Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer certified a new education ballot measure Monday, allowing supporters to begin gathering the 28,501 signatures they need to put the idea in front of voters next year.
If enacted, the “Alaska Students’ Educational Bill of Rights” would provide guidelines for state education policy from pre-kindergarten through college, said lead sponsor Amy Jo Meiners, Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year.
While Alaska’s constitution (Article VII, Section 1) requires “a system of public schools open to all children of the state,” it does not say how those schools should be operated. Subsequent Alaska Supreme Court interpretations of the clause required village schools instead of boarding schools and specific funding from the state. Generally, however, the state has ceded education decisions to local school districts.
The four-page “bill of rights” sets goals for the state education system, including “voluntary pre-elementary programs” and “extracurricular activities that enhance skillsets beyond the classroom.”
Speaking by phone, she said the idea is to have a “continuous system (of education) for families” at all ages. Asked whether it was created in response to budget proposals from Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Meiners said, “At least on my part, I can say no. This has been years in the making.”
The measure’s other two sponsors are Alexander Jorgensen and Rabbi Abram Goodstein. An initiative group backing the measure, Alaskans for Excellent Public Education, has already registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The measure does not require specific actions to accomplish the goals it sets, and an analysis from the Alaska Department of Law cautioned that could cause problems.
“We acknowledge that some of the initiative bill’s language may be inconsistent with existing statutes and difficult to implement because of ambiguity in the bill’s language,” wrote senior assistant attorney general Cori Mills in the analysis.
She added that some of the bill’s language could be interpreted to say that the state must take authority from local school districts, but that it could also be interpreted to say that the state must simply recommend actions.
Meiners said she had not seen the Department of Law opinion.
“I’m hoping it goes further than something that’s just aspirational,” she said.
Backers can begin gathering signatures as soon as printed signature books are provided by the Alaska Division of Elections. Meiners said anyone interested in contacting the group can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.