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Democrats' Constituents' Correspondence on Education

Senators showing support for Alaska Schools
 

I was at the HJR1 hearing this morning and was cut off after one minute before being able to say ANYTHING.  I had never testified before and was expecting to get three minutes.  No explanation was given as to why I was cut off when the people before and after me were both given longer periods of time.  I took two hours of leave without pay for that experience.  I can tell you I left angry at this public process.

It makes me think that the two places I did mention in my introduction (Glennallen and Port Alsworth) may have alerted people to what was coming.

Here’s what I wanted to say and I would really appreciate it getting consideration.  I was also told I would be able to submit written testimony this evening but apparently that is not the case as the bill has already moved out of committee.  But I must say it anyway.  While I agree with many of the things I have heard in opposition to this bill I have not heard anyone, really, speak about the impact on small remote communities, their public schools, and the children in them.  I know these children and families and I must speak up.

I have been hearing that the State is saying that this bill would have no financial impact.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Two examples of not only fiscal harm but probably real educational harm are easily identifiable.  The Copper River School District has had three of seven schools close in the last few years.  The State built a brand new elementary and Jr/Sr High School in Glennallen in the past few years.  This is a very religious community.  Should students be drawn out of the school by a new religious school option in Glennallen the per student cost of education in Glennallen would invariably go up.  You still need teachers, heat, maintenance and everything that goes with a school whether you have 200 students or 100 but the cost per student is quite different and the quality of education offered decreases with decreasing resources.  The second example I think is even more potent, probable, and harmful.  In Port Alsworth 52 of the 54 students in the school attend the Non-denominational Christian Church supported by Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse.  The State is building a brand new school in Port Alsworth in the summer of 2014 (breaking ground in just a few months).  This community would have no problem organizing and adding religious money to the state vouchers brought in by those 52 students.  They even have a large building in town that could strategically house a school for long enough for the public school population to drop to two, the district to close the school, and for the new school to negotiate a lease or purchase of the brand new, but now closed, school.  Where would those last two students go?  Their school would be gone.  Their ability to engage in the community would be gone.  This truly would be the State of Alaska building a religious school a building, funding the school, and eliminating a school option for the non-church members.  This may sound far-fetched to someone from outside but it really isn’t.  I’ve lived in this community for years, sent my kids to the school and have fully engaged with my neighbors.  These are nice people and the public school is critical to ensuring quality education’s for ALL the community’s children. This is the reality of small community.  There simply isn’t enough for "choice."  There’s only enough for ONE when the numbers are low.  We need to all stay in it together and make it the absolute best we can for everyone.

To say that studies that have looked at public money funding private schools in the lower-48 don’t cause harm:  1 I don’t think that’s true.  I think it has caused harm.  But 2. more importantly, Alaska ISN’T the lower-48.  There are some real and significant differences.  One of them is tiny fly in only communities with low populations, differential financial ability, and a dicotomy of beliefs.  There isn’t room for choice in these situations.  Only one school is going to survive.  Public schools can provide great educations to all leaving parents in charge of religion.  Religious schools do not provide for all.  So in these situations 1. students will be left w/o any option.  and 2. public schools will be left w/o sufficient funds (or will COST THE STATE MORE).  So don’t pretend there’s no impact.  We know better than that.

I spent 8 years living in Gakona on the Copper River, the past four years in Port Alsworth and now split my time between the Turnagain neighborhood in Anchorage (School Year) and Port Alsworth (Summer). In my view it is critical that the state focus on providing great educations to everyone.  And, one of the side benefits to keeping the focus there is ensuring that these small communities have a common place where everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs can come together.  The public schools are where I have forged real and meaningful relationships with my neighbors whose friendship I value as we find common ground and work towards a brighter future for all of our children.  This amendment could very well destroy that, leave the state on the hook for large expenses in small communities, and leave some children without a public school.

Megan Richotte
Parent

This letter comes as a plea for our children’s future, for our future.   I write as a mother first and then as a teacher of special needs students for thirty-nine years.  I am a strong Christian who believes that to be a strong Christian one needs to be able to withstand the temptations of the world.  I do not believe that public funds should be used to support private schools.  Public funds belong with public schools.  Up to this point in my live, I have not been a political person but this issue changes that fact.

It is amazing the choices available through the public schools today.  These choices range from traditional, charter or magnet all the way to home schools, all under the umbrella of public schools.  Why do taxpayers need to pay for vouchers for private schools when so many choices already exist within the public school system?  For the last four years, the current state administration has demonstrated its lack of care for education while holding the children to more and more stringent testing requirements.  

