With School Choice Resolution, Legislature Revisits Voucher Question

With a crowd of charter school students in the gallery, the Alaska State House used a school choice resolution as a proxy for a debate on vouchers on Monday. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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The resolution was offered by Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis, and it designates the last week in January as Alaska School Choice Week. The motion specifically recognizes such options as traditional public schools, private schools, charter schools, and home education.

“This truly comes down to a parents right to how they choose to educate their child,” said Gattis.

Resolutions do not create statutes or carry real legislative weight — they’re mostly a way for lawmakers to express their feelings on a matter. But because legislation that would allow public funding to go to private schools has been introduced in the past, the discussion over school choice week took on added significance.

Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat, objected to the resolution because of its connection with National School Choice Week. He said that because of its funders, the movement struck him as less grassroots and more astroturf.

“The National School School Choice Week is actually very corporate. It is very pro-voucher. It’s generally — generally – anti-labor,” said Josephson. “It absolutely has an objective at least partially to privatize education.”

Josephson pointed to financial support from the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice and from the Walton family, who owns the Wal-Mart chain.

Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg had some concerns that a line in the resolution about “providing children with multiple educational options” could be read as the Legislature supporting school vouchers.

“That basically could be read and would be read, if this resolution is read carefully, with this Legislature getting into areas that have significant constitutional questions,” said Gruenberg.

But Majority Leader Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, pushed back on these interpretations of the resolution, arguing that the opposition was reading text that was not there.

“I guess I might have a different copy of the resolution,” said Millett. “I think I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the right one. But nowhere in my resolution, Mr. Speaker, do I see wording of constitutional amendments, or vouchers, or religious schools, or anything of that nature.”

The resolution ultimately passed 21 to 14, with all members of Democratic minority opposing the motion, along with Kodiak Republican Louise Stutes.

During the last Legislature, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican from the Mat-Su, introduced a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state funding to go to private educational institutions. The legislation made it through hearings in the Senate, but did not have enough support to be scheduled for a vote on the floor.

Dunleavy has no plans at this time to reintroduce that amendment.

agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra

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