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Alaska Editorial: Constitutional amendment is not good for the people

Posted: March 11, 2013 - 12:00am

This editorial first appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

One of the sponsors of legislation that would have Alaskans to vote to amend the state constitution to allow public funds to go directly to private or religious schools insists that funding should not be part of the current debate.

If passed by a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate, the legislation would put a constitutional amendment before Alaska voters to change two parts of the constitution. It would remove language that prohibits public funds being paid directly to private of religious schools. And it would add language the requirement that public money only be spent for a public purpose by stating that requirement would not prevent funds from being used for the “direct educational benefit of students.”

In some respects, we agree with Rep. Wes Keller, a Wasilla Republican. Certainly, a discussion of a school voucher program, which passage of a constitutional amendment would allow, is relevant to the debate.

But before we even get to that discussion, we need to take a step back and understand the profound significance of what is being proposed. The suggestion that the constitution be amended to allow public funds to be allocated to private or religious institutions runs counter to the bedrock principles of American democracy.

Rep. Keller, it seems, should know this — he’s also pushing legislation to require that Alaska public schools teach “American Constitutionalism.”

Providing public funds to private institutions raises numerous legal and ethical questions. How does the public track the way that money is spent? If a private school accepts public money, can it continue to be exclusive in the students it admits? What if a private institution receiving public funds teaches values that run counter to anti-discrimination laws, or teaches a curriculum that does not meet current standards?

Beyond political philosophy and education policy, the proposed constitutional amendment would set up a system that would benefit a small number of Alaskans, arguably to the detriment of the vast majority. That in and of itself should be enough for this legislation to be rejected.

It hardly sounds like government “instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole,” as set forth in the Alaska Constitution’s Declaration of Rights.

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