Research supports the need for smaller class size, especially in the lower grades.  Why is Governor Parnell insistent in his refusal to support the children of this state?  How can our legislators in good conscience support his decisions?  I have been told that Governor Parnell does not believe that this issue will be reflected at the voting poles.  This thinking appalls me as a mother, teacher, and human being.  What could possibly be more important than our children.  I do vote and am encouraging other to do likewise.  Yesterday, I was talking to a local businessman about the future for his 4 year-old son’s education.  He was so proud that his son was already learning to read. He was enraged when he learned about Governor Parnell’s proposal for giving a mere pittance for his son’s educational needs. He is an immigrant from Viet Nam.  When I asked if he voted, he said no.  He said that he would register and vote for his son.  There were eight other American immigrants in that establishment whom I hope will follow this man’s lead.  I will continue to encourage them to do so.

In order to offer quality education, funds must be forthcoming to finance smaller classes with quality teachers.  Don’t our children deserve a cost of learning raise.  The schools have faced this issue for the last four years resulting in program cuts.  These cuts usually come in the areas of the arts where for many students, it is the one area they love and can be successful.  Now, the cuts will not only affect the extracurricular but the bare bones of education. 

I trust that you will exercise your influence to help others see the plight our education systems face.  Thank you for your concern and positive response to this most urgent matter. Sincerely,

Rachel Galbraith
Fairbanks

I am not in favor of state education funds going to private schools, nor an amendment to the state constitution to allow such.
I am also not in favor of the state spending billions to subsidize building of the gas pipeline. We shouldn’t own an equity stake. If there is truly money to be made, the oil companies wouldn’t want to share it with us. Taking our tax royalties in gas doesn’t seem to be a good idea, either. I doubt there is the market for LNG that is being bantered about. This is another boondoggle that will benefit private enterprise at the expense of the taxpayers.

Jim White
Kenai

Please oppose SJR9, the resolution to allow public funding to be used for private schools.  As a voter in your district, I urge you to help end this initiative without wasting more public time and money on hearings or on a Constitutional referendum.
SJR9 proposes an enormous change in the foundations of democracy in Alaska.  Article VIII, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution guarantees that public schools shall be free from sectarian control.  SJR9 would allow public funding of school that are under sectarian control, a direct conflict with separation of church and state.  It is an affront to me as an American and as an Alaskan, as well as to my religious beliefs.
Private schools are a move to RE-segregate Alaska.  Few private schools reflect the economic, religious, or economic diversity in Alaska.  In contrast, our public schools are a model of what our state must be – a place where all can learn to cooperatively, constructively contribute to our society and economy.

My daughter went to East High, Alaska’s largest high school.  Not only did East prepare her well for college, it also prepared her to live in a diverse world.  East High has a stunning range of diversity in its overall student population, and the same diversity on the honor roll – a huge accomplishment and gift to our state.  SJR9 weakens funding for our successful public schools at a time when budgets are already tight.
Please oppose SJR9.
Thank you,

Marty Freeman
Anchorage

We are all your constituents: parents, students, teachers,  administrators, and business leaders who either reside or educate our children in your district. We are Democrats and Republicans. We are Independents. We are from all your neighborhoods.

We are Native, Caucasian, African and Asian – and everything in between. We are Alaskans. And we need your help.

There are 27 public charter schools throughout the entire State of Alaska representing roughly 5,000 students or 5% of the total student population. Each public charter school received approval and opened in a local school district to meet a very specific need in the public school system. For instance, the Alaska Native Charter School honors the cultures, traditions, and languages of Alaska Natives; Rilke
Schule German School of Arts and Sciences is a German Immersion Charter School which, as its name reflects, immerses students in that foreign language and culture; Eagle Academy in Eagle River offers an academically challenging program requiring mastery of performance standards with an emphasis on Math and Language Arts; Soldotna Montessori Charter School prepares students to become citizens with a global perspective and to enrich their academics and social awareness within a Montessori environment; and Watershed Charter School in Fairbanks combines stimulating classroom science lessons with outdoor explorations and studies with direct connection to its community. There are more.

In each case, the demand is there to provide more public school choice. The wait lists are long and the parents are determined to gain entrance into these public schools. As one example, our school, Aquarian Charter School, in Anchorage, has a wait list of roughly 800 students for 380 total slots.

