we have very successful charter schools in Anchorage and across the state, and we first need to look at why many of them are successful.

Alaska Dispatch published an article by one individual whose employer might benefit from school vouchers. Dr. Arnold Cohen, the Head of School at Pacific Northern Academy, says that while vouchers are a seductive option, in the long run they are not a viable way for independent schools to finance themselves and remain independent. That is because the very freedoms that independence grants would be jeopardized by accepting government funds, even if they are given to families first. He says it's unrealistic and naïve to expect that private schools that accept vouchers will not fall under the scrutiny of government entities, since when it comes to all government funding, it is the obligation of the State of Alaska to engage in due diligence about how the funds are spent including monitoring the use of the funds and the outcomes that the funds effect. This process could compromise the independence that private schools cherish. For example, Christian schools accepting voucher students could be forced to accept openly-gay students or staff, or to establish Gay-Straight clubs like those forced on public schools under the auspices of "equal access". They could even be forced to allow transgenders to use whatever bathroom they want regardless of their biological equipment.

The question as to whether or not vouchers should become a reality should indeed be turned over to the voters to answer in the form of a proposition during an election. Let the people make the ultimate decision on such an important question. I personally will not support vouchers unless accompanied by legislation protecting private schools against political correctness.

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