Proposed constitutional amendment would degrade quality of education

  • Saturday, March 15, 2014 7:52pm
  • Opinion

State lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that would allow public money for education to be diverted for use in private or religious schools, though the proposal on Wednesday was pulled from the Senate floor and returned to the Rules Committee.

Senate joint resolution 9 would strike a line from the state’s constitution that currently prohibits public funds from being used in such a manner.

It also adds language stating that nothing “shall prevent payment from public funds for the direct educational benefit of students,” as provided by law.

This is not the first time the issue has come up and probably will not be the last, however there are several issues to consider when discussing an amendment to the state’s constitution.

First, there must be a clear and obvious reason to amend the document — one free of the whims of sectarian influence and popular opinion.

In other words, what is the time-tested reason to change the way the state and nation have consistently delivered education?

Second, using public funds to undermine public institutions is illogical and sets a dangerous precedent.

This amendment would allow public funds to be diverted to religious organizations while taking money out of the hands of institutions specifically designed to educate students.

It could hit the rural areas of the state the hardest — the ones that already have significant problems delivering education efficiently and with the same rigor that it is available to schools on the road system.

This proposal comes at a time when school districts are already struggling to make ends meet as the state consistently refuses to increase the per-student funding formula and dangles “one-time funds” in front of school district’s facing budgetary shortfalls.

Eliminating any source of revenue at this point will cause a commiserate reduction in services for Alaska’s public school students. Essentially, taking money out of the pockets of those whose kids attend public school and using it to force a lower quality of education on those kids.

We have to wonder why lawmakers are spending time and effort debating a change to the constitution rather than finding ways to consistently providing adequate funding to the school system that is already in place.

Currently, the State of Alaska must provide education to all children in the state regardless of background, religious beliefs or disability.

While we support the ideal of school choice, the vast majority of students in the state attend public schools and do not deserve to see a reduction in educational quality based upon the whims of a but vocal minority.

Does the small religious school next door have the capability of serving your profoundly disabled child in the same way they could some of their traditional students?

Will that private school provide the same education to low-income students as it will those that can afford the tuition? How about English as a second language students or students that come from families with profound educational and socio-economic disadvantages, who will readily accept them and provide the same quality of service as the public school system?

In all of these cases the state’s public schools have been required to develop systems of care that deliver instruction in the same way regardless of the child’s background.

It is a system designed to provide some measure of equality in a world that is often built on inequality.

It is a mission that private and religious institutions would not be bound to uphold, and public funds should not be used to undermine such an ideal.

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