 And yet while the state’s charter schools are so successful, we are struggling to pay our bills and to grow our programs to meet the parental demand. The funding of Alaska’s charter schools is inequitable compared to area neighborhood schools. In fact, the  state’s charter schools receive a fraction of the neighborhood school   funding. As it stands, unless you are a Title 1 school or receive outside funding assistance, charter schools receive the Base Student Allocation (adjusted for enrollment factors) and that is it. Federal  dollars, additional state monies, and nearly all local tax dollars are withheld from charter schools. For instance, when the state granted  the state’s schools additional dollars to offset energy costs, Anchorage’s charter schools did not receive a dime despite paying their own utilities.

In addition to roughly half the funding, the state’s charter schools, at least in Anchorage, also carry additional funding burdens, including rent, maintenance, utilities, principal and teachers’
salaries and benefits, textbooks, etc. (In some cases, charter schools pay rent for schools the district already owns and which were once condemned and vacated.) Finally, charter schools must pay a state-mandated indirect cost back to the district; this year that figure will be nearly 5%. There is no way for our charter schools to expand as the rent alone eats away at any opportunity to save. (Rent equals tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. The actual amount varies within districts and even schools.)

We are putting forward the following five requests or minor changes to Alaska’s charter school system:
    (1) appropriations of dollars to existing capital line items for equitable charter school funding,
including a per pupil facilities allowance,
    (2) re-instatement of a competitive state-funded grant program for facilities,
    (3) legislating changes requiring funding to follow the  student through the local school districts so that students receive every single dollar they deserve from the federal, state and local governments,
    (4) a reasonable state-mandated cap on the indirect fees  paid to the local school districts, and
    (5) an exemption for properties housing public charters schools from local property taxes.

Essentially we ask that the funds generated by charters school students follow the students to the charter school they attend, and we  ask that relief provided to traditional schools also be received by charter schools. We are not asking for more than our counterparts receive. We are simply asking for our equitable share.

We do not wish to be on our own and operating outside of the local school district purview. We want union teachers because recruiting a talented pool of educators is tough in Alaska. We like the rigorous
standards our local districts mandate versus the more lax standards of the state. And we appreciate the diversity of an organically grown school rather than a state-driven education system. But as we move
forward in the funding discussion, we must support the current choice we have in education and strive to grow this successful program before we add additional programs. We are advocating for the strengthening of the public school choice options you have so wisely instituted and supported through state law.

If there is one thing which unites the state’s charter schools it is the inequity in funding. That differentiation exists school to school and district to district. Let’s unite around education and find common ground in equitably funding the choice we have right now in our school districts.

 We invite you to join us to discuss the issue when you return to your districts. Budgetary constraints prevent us from traveling to Juneau. We know you understand. Thank you for your time and support. Sincerely,

Jackie Morrison-Price and
Parents of Aquarian Charter School
Anchorage

I urge you to stand with your constituents and reject the American Legislative Exchange Council’s education-privatization agenda.

ALEC has put their corporate donors before our students by:

– Diverting public tax dollars to fund private schools and for-profit online education providers
– Eroding our schools’ quality curriculum
– Attacking teachers and undermining their professional voice
– Defunding the public services on which our neediest students depend.

The recent release of ALEC internal meeting documents confirms that this agenda is advanced by corporations and adopted behind closed doors. As such, ALEC has put their corporate donors before our democracy as well.

Our students and our schools deserve better. If the United States is to remain the most prosperous and powerful country, it needs an education system that works for its citizens—not corporations.

Please join me in standing up for public education that works for all. Join me in standing up to ALEC’s education-privatization agenda.

Nancy Bish
Anchorage

Thank you very much for supporting public schools and voting against any bills that take money away from public schools and gives it to private and/or religious schools.

Have an enjoyable weekend.

Bob McCard
Kasilof

 Hello and thank you for your time and service,

My name is Kimmer Ball and I am a Pre K teacher for the Anchorage School District at Fairview Elementary, a Title 1 school. I am writing as a private individual with experience teaching both affluent and now impoverished preschoolers and their families for the past 20 years. 

I believe poverty is the issue at hand and any supports affluent citizens can provide to impoverished citizens, especially families, is essential to making changes overall. I have experienced first hand the differences in students with normal to enhanced experiences and those with deficient to traumatized experiences, coming into the school environment. There are significant challenges to social, emotional, language and vocabulary competencies in the latter. Problem solving and cognitive skills follow in regards to priorities and lastly I look to teaching ABC’s and 123’s. As a good teacher I embed literacy and math everyday, every moment but they are not the outcomes I am looking for.

