Our View: Voucher bill belongs in education committee

February 15, 2014 

The decision of Senate President Charlie Huggins to keep the question of a constitutional amendment about school funding away from the Senate Education Committee makes no sense.

Huggins' call made no sense when he first made it in 2013, and makes even less now with the issue heating up again.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 would put before Alaska voters a constitutional amendment which would allow the appropriation of public money for private schools. That's forbidden by the Alaska Constitution as written now.

There's a disingenous argument, repeated by Huggins, that this is a legal issue, not an education issue.

Alaskans know better. This proposed constitutional amendment is not some abstract exercise. Passage would open the door to public funds for private schools. Proponents argue that that's all passage would do, and that Alaskans, through their elected representatives, would later decide whether, how, when and under what rules such funding would be provided.

In other words, don't get too excited about the amendment.

Andrew Halcro, former state representative and current Anchorage Chamber of Commerce president, had it right when he said this would be the most profound change in Alaska educational policy since statehood.

Further, he pointed out the obvious -- that the exclusion of the education committee looks like a political calculation meant to keep the amendment on the fast track. That's because Sen. Gary Stevens chairs the education panel, and he's a skeptic, with many questions he wants answered. He'd give SJR 9 a thorough vetting, and raise questions that some proponents say are premature.

We need the vetting and the questions -- before the amendment goes to the voters. The notion that we are merely opening a door, as if we might not walk through it, is bogus. Proponents want that door open so they can gain public funding for private schools. Otherwise the amendment is pointless.

You don't fast track a constitutional amendment, especially one that raises so many questions -- legal, yes, but about the future of our schools and our students too.

Without thorough vetting, this amendment should never reach the Senate floor.

BOTTOM LINE: The notion that public money for private schools isn't an education issue gets an F in common sense.

 

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