Voices of Alaska: Alaska should embrace educational pluralism

  • By Tom Fink
  • Tuesday, February 25, 2014 3:32pm
  • Opinion

Government funded and government delivered K-12 education has been the rule in the United States for the last 100 years except for the action of 23 states in the last 20 years. In most of the Western democracies, government has funded public education, but through public and private schools. A child going to K-12 education in Germany, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Italy, Israel, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, and Hong Kong, for example, could go to a private or public school and be funded by the government. Those countries believe in educational pluralism.

Education pluralism is based upon the concept that good education for a child is very important, but there is no agreement on the type of education. Everyone agrees that the ABC’s are necessary, but there are all kinds of approaches such as a progressive or a traditional approach.

Most people agree that the parents are the best ones to select the type of education that their child should have. Most people agree that a parent is responsible to raise a child to be an upstanding adult. Even the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and that on Civil and Political Right in 1976 includes: “to have respect for the liberty of parents . . . to choose for their children’s school other than those established by public authority . . .” The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People of 2007 has similar language.

Pluralism in education is the goal of SJR9/HR1 currently pending in the legislature. It will not be accomplished by the passage of this legislation, but it will allow it to be accomplished in future years.

People are talking about vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, but this resolution does not include any of those subjects. This resolution is a constitutional amendment which strips the Blaine amendment from the Alaska constitution. If the legislature passes it, and the public passes it in the November election, future legislatures can address the question of educating our children and not just appropriate money to the public schools.

There have been 3 annual polls in the last 3 years. Each of the statewide polls showed that a strong majority of the public supports the adoption of this amendment. The passage of this resolution will allow the public to make that decision.

It is interesting that a recently released poll of public school teachers, funded by the NEA, stated that the lack of parental involvement was the biggest detriment to K-12 education. Parents believe they have very little say in the public school environment. They believe that the NEA, whose primary concern is the welfare of teachers, has the most sway. They believe that the education establishment believes it knows best what should be taught and how it should be taught and in what kind of environment.

If the parents had the ability to choose the school their child attended, parents would be heavily involved in the education of their children.

One objection is that only the publicly owned schools are accountable. The argument is really not pertinent to this resolution, but to the extent that it is pertinent to subsequent legislation if this amendment passes, what do they mean by accountability? If parents have a choice of schools, the mere fact that they have the choice makes the schools accountable. The parents won’t send the kids to a school that is not doing a good job. As to the accountability for money, let the public school set the monetary standard as the maximum amount payable for any child to any school.

Demanding that all children go to a public K-12 school is another aspect of the government concept that “one size fits all”, that government knows best.

As was expressed in the article in the national magazine First Things, we are losing our competitive edge with the rest of the world. We are competing, and losing the race, with countries that encourage public financing of a diverse range of private schools. If we want to see a world class education system, we have to get our imaginations out of the rut of the current state-controlled system of public education and envision a different future.

Let’s urge the passage of SJR9/HJR1 and allow the legislature and governor to make decisions on K-12 education on what most benefits children and society and not what most benefits particular schools.

Tom Fink is former mayor of Anchorage and a member of Alaskans for Choice in Education.