I have an interest in the way education is moving with the hope that the profound need for an emphasis on communication-language, investigation-play, and life-relative skills is essential. Students will learn the ABC’s and 123’s in an inspired environment with resources that allow them to flourish naturally and with support. I have attached articles about poverty and education, kindergarten readiness, Pre K successes, etc. to support, of course, Pre K education and also a different type of early childhood education.

Thank you again for your time and know that you are welcome in my classroom anytime! Sincerely,

Kimmer (Kimberly) Ball
Anchorage

We are voters, concerned parents, community volunteers and education supporters.  We are particularly concerned with the student allocated BSA.  Although the governor has promised increases, we feel that they are not enough.  With the last few years, the BSA has been ‘held hostage’ and has remained at a flat rate, all the while operating costs have been on the rise (teacher’s wages and benefits, general supplies, security contracts, etc. etc. etc.). 

Not only do we want you to fight for real, meaningful increase in the BSA, we also want it not to be set at a flat rate.  Please consider setting it with an annual-general increase that matches inflation rates.  Many conservative states do this, like Texas and Illinois!   We may not be fully educated on this issue, but there is one thing we know, flat rates just mean that you are “for” a general “cut in education funding” every year that the rate remains constant.  We’re appalled that this has not been the norm in Alaska
Also, our children attend Rilke Schule German Schule which is a charter school in Anchorage.  We are concerned (and under the strong impression) that charter schools are NOT given equal funding as regular public schools are, even if we ARE part of the public school system.  We want you to consider EQUAL funding for public schools and public charter schools.   However, on this same topic, we are NOT in agreement that private schools should receive a BSA like public schools.  Private school teachers and administration are not held to the same standards that our public schools are at.   

S. and O. P.
Anchorage

I wore my Captain Zero T shirt at the governor’s pick neck in Palmer last summer.  The gov. staff said that I spelled Zorro wrong.  I said, well with all of your cut backs in education, I did the best I could.

John Suter
Chugiak

Public dollars should not be diverted away from public schools to pay for unaccountable private and for-profit religious and secular schools. This is ludicrous. Step up and don’t let private interests sway you. Taking money away from our public schools in Alaska is wrong. We need strong schools and diverting monies from the public school system reduces the strength of them. Our children will suffer, not to mention the cost increase at a time where we all need to tighten the belts without making the schools suffer.

Public dollars should not be diverted away from public schools to pay for unaccountable private and for-profit religious and secular schools. This is ludicrous. Step up and don’t let private interests sway you. Taking money away from our public schools in Alaska is wrong. The argument for it seems to be that it will provide competition. Really? Our public schools in Alaska continue to strive to be the best and look for ways to improve our children’s learning experience.  Competing with private schools will in no way encourage the school districts to be better, they are already striving to do that. We need strong schools and diverting monies from the public school system reduces the strength of them. Our children will suffer, not to mention the cost increase at a time where we all need to tighten the belts without making the schools suffer.

I had two children go through the public school systems and I would not trade the education they received for anything. I support private schools. I encourage parents to select what they deem best for their children. There are stellar public schools their children can go to but they choose to send their children to a private school. That is their right. I applaud them for their decisions, however, it should not be paid with public dollars. Thanks,

J.H.
Anchorage

I am writing to ask you to oppose SJR 9.  I believe that we have an excellent constitution and do not support changing it at this time.  I served four terms on the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board and supported the development of 4 public charter schools and one magnet

school.  I recognize the importance of private schools to many families, but do not believe that public funds should be used for private schools, which set their own curricula, standards and salaries for teachers, with no public process or review.

I support public school choice, despite the fact that often only children whose parents are able to provide transportation  are able to attend those schools.  The same is true for most private schools.

The Alaska Constitution states that "all government……….is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole", and Article 7 clearly defines a fair use of public funds for public education.   I do not support a change that would potentially siphon funds needed for public education to educational "businesses" or religious institutions.  I also do not support a public vote on the complicated issue of school funding.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  Thank you.

Jennifer Schmidt
Fairbanks

I am a working mother, married to a public school teacher, super voter, educated in the Anchorage School District, and a concerned citizen.  I make my home in Spenard (Anchorage) and have one son attending kindergarten at Aquarian Charter School (my daughter is 2 and attends pre-school at Puffin Heights Montessori School.)

