By SHANNYN MOORE for the Anchorage Daily News
If you’ve been in Alaska long, you’ve noticed changes. Oh, I don’t mean buildings toppling into the sea or the permafrost forgetting what “perma” means. We seem less tolerant of each other the easier life here becomes.
But with the news coming out of Juneau, we may be back on a track to tolerance. Some of the current legislative proposals could really expand Alaska’s cultural and religious diversity! It’s exciting!
Republican Rep. Wes Keller has proposed changing Alaska’s Constitution to allow public money to fund private schools. I’m guessing Rep. Keller hasn’t read the notes of Alaska’s constitutional convention delegates’ explaining why private schools should not be funded with public money. (It’s pages 1512 to 1525, if he’d like to take a look.)
Reading the delegates’ comments make crystal clear the intent of Alaska’s founders and the Constitution they wrote.
Delegate Jack Coghill, a Republican, was very specific. “I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state. The problem was brought . . . by Thomas Jefferson quite well when he said, ‘If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in the state of civilization, it expects something that never shall be.’
“Therefore out of his deliberations with James Madison they brought about a form of free public education starting in Virginia, and it has come forward ever since under the intent of having the tax dollar only brought to the public educational system.”
Maybe Sen. John Coghill should read his father’s words before his scheduled hearing on “school choice” next week. Sen. Coghill seems to be the apple that fell a long way from the statesman tree.
The notion of “school choice” isn’t some brainstorm from Rep. Keller or his like-minded buddies in Juneau. This is another bit of robo-legislating brought to us by the Koch-brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council.
Their agenda has been to cut funding for public schools, increase class sizes, blame the teachers for being greedy unionists, and then say, “Look! It isn’t working!”
Well, no kidding.
Our governor is in lockstep with the ALEC program. After telling us in his state of the state address how education is a priority, he dropped a $25 million budget cut on the Anchorage School District.
OK, we know it takes a while for trends to make it to Alaska. (Seriously, I saw a guy wearing a Members Only jacket just last night!) Right now Alaska’s constitution is all that stands between our education funds and Jerry Prevo’s pockets.
Last year in Florida, a publicly funded private school was shut down for failing to have a cafeteria, library or computers for 180 kids. The principal was paid an annual salary of $305,000, while the rest of the school expenditures, including all of the teachers, was $366,000. When the state intervened, it found 75 percent of the kids couldn’t pass exams. The “severance pay” the principal received for her failed school? An additional $519,000.
The kids are back in underfunded public schools.
“Chosen” schools in Michigan had to close their doors when the teachers refused to teach. They had shown up for work for months without pay, or paychecks that bounced.
Those kids, halfway through the year, also returned to underfunded public schools.
If Rep. Keller were to succeed in getting his madrasa amendment into the Alaska Constitution, religious communities from all over the country could look to Alaska as a saving grace. Just think of it. Amish buggies in the Valley. Separate classrooms for Muslim boys and girls. PE credits for snake handling. A Hogwarts for the Wiccans in Nenana!
How could we say, “Not with our public funds!” That would be discrimination.