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Anchorage School Board candidates: Should vouchers be used to send kids to private schools?

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: March 22
  • Published March 20

Alaska Dispatch News asked candidates for the April 4 election to the Anchorage Assembly and Anchorage School Board to answer a series of questions on issues facing those bodies. We're publishing their responses daily. The answers were fact-checked when facts were cited and edited for length, spelling, grammar and writing style.

Question: What is your own experience with public education? Should Alaskans receive vouchers or some other public subsidy to send their children to private schools? 

Seat C

James Smallwood

James Smallwood is a candidate for School Board in the April 2017 election. (Candidate photo)

I grew up here in East Anchorage and am a product of the public-school system. I have a third grader in our neighborhood public school and my youngest will be attending school next year. I do not support voucher programs. Anchorage schools provide unique options for parents to have their children attend our publicly funded, often lottery-based, charter schools, elementary or secondary alternative schools or a school featuring a world language program — all of which I support.

Dave Donley

Dave Donley is a candidate for Anchorage School Board in the April 2017 election. (Candidate photo)

Twins in third grade; son recent Service High School graduate; born and raised in Anchorage; Dimond High School graduate; American Legion School Award; ASD Social Studies Curriculum Committee; Alaska Bar Law Related Education Committee; school debate judge; instructor at Laborers' Training School; state senator/ 16-year Anchorage legislator; sponsor School Bus Safety Act; sponsor Infant Care Curriculum; authored numerous pro-education laws; chair, Senate Finance Education Subcommittee; three-time co-chair, Anchorage Caucus; co-chair, Senate Finance Committee; PTA member, state delegate; noon-duty aide, crossing guard; substitute teacher training; Northern Lights ABC School Advisory Board; Alaska Community Service medal.

The Alaska Constitution prohibits state funds funding private schools.

Alisha Hilde

Alisha Hilde is a candidate for school board in the April 2017 election.(Candidate photo)

My mom worked three jobs to keep us in a great school district because she knew the value of a high quality education. I taught public school to low-income students in Texas, and my oldest child is in kindergarten in ASD. Public education is a public good, like roads and police. We all benefit from our investment whether you have children or not. But, we need to be responsive to parents. We need to build on our strengths, identify best practices at each of our schools, and give our neighborhood schools more opportunities for flexibility, accountability and parental involvement.

Tasha Hotch

Tasha Hotch is a candidate for school board in the April 2017 election. (Candidate photo)

I received a public school education in Alaska and was very pleased. My experience at Klukwan Elementary gave me the same teacher for several grades and my class size was small. The whole community was engaged with what was happening with our students and their education.

Christopher Jamison

Did not respond to questions.

Seat D

Albert Berke

Albert Berke is a candidate for School Board in the April 2017 election. (Candidate photo)

I graduated from the New York School for the Deaf, attended Gallaudet College, now a university, and other schools. I have watched teachers' strikes in Alaska. I have seen and heard of layoffs and cuts that hurt the school system. We should indeed give support to all types of education be it public, private, charter or home-schooling. They are all worthy of giving education so all should be given attention and support with different means of vouchers and subsidies that does not touch the Anchorage School District budget. Other means of budgets or subsidies should be found to support alternative schooling. Other vouchers and subsidies should be shared by all forms of educational systems, potentially spreading the costs and expenses.

Andy Holleman

Andy Holleman is a 25-year Alaskan in his 16th year of teaching, and has been politically active on education issues. (Candidate photo)

Education has been my career and life focus for over 20 years. My son attended ASD from grades 1 to 12, in an alternative school, in an optional program in a neighborhood school and in an ASD charter school. I've touched a lot of areas as a parent and in my work with AEA members, as well as taught and tutored. Vouchers simply will not work for much of the state, and in Anchorage would create a lot of segregation as churches and socioeconomic groups split off into their own schools. We should not fund this with public money.

Kay Schuster

Kay Schuster is a candidate for school board in April 2017. (Candidate photo)

The ASD is in a unique position to offer "schools within schools" optional programs: Japanese, French, Russian, Spanish, German, ABC, and Montessori that fill the "needs-gap" for private schools. Charter and optional programs are in great demand, but the process for establishment should be streamlined to grow the list of student participants. School choice can be funded through the already existent "school subsidies" of around $16,000+ the state spends per student to be allocated for private voucher use. The school unions fight vehemently against that option at every turn, making it nearly impossible to achieve.

Tomorrow: what can be done to close the achievement gaps? 

Editor's Note: Candidate Kay Schuster's responses to this question and to a question about achievement gaps were inadvertently switched.

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