• Overcast
  • 59°
  • Comment

My Turn: Private school funding will degrade public education

Posted: February 5, 2014 - 1:00am

It is not surprising that Bishop Edward Burns in his Feb. 2 opinion piece supports Senate Joint Resolution 9 to amend our Alaska State Constitution to allow for public funds to support religious and private schools. Such action opens the way for tens of millions of public dollars to flow to parochial schools run by the Catholic Church. As Bishop Burns articulates in his essay, this is an action the Catholic Church has pursued for nearly 150 years. It has repeatedly been found unconstitutional under the United States Constitution, and is explicitly prohibited by the Alaska State Constitution. Why? Because using public funds in this way would destroy public education, one of the great achievements of American democracy. Under our Alaska Constitution, the State of Alaska has the mandate to provide public education open to all children, of all religions, ethnicities, and all economic and social background. Children with disabilities, children learning English as a second language, children from functional and dysfunctional families: all are welcome in our public schools. The schools are overseen by our fellow citizens elected to local school boards, and the operation and budget of the schools is transparent and public. The authors of our Constitution recognized that in order to have such an egalitarian public education system, public funds should not be diverted to religious or private schools.

Bishop Burns would have us believe that the wording in the Alaska Constitution is rooted in prejudicial anti-Catholicism. Actually, there is no bias in the wording of our Constitution. The words that would be struck from Article 7, Section 1, are “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” That means no money for ANY sectarian schools, whether they be Catholic, Episcopal, Judaic, Islamic, Scientology, Wiccan, or Atheist (yes, there is an Atheist Church). It also means no public money to for-profit schools and academies.

It is ironic that the Legislature would consider this action at a time when our public schools are laying off dozens of teachers and stripping activity budgets because of the state’s unwillingness to maintain funding for our public schools that keeps up with increasing costs. For years, there has been no increase in the Education Foundation formula, and the increase proposed by the governor in his budget this year only covers a small part of the ground lost to inflation over those years. As a result, class sizes are rising and educational resources are declining. This has been done under the banner of fiscal responsibility. Yet if the public coffers are opened to support religious and private schools that some parents choose for their children, estimated costs to the state education funds are upwards of $100 million dollars. In all likelihood, that money will be a direct drain on our public schools, resulting in more lay-offs, ballooning class sizes, and a self-fulfilling prophesy of poor performance.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 to amend our constitution to allow funding of religious and private schools is a bad idea that will seriously degrade or destroy the public education system in Alaska.

• Alex Wertheimer is a Juneau resident and father of two children educated by Juneau public schools.

  • Comment

Comments (9) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
joe gil
joe gil 02/05/14 - 08:52 am

how many teachers are getting laid off in anchorage?

Ken Hill
Ken Hill 02/05/14 - 09:03 am
Have you seen what our public

Have you seen what our public school system is putting out?

Art Petersen
Art Petersen 02/08/14 - 06:26 pm
And further against SJR 9

I responded to Bishop Burns My Turn of February 2, but that response was erased because of a link I provided to a free copy of the Alaska State Constitution. So in a somewhat revised form, that comment on this public policy issue is appended to Mr. Wertheimer's My Turn.

Despite my respect and liking for most of the educational objectives presented in the bishop's My Turn, doing as it calls for would further harm Alaska's already damaged and poorly funded public school system. My own son attended a Jesuit grade school and high school in California. The reasons for his attending "Jesuit" were complex, but the high financial costs were deemed in his best interests. That parental choice received no financing from the state.

Quality public education for all is a wonderful catholic (with a small "c") idea that is both noble and necessary, and it continues to function reasonably well, though far from universally great. It keeps society from anarchy through shared understanding of our society and its laws. It extends the potential of equal opportunity for ALL youngsters, not just those of a certain class or faith. In these regards, public education is a pillar of American society and its ideals.

As a matter of clarification of the Bishop's My Turn, there is no Blaine Amendment in the Alaska constitution. A copy of our constitution is available online at no cost because its preparation, with background, was commissioned and paid for by the Alaska Legislature. A copy can be found and downloaded at no cost by "searching" for "ALASKA'S CONSTITUTION: A Citizen's Guide." This publication in "pdf" is by Gordon Harrison, Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency. Fifth Edition. 2012.

The Bishop's My Turn concludes with a long quotation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It reads in part that it is the right and responsibility of parents to serve as "the primary educators of their children. To assist them in this sacred duty, the Church has articulated clearly that children have the universal right to an education in faith..." and that "the state has the fundamental obligation to enable such a right." Many questions stem from this prospect.

If state funds were redirected from public schools to religious schools, shouldn't the state establish standards and evaluations in religious schools that are at least on par with public schools, and shouldn't the state inspect, fund, and supervise bringing schools that receive state funds into compliance with Dept. of Education and Early Childhood Development standards and regulations? Shouldn't any faith-based schools be allowed to receive state funds, including such as those operated by Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and so on? Shouldn't school bus transportation systems be expanded to deliver students to these schools, including private for profit schools?

This is just the beginning of a list of questions that affect equality and financing, so it is appropriate to ask, from where will the funds come when already educational funding lags so far behind public schools in Alaska that they are all either under great duress or in peril?

Thanks to Mr. Wertheimer for his apt and timely commentary on this issue.

Frank Heart
Frank Heart 02/05/14 - 09:21 am
Ken - What has the Vatican

Ken - What has the Vatican been up to?
Public schools have more public scrutiny.

Bill Burk
Bill Burk 02/05/14 - 09:42 am

EXCELLENT commentary Mr. Wertheimer!

Back to Top


  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback