Alaska Editorial: Education end run: Should state fund private schools?

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

 

Any attempt to amend our Alaska Constitution deserves a complete and detailed review, which means that all the relevant legislative committees should weigh in on the matter.

This certainly is true with the effort in Juneau to amend our Constitution to remove the ban on spending public money on private schools.

Lawmakers in the Senate, worried their Education Committee might not move the measure along, pulled it from that panel.

Their claim this is more about funding than about education, and therefore the Education Committee should not look at it, has a hollow ring to it.

This sideshow threatens to overshadow the underlying debate.

Senate President Charlie Huggins, Sen. John Coghill, of North Pole, and other leaders erred with their decision to write the Education Committee out of the process of considering Senate Joint Resolution 9.

Senate leaders, to their credit, say that if significant education issues arise with the measure, it may be referred to the Education Committee.

That’s not good enough.

We urge the Senate to do away with this unnecessary distraction by referring the matter to the Education Committee, where a full debate on the educational implications of this measure can take place.

Sen. Gary Stevens, the chairman of the Education Committee, pledged this week to hold hearings on using public money for private schools whether or not the measure is assigned to his committee.

The ban on using public money in private education has a long tradition in Alaska, dating back to 1912 and the creation of the territory of Alaska.

Our Constitution has a simple and clear paragraph on the topic. It requires establishment of a system of public education with schools that are free of “sectarian control.”

The prohibition is contained in this sentence: “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

There have been a variety of court cases throughout the years, with many arguments centered on what is a direct benefit as opposed to an indirect one. The provision of bus services to the Catholic Schools of Fairbanks, for example, has been deemed an indirect benefit and therefore acceptable.

There are those, including some leaders of the Senate, who say the tradition of banning public funds for private schools should end.

To avoid creating either the impression or the reality of a less-than-thorough review, the measure needs to be reviewed by the Education Committee.

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