While I have a child attending a charter school program, I would like to express my support for funding ALL public schools in our State.  I am concerned by proposals being put forward that would possibly reallocate funding to charter schools and away from neighborhood schools. I think all schools need a bigger "piece of the pie" and not just charter schools (I also think we need a bigger pie).  I am very happy with Aquarian Charter School, but feel that we should look for solutions that benefit the entirety of our educational system.  Much of the data shows, that specialty schools draw a population of families that are more affluent, have the luxury to be more engaged in their children’s educational experience, and whose children will have better educational outcomes because of this.  I worry that charter schools and other specialty schools become reservoirs of privilege. In fact, if we really support school choice we would offer transportation to students to go to whichever school they want within their school district.  I see this as a major barrier to some families who would perhaps like their children to attend a charter school or specialty school (but this is another issue for another time.)

An issue you could tackle with HR 278 is to, at a minimum, raise the BSA to keep up with inflation.  If you are interested in being truly visionary and investing in our future leaders, workforce, Alaskans – I would suggest you raise the BSA beyond inflation proofing and really make an investment in Alaska’s kids.

I strongly believe that every child in Alaska deserves the opportunity to attend a great, well-funded public school. You can make certain this is a reality by inflation-proofing the BSA!

Thank you in advance for your hard work on this issue. I appreciate your consideration of my views.  I would like this e-mail recorded as testimony on HR278. Kind Regards,

Tanya Iden
Anchorage

I would like to say I oppose SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 9 Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to state aid for education. As a parent of two children in the public school system in Alaska, I feel this resolution, if passed, would significantly reduce the efficacy of public schools. In addition, I fully support the continued separation of church and state.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Stephanie Buss,
Juneau

I am writing to strongly oppose any efforts to give money to private schools in Alaska.  I am opposed to changing the Alaska Constitution for this reason, and I appreciate your efforts on the behalf of public schools.  Here is why I am opposing the voucher program.

First, we are facing an estimated $2 BILLION dollar deficit this year alone.  Why you are proposing to give money away in this current fiscal reality is a mystery.  Nobody even mentions a price tag, which cannot be good news.  We cannot pay for the schools we already have!

Second, school is not a capitalist system that might be improved by competition or “choice.”  This is because no child can be rejected from public schools.  We teach every child that comes.  Some of them are difficult to teach, and yet, they will not be turned away.

“Vouchers” would isolate poor and difficult children into apartheid schools.   Encouraging people to leave public schools simply makes them worse for the students who remain.  Notice that Anchorage already has school choice (charters, optional programs), and it is no accident that the “best” schools also have the lowest rates of economically disadvantaged students.  (For example, Chugach Optional:  4% economically disadvantaged while the district rate is 46%)  Middle and upper class parents know how to navigate the system, and they can provide transportation.  These schools are only “the best” because of who attends them, not because they have a secret formula for success.

What they are proposing will take us back to the days of Plessy v. Ferguson.  I support fully-funded, diverse public schools governed by the public and accountable to the public. Keep fighting. Sincerely,

Emily Becker
Anchorage

As a Fairbanks resident and informed voter I am appalled and outraged over the proposals for educational funding coming from the governor and our legislators in Juneau. 

Our state’s future success and prosperity lies in having a well educated populace. Misguided attempts at school reform that strip schools of the funding necessary to properly provide education are a recipe for disaster. Worse, ultra conservative agendas that seek to give public money to private schools at the expense of properly funding public schools are abhorrent.

 We have great public schools we need to keep them strong. I urge you to stand in opposition to those politicians in our state who refuse to do their duty of helping improve schools through increased funding to public education. Sincerely,

Bob Hadaway
Fairbanks

My name is Tina Bernoski and I wanted to thank you personally for the hard work you have been doing in regards to education and our kids.  Although you are not my direct representatives, I trust wholeheartedly  the decisions that every representative makes effects all Alaskans…  on that note I wanted to comment on the hard work you all have put in on behalf of our kids.  The actions you have chosen to take,  brings me to believe that each of you embodies what all representatives should be…. an advocate for their state and their future; which means our children and their future success.

