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Students, teachers, parents rally against vouchers

SJR9 could allow state funds to go to private schools

Posted: February 18, 2014 - 12:04am
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Supporters of public schools rally on the Capitol steps on Monday.   Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Supporters of public schools rally on the Capitol steps on Monday.

Speakers blared, picket signs waved and groups that, until recently, had butted heads stood together on the Capitol steps at noon Monday to oppose state vouchers that would pay for students to attend private schools.

Members of the Juneau School District Board of Education as well as the Juneau Education Association teachers union, which had been been at odds for more than a year, both came out against SJR9 and its companion in the house, HJR1. The resolutions would place on the ballot the option to strike from the Alaska constitution the line that states: “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

The resolution was narrowly advanced by the House of Representatives on Feb. 7. It will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 19.

JEA Vice President Dirk Miller stood among the ralliers with signs reading: “Vouchers hurt public schools,” “Kids! Not cuts” and “This wouldn’t happen at Hogwarts.” He said it was good to see school board President Sally Saddler, along with other board members, at the rally.

Miller said the JEA had been “battling for a cost-of-living raise for teachers” but now the group wants a “cost-of-living raise for education.”

He said that although the JEA and school district were on the same side during contract negotiations, “we had different views on how to cut the budget pie.” Now they agree: “We need a bigger pie,” he said.

The rally also focused on increasing the base student allocation, proposed in bills HB278 and SB139, which would raise Alaska’s classroom funding after years of the BSA remaining flat. Juneau parents, teachers and politicians, along with representatives from Anchorage’s teachers union and state legislators, filled the street in front of the Capitol.

School board member Andi Story said at the rally that if the BSA is raised by $85 per student next year as proposed, the school district will only have to cut 17 teaching positions rather than the 27 anticipated. The BSA is currently $5,680 per student.

She said the district’s priority is retaining Juneau teachers through increased classroom funding.

“We want to protect the classroom and funds for the classroom,” Story said.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said after the rally she believes Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal “is definitely a good start, but it might not be enough to get to the level of need that we’re seeing across the state.”

Due to increased district needs and health care costs and declining federal dollars, along with the static BSA, “districts all over the state are having difficulties balancing their budgets,” Muñoz said.

She said it would probably take the full $200 allocation increase, which Parnell proposed spreading across three years, all in the first year to balance out the Juneau School District’s budget.

She said she is also “very concerned” with the voucher measure.

“I ultimately feel they would erode public dollars away from the public school system,” Muñoz said. “I personally believe that public funds should be directed at public schools.”

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, who spoke to the cheering crowd at the rally, said funding Alaska’s education system “is not a partisan issue.”

“It’s not a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s an Alaskan issue,” she said.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, attended the rally to help him understand all sides of the issues at hand, he said. Micciche said, as a Republican and a father, one of the most important things to him is the education of Alaska’s young people. However, “not every child learns the same,” he said after the rally.

“Poking each other isn’t going to be effective,” Micciche said of the attitudes of some legislators on education issues. “Education should not be a toy that we use as a pawn for next year’s elections. It should be a priority for all legislators all the time.”

Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, is in favor of the measure that would allow vouchers for students to attend private schools.

“I’m in favor of looking at all the options for education, and I think that’s one of the options we need to look at,” she said after the rally. “We have been an evolving education program since statehood.”

However, she said, “probably the majority of Alaskans are public school-educated.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody that wants public education to go away,” Gattis said.

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, ended the rally with a battle cry.

“What do we want? BSA!” she called to the crowd. “When do we want it?”

“Now!” they cheered back.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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Clay Good
Clay Good 02/18/14 - 07:50 am
Truer words never spoken....

“I ultimately feel they [vouchers] would erode public dollars away from the public school system,” Muñoz said. “I personally believe that public funds should be directed at public schools.”

I appreciate Representative Munoz's candor and bravery in the face of her caucus. Let's hope her votes are reflective of her beliefs and convictions, regardless of her party's position.

Gary Gibson
Gary Gibson 02/18/14 - 11:45 am
Oppose Monopoly

Alaska’s public education is in a race to the bottom along with that of the rest of the U.S.A. Recent news reports show that China and Asia student achievement is three grades above that of their Alaska and American age peers. Children of Chinese street sweepers score higher than America’s most privileged. This is a logical result of monopolistic education with that of the most spoilt nation faring worse.

If American public education is going to the dogs because of monopoly in a spoilt cultural milieu indoctrinating youth with the political correctness of the day instead of allowing diversity of quality education with school vouchers the consequences are well deserved. America was built up with entrepreneurial and revolutionary innovators rather than kow-towing followers.

National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany was a sick substitute for the defunct royal class across Europe. Jews were blamed for being democratic revolutionaries (somewhat rightly) and perceived as reinforcing the rise of democracy over the natural superiority of the rigorous moral and ethical values of the best. Americans too naturally descend into a natural socialism with elites concentrating wealth and authoritarian government and corporate educational venues indoctrinating the intellectually weak. School vouchers for private educational diversity is perhaps the best available way to break up the disastrous drift toward the class indoctrination of thugocrats working for idiotic, deluded elites.

Governor Parnell’s effort to introduce diversity and competition with egalitarian vouchers disturbing Alaska’s public education race to the bottom of world achievement standings is a good idea worth support.

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 02/18/14 - 12:20 pm
Public schools = public funding..Private schools = private funds

This is a ruse, another hot-button party issue, like abortion and gun rights allowed to fester and take center stage in the press by the majority caucus, while they pick our pockets, railroad us with the "bums rush" again with SB138 with the other hand my fellow Alaskans..this time with GAS-TAX cuts!!!

Where is the impetus for an amendment to our constitution?? ? a petition? sensible reasoning and debate???? You won`t get any of that, except from the same groups grasping an unsupported agenda,.. claiming this is all wrapped up in religious rights, and claims of poor-quality uncaring teachers causing YOUR little Johnny and Susie to not get selected for Harvard and Princeton.

Vote yes on 1. It will end this raid on our resource value by the "rape ruin and run boys", and take Alaska back, and get us back on the road of common sense

Alexander  Madagascar
Alexander Madagascar 02/18/14 - 12:50 pm
Not that I agree or disagree...

But I always find it interesting that the people who are so pro-choice when it comes to abortion, are vehemently anti-choice when it comes to education.

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 02/18/14 - 12:50 pm
Choice Exists

What is stopping anyone from going to a private school? Now those who hollar socialism at any program want it for education.

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