Government-funded and government-delivered K-12 education has been the rule in the United States for the last 100 years, except for the action of 23 states in the last 20 years. In most Western democracies, government has funded public education, but through public and private schools. A child in Germany, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Italy, Israel, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland and Hong Kong, for example, could go to a private or public school and be funded by the government. Those countries believe in educational pluralism.
Education pluralism is based upon the concept that good education for a child is very important, but there is no agreement on the type of education. Everyone agrees the ABCs are necessary, but there are all kinds of approaches.
Most people agree that the parents are the best ones to select the type of education for their children. Most agree that a parent is responsible to raise a child to be an upstanding adult. Even the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and that on Civil and Political Rights in 1976 includes: "To have respect for the liberty of parents . . . to choose for their children's school other than those established by public authority . . ." The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People of 2007 has similar language.
Pluralism in education is the goal of Senate Joint Resolution 9 and House Resolution 1, currently pending in the Alaska Legislature. Passage will not achieve the goal but will allow future lawmakers to do so.
People are talking about vouchers, scholarships and tax credits, but this resolution does not include any of those. This resolution is a constitutional amendment that strips the Blaine amendment from the Alaska constitution. If the Legislature passes it, and voters approve in November, future legislatures can address the question of educating our children and not just appropriate money to the public schools.
Three statewide polls in the last three years showed a strong majority supports the adoption of this amendment. Passage of this resolution will allow the public to make that decision.
It is interesting that a recently released poll of public school teachers, funded by the NEA, stated that the lack of parental involvement was the biggest detriment to K-12 education. Parents believe they have very little say in the public school environment. They believe that the NEA, whose primary concern is the welfare of teachers, has the most sway. They believe that the education establishment believes it knows best what should be taught and how it should be taught and in what kind of environment.
If the parents had the ability to choose the school their child attended, parents would be heavily involved in the education of their children.
One objection is that only public schools are accountable. The argument is really not pertinent to this resolution, but to the extent that it is pertinent to subsequent legislation if this amendment passes, what does accountability mean? If parents have a choice of schools, that fact makes the schools accountable. Parents won't send their kids to a school that is not doing a good job. As to accountability for money, let the public school set the monetary standard as the maximum amount payable for any child to any school.
Demanding that all children go to a public K-12 school is another aspect of the government concept that "one size fits all," that government knows best.
As expressed in the national magazine First Things, we are losing our competitive edge with the rest of the world. We are losing the race with countries that encourage public financing of a diverse range of private schools. If we want to see a world-class education system, we have to get our imaginations out of the rut of the current state-controlled system of public education and envision a different future.
Let's urge the passage of SJR9/HJR1 and allow the Legislature and governor to make decisions on K-12 education based on what most benefits children and society, not what most benefits particular schools.
Tom Fink is a former mayor of Anchorage and a longtime advocate of allowing public funding for private schools.