JUNEAU -

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday began scrutinizing a constitutional amendment geared at expanding school choice in Alaska.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 would allow public education funds to be used for private educational purposes, such as college courses offered by private universities taken by students in high school.

"If we expand those partnerships, or if more students are taking those types of vendor courses, you run the risk of a lawsuit,” said Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla). “It could be from the teacher's union, it could be from the (American Civil Liberties Union), but you do run the risk of a lawsuit.”

Currently, Article VII of the state constitution states that “no money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

Critics of the measure say a legislative research document shows that the Anchorage School District could lose millions of dollars in state aid if the measure passes due to student numbers in the district seeing a decrease.

“What would that look like? Would the money be monitored? Would families get a check? And if so, how much would the check go directly to a private school?” asked Sen. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage)

Gardner, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, was critical of Senate President Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla) decision to pull SJR9 from the Senate Education Committee last year when the bill was first introduced.

The legislation needs 14 yea votes in the Senate for passage due to it being a constitutional amendment.