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My Turn: School choice would benefit rural education

Posted: February 26, 2014 - 12:04am

Most parents want what’s best for their children. They want them to be successful and receive the education they need to qualify for a well-paying job or occupation.

Education — the gaining or transfer of knowledge — is one of the basic functions of life. It’s why we have a brain connected to a nervous system that feeds it information from our five senses. Much of human activity is intended to affect how education is accomplished. Attentive parents spend much of their time teaching and nurturing their children.

Education is big business. We spend vast amounts of money on schools where educators add to the effort. Education is a major part of the state budget. Education doesn’t start with preschool or end with a college degree or even a Ph.D.

Then there is “the media.”

Ours is called the Information Age. People with a good idea of how to better convey information have founded new schools, started news networks, created the Internet and improved it, invented computers, smartphones, fax machines and other gadgets. With these aids to communication, information is literally flying everywhere at the speed of light.

When it comes to formal education, these innovations have rendered the education model of one teacher at a chalkboard in front of a class of 15 to 40 students expounding on some chapter in a textbook as obsolete as a Princess phone.

Our standings in national test scores witness to the need for improvements in Alaskan education. For example, our fourth-grade reading scores for low-income students were dead last nationally; reading scores for fourth-grade middle/upper-income students were 49th out of 51.

Parental interest in improved ways of schooling has given rise to homeschooling, charter schools and a demand for other educational options.

In many cases, the private sector is stepping up to the plate and providing solutions. In Alaska, there more than 2,200 students are paying tuition to attend the top five (by attendance) private K-12 schools.

The constitution of the state of Alaska needs to be amended to allow the Legislature to provide more families the option of choosing the schools their children attend. A sentence in Article VII of the state constitution, sometimes referred to as the Blaine Amendment, has been interpreted by state courts as prohibiting the Legislature from directly or indirectly funding alternative schools.

Many Alaskans are content with the offerings of their neighborhood public schools. For those who are not satisfied, the Blaine Amendment needs to go. In education, one size doesn’t fit all. There are too many different needs for one giant bureaucracy to effectively meet.

Some have expressed skepticism that “school choice” could work in the Bush. Such a view suggests a lack of vision or a lack of knowledge of the many innovations in distance learning available to anyone, especially those with a computer and access to the Internet. These offerings from the private sector are made to order for the Bush, particularly in villages with too few students to qualify for a school.

Educational achievement in Alaska could take a giant leap forward if parents were free to use their child’s government-provided educational allotment on the school of their choice, whether it be a public or private program.

Passage of SJR9 and HJR1, which are ready to be voted upon by the Legislature, is required to put the question on the 2014 ballot so Alaskan voters can decide this issue. If you haven’t expressed your views on this issue to your state senator and representative, now is the time to do so.

• Jess T. Ellis, DDS, MS, has been an itinerate endodontist practicing in Alaska for 25 years. He has testified before the legislature as an advocate of choice in education.

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Clay Good
Clay Good 02/26/14 - 06:59 am
Rural/Urban Divide

I doubt parents in the villages are going to hold their breath waiting for private schools to cure what ails the educational needs of rural Alaska.

Tim Miller
Tim Miller 02/26/14 - 09:58 am

Looks like the new editor at the Empire prefers flashing the public with tantalizing lady pictures and concealed weapon ads to allowing vibrant public discourse.

Wow, the "become a professional trainer" ad is pretty woohoo.. sexy, the lady sure has a nice trim tummy. Makes me want to start doing some chin-ups & sit-ups 1,2 and 3,4 and 1,2 and 3,4... Do we even have a "Red Robbin" in Juneau?

flashy tantalizing guns and skin ads will not make up for the day the editor at the Empire stopped the open free public debates in Juneau!

Art Petersen
Art Petersen 02/26/14 - 10:20 am
Educational achievement in Alaska

will take a giant leap backward if public funds for public education are allowed to go to private religious and private for profit schools. The Alaska Constitution protects public education from such a harmful giveaway. The majority of Alaska's children and their parents deserve this protection. Obviously they need it. The governor and his supporters in the legislature have underfunded public education for four years, making it suffer. Now they and supporters like the writer call it names and want to damage it even more with SJR9 and HJR1. That "Princess phone" the writer talks about is not in the past but in the future if the governor has his next giveaway. In essence what he's saying is, "This is all you're going to get." Public education needs maintenance and revitalization, not the infliction of even further harm.

Richard Cook
Richard Cook 02/26/14 - 10:51 am
Nice job Jess.

Jess, you did a really good job and brought up some ideas that need to be discussed. I have no problem with putting it on the ballot for people to decide. Those of us who take the time to write the Empire do not necessarily and fairly represent the people. I suppose that is why we have elections.

I have a couple quick questions for you Jess or anyone who might have a fair and reasonable answer.

1. Approximately how many students are NOT having their needs met by our school systems as they are administered now? As measured by our failures to achieve competent graduated seniors.

2. Are any other states now using public funds for private schools at all? Or would we be the first?

3. If public funding for private or public schools ( parent choice ) is in place in some other states, how is it working?
Are the public schools collapsing or suffering as a result of this? Do the parents or students and teachers like it?

4. Is there a difference in results that can be measured in those states?

Tim Miller
Tim Miller 02/26/14 - 12:10 pm
When did it become the

When did it become the governments job to provide more options for parents? I don't have kids and I don't mind contributing to public schools. But I strongly oppose my hard earned tax dollars paying for someone's kid to attend a private school.
If it goes this route (public funds to private schools) then I want a constitutional amendment that gives me my money back. If parents have a choice then those of us that do not have kids should have a choice to.

Our state needs to stop subsidizing people the want to live off the grid.

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