More than two weeks after being introduced, Senate Joint Resolution 9 is still stirring up feelings about school choice in Juneau. SJR 9 calls for a constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot so voters can decide if some public school funds can be used in private schools.
Article 7, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution says "No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution."
"Am I going to advocate for vouchers that give money directly to religious schools? No," said Senator Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla). "Am I going to advocate for public monies to go directly to private outfits? No. Am I going to advocate for the expansion of the public school system? Yes."
Dunleavy, a former Mat-Su Borough President, sponsored SJR 9, and says it's not a voucher bill.
He's introducing the bill because he's concerned some school districts may already be in violation of the state constitution by employing private contractors to provide tutoring or other special education services.
"The Department of Education early development contracting with private pre-schools or pre-schools that are non-profits, but not part of our public school system, the list goes on and on," adds Dunleavy.
Dunleavy is requesting a list of vendors from school districts on the types of vendors that provide outside educational services. He says that's the main reason he's proposing this amendment, but at least one of Dunleavy's colleagues on the Senate Education Committee believes this legislation opens the door for vouchers.
"I don't think there are very many people in the legislature who don't already know how they feel and believe about public financing of schools, of private schools, the issue of a constitutional amendment," said Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage)
The committee heard testimony from experts on both sides of the voucher issue Friday, even though SJR 9 is not being debated before that committee. More testimony on vouchers is expected in the near future.
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