By Adam Pinsker
Channel 2 News
5:46 PM AKST, February 19, 2013
When Alaska’s constitutional convention assembled more than 50 years ago, framers were explicit in barring the use of public money for the direct benefit of private institutions.
Senator Mike Dunleavy wants to give the voters a chance to change that, through Senate Joint Resolution 9, which if passed would put that question on the ballot in 2014.
"I'm fully aware that there is a lot of folks out there that are interested in vouchers for K-12, some folks are interested in supporting private schools,” said Dunleavy (R-Wasilla). “ I get that, but for me the journey started with trying to help K-12 public school students use a university to enhance their education."
Dunleavy is a former educator and was the Mat-Su School Board President before getting elected to the senate last fall.
He says under the current system, K-12 students can't use public dollars to finance their education at private institutions of higher learning. Changes to the constitution would give them the flexibility to do so.
"I think it's close to 27 or 30 states they have some form of scholarships for K-12 students, if you look at countless European countries, South American countries, they too have scholarships, and multiple methods to educate their children."
Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) says the resolution will open the floodgates to school vouchers in Alaska. A discussion on school choice in the legislature can only happen if the resolution passes the legislature and voters approve it through ballot initiative.
"It's a self-inflicted wound to this majority, to send the biggest education issue in the last 50 years, since the constitutional convention, and take away the referral to the education committee; it's an insult to the public."
Ellis is referring to Senate President Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla) decision to allow the bill to be heard only by the Judiciary and Finance Committees.
Senate Education Chairman Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) said on the Senate Floor Tuesday, he would still hold hearings on vouchers and school choice, even without a bill in front of his committee.
"It's a total cop out, to just say, hey the legislature doesn't really have much of a role in this, we don't really need to take it that seriously because it will go to the ballot box, and the people will decide,” adds Ellis. “We'll, a lot of what happens at the ballot box depends on who spends what amount of money."
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