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Public funds, private schools: The best course for Alaska is to keep the two separate

Posted: February 4, 2014 - 12:04am

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Gov. Sean Parnell, during his State of the State speech, urged legislators to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment undoing the Alaska Constitution’s prohibition on the direct use of public funds for private education.

The governor does it under the premise of offering more opportunity to more of Alaska’s children.

And how could anyone disagree with such a good aim?

But disagree people should.

The Alaska Constitution, like other state constitutions across the nation, prohibits the expenditure of public funds on private education.

Article VII, Section 1 reads as follows:

“The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

This view on separation even predates Alaska statehood. The Second Organic Act of 1912, which established Alaska as a territory, said no territorial money could go to “any school not under the exclusive control of the government.”

Hearings are scheduled Monday through Wednesday in the Senate on a resolution to potentially upend all of that. Senate Joint Resolution 9, whose cosponsors include Republican Sens. Pete Kelly of Fairbanks and John Coghill of North Pole, would ask voters to remove the last line of Article VII, Section 1.

SJR 9 would also add some language to Article IX, Section 6, dealing with finance and taxation. It would add that “nothing in this section shall prevent payment from public funds for the direct educational benefit of students as provided by law.”

Gov. Parnell offers as support for his view the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of Ohio’s Pilot Project Scholarship Program. The program provided financial assistance to families in the troubled Cleveland school district so parents could send their children to better schools, either private ones within the Cleveland district’s boundaries or to public schools adjacent to the district.

The justices set up a five-part test, which the governor cited in his speech:

• The education spending must have a valid secular purpose.

• The aid must go to parents and not the schools.

• A broad class of beneficiaries must be covered.

• The education program must be neutral with respect to religion.

• There must be adequate non-religious options.

But who will monitor this? Who will determine whether a parent is spending state money on “a valid secular purpose”? Who will determine whether the education program is “neutral with respect to religion”? Would the state find itself in the business of having to determine these things?

Do we want state government involved in such matters?


Gov. Parnell said in his speech that the issue is not about private schools or religious schools. He said “it is about whether parents should have the freedom to say what school best meets their child’s education needs with their child’s share of public money — their money.”

So that’s it: The issue can be looked in terms of whose money it is. Does the millions in public money being spent on the state’s public education system belong to the public collectively? Or does each individual have a claim to a share of it and therefore the right to decide where to spend it?

If the latter is the case, as the governor argues, why stop with education? Why not let individuals decide how to spend their “share” of state transportation funds or parks funds?

It’s a sticky subject all the way around. And it’s one where separation of public and private is the best course.

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. Shannara
. Shannara 02/04/14 - 08:10 am
"And how could anyone

"And how could anyone disagree with such a good aim?"

Interesting question. Taxes are for public services. Public schools is a public service. Private schools are not. If my kids were in a private school, I still wouldn't mind. That is akin to having a private tutor for my kids. Would I expect the state (my taxes) to pay for that?

Of course not.

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 02/04/14 - 11:47 am

So how will this bill affect athletics? Do they hav eto Join ASAA? Start their own state athletic association? Form super teams?

Bill Burk
Bill Burk 02/04/14 - 01:12 pm
Private Schools

If a parent wants to send their child to a private all is well for them, but they need to pay the expense out of their own pocket! I and others pay taxes for public education, and funding other types of schools would take money away from public education.Public schools DO NOT have enough money as it is!

Richard Cook
Richard Cook 02/04/14 - 08:54 pm
Private Schools

For a great majority of the students and families, the public school system works fine and they seem to thrive. I am very thankful for the fine teachers we had for our family here. I think that our children got an excellent education here in the public system. But it certainly cannot be said that is true for all students. There are many students who are not getting the benefits of a good education. They are either dropping out or physically there but mentally dropping out. Why? I don't know for sure but I would guess it is fair to say that all students are not exactly the same.

So why not give some families a chance for something more? Why not give them a little more hope? Why not give them a chance for a better life? When something clearly is not working satisfactorily, why not try to fix it? Lets give it a try, eh?

I hear a lot of people objecting as if they personally own 100% of the education funds. I do not think that to be true. I would think all those who pay into a system have some ownership in the system. It is not unreasonable or unfair that they might want to allocate the funds in a different way. That process is the political process and that is America. The families who want some funds for private schools are not mean or selfish they just want a better life for their family. Just like you or me.

Frequently I read that parents who want a private school environment should pay for it all themselves. I believe that would work just fine for me and it would work just fine for many people in Alaska. However and this is a big however, not everyone can afford their next meal much less afford a chance for a private school. So are we to force those Alaskans who can least afford it, to pay twice to educate their kids. So if that were true, then the choice of a private education would be only for the "rich" and for the poorer kids it would be tough luck kid.

If a few families would want to use this private school option to educate their kids, I would expect the public schools to benefit considerably. They would have less kids to educate. Less budget pressure on them. The children that would be gone, would be the ones that did not want to be there anyway, and would be the ones that the schools had failed to connect with.

How difficult is it now for teachers to teach students who don't want to be there? Ask a teacher.

Frank Heart
Frank Heart 02/04/14 - 06:33 pm
This will cost more.

This will cost more. Charter schools will need to be maintained, heated and kids will need transportation....
A really really bad idea.

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