My kids are 7 years old and I am saddened that they may not have the same great education that I was afforded due to the flat funding in the Anchorage School District.  Many teachers and counselors will be laid off, these people have direct impacts in the lives of many and the loss will be long lasting. I know you are working hard to increase the BSA and inflation proof it; which is what Alaska’s future needs.  I thank you, and I thank you for acknowledging that we do NOT want vouchers in our state. If we truly want to keep "Alaska strong" then we need to mean it and fully fund public education.

I truly appreciate all of you and just wanted you to know that many of us are fighting hard alongside you, because we believe our kids are worth it!

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, " a hero is no braver that an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. " Thank you for being there for our kids five minutes longer! Sincerely,

Tina Bernoski
Anchorage

I have been listening to the Senate Finance Committee discussion of SJR9 this morning and went back a year to hear Diane Ravitch speak to the Education Committee. What good work you are doing!

Last night I attended the LIO hearing in Anchorage, but it went on so long that I left before I could testify. Now I’m writing to senators and representatives from Finance and Education. I’m a big fan of Ravitch and have been pleased to see all the good Compass pieces and Letters to the Editor coming out of SJR9. I’ve simply summarized Ravitch’s recommendations and should have quoted her, but I decided that many legislators simply won’t take time to read the book. Maybe this is a step…….

 Public education is a basic public responsibility. We must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative – that our schools are failing – to privatize it.

 The facts show otherwise.
   1. Test scores: highest in US history for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians.
   2. Graduation rates: highest in US history for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians
   3. Dropout rates: lowest in US history for whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians

I urge you to read for yourself Diane Ravitch’s book The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools in which she makes these assertions. The book is easy to read and corrects the false narrative about our public schools. Ravitch provides research, charts, and detailed notes to support these. She is a thorough and careful scholar of American education who has served as Assistant Secretary of Education for George H.W. Bush.

 Last year Ravitch spoke to the Alaska Senate Committee on Education about why the education policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama are wrong and why privatizing education in this country will siphon off tax money to a private education industry that seeks profits from our taxes.

 Ravitch offers solutions to improve both schools and society. The very first of these is to begin at the beginning by providing good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.  It is far less expensive to prevent learning disabilities at the beginning of pregnancy than to remediate those disabilities for many years into the future.

 She continues:
·      Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.
·      Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum including the arts, science, math, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, and physical education.
·      Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
·      Ban for-profit charters and charter chains and ensure that charter schools collaborate with public schools to support better education for all children.
·      Provide medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.
·      Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.
·      Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators.
·      Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards or by boards in large cities appointed for a set term by more than one elected official.
·      Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.
·      Recognize that public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

Public education is an essential institution of our democratic society. We must make it better, not privatize it. I vigorously oppose SJR9 to amend Alaska’s constitution. 

Thank you for reading. And thanks for doing rock star work!

Lynn Hallquist
Anchorage

I urge you to VOTE NO on SJR 9. Thank you,

Lauren Blanchett
Anchorage

I have been involved in education for over 30 years. I’ve watched the dumbing down of our students and the impact funding cuts have on them. We are becoming a nation and state that does not appear to care about the wellbeing of our most precious resource; children.

 I’m asking that the BSA for students in public schools be raised. We cannot continue to ignore the facts that socioeconomics impacts a child’s future. I have one child left in school he will graduate in 2016. However, I have young nieces and nephews that I am concerned about their educational opportunities when they are old enough to start school. Receiving a superior public education should be the top of the list for this state.

Alaska leads the nation in so many negative things; alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic violence. I believe there would be a significant change in our society if the focus was on education and raising our children so that they know they are important to us. I submit that it isn’t oil that is our most valuable resource it is our children.

Thank you for your time. Sincerely,

Vonice Larsen
Anchorage

I was pleased to hear Gov. Parnell declare this the “Education Session” during his State of the State address last month, since education is the most important issue for me as a parent of two young children.

I am absolutely opposed to the use of public funding for private schools, and will not vote for any representative who promotes such legislation.  I was disturbed to hear that SJR9 moved another step forward today, and urge you not to pass this bill.

Furthermore, I believe the BSA for public education must be increased immediately.  Please do not hold today’s children hostage to factors outside of their control:  the unfunded retirement liability, spiraling health care costs, and increasing energy costs to name a few.

I hope you support Senator Gardner’s proposed legislation that would increase the BSA substantially more than Gov. Parnell’s proposal.  Senator Gardner’s proposal takes into account the losses and cuts that have been felt by Alaskan school districts since 2011.  As I am sure you are aware, the Anchorage school district requires a BSA increase of $251 to avoid this year’s