Our View: Sen. Stevens right to vet school vouchers

Good for Sen. Stevens

Senate pulls constitutional amendment from his panel; he'll hold hearings anyway

Sen. Gary Stevens, acting with considerably more grace than some of his colleagues, pledged this week to put the issue of school vouchers squarely before his Senate Education Committee.

That's good for the senator and good for Alaskans.

While Stevens was on an excused absence out of Juneau last week, his majority colleagues voted to pull Senate Joint Resolution 9, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow public funding for private schools, from his committee, where it had been referred.

Senate President Charlie Huggins said he'd erred in referring the resolution to the Education Committee because it involved a legal issue and if education issues came up in the course of hearings in the Judiciary or Finance committees, the Education Committee would get its shot.

Huh? A constitutional amendment that could be a sea change for Alaska schools doesn't go to the Education Committee? That doesn't pass the red face test.

Neither does the fact that the Senate acted without so much as a word to Stevens; you'd think basic courtesy would require that.

Stevens had the right response. He joked about what happens when you miss a floor session, then made clear that as chairman of the Education Committee, he would hold hearings on the subject of school vouchers whether Huggins saw fit to refer the resolution to his committee or not.

SJR9 is a matter for Stevens' committee, no question. As Stevens pointed out, this constitutional amendment is the "most momentous" education measure he's seen in 13 years as an Alaska lawmaker. Stevens, a professor of history, harkened back to the Alaska Constitutional Convention by lightly describing SJR9 sponsor John Coghill as a wayward son -- Coghill's father was a supporter of no public funds for private schools.

With a sense of humor and a sense of history, Stevens stood his ground. He's done that before, when he refused to buckle to pressure to pass Gov. Sean Parnell's first oil tax bill. He was right then. He's right now.

Stevens made clear that he opposes SJR9 but that he and all Alaskans need more information -- and that he's never held a bill simply because of his own opposition.

Alaskans may well vote on the issue. Before they do, they can look forward to fair and thorough hearings before Stevens' committee.


BOTTOM LINE: Sen. Gary Stevens insists on the obvious -- school vouchers are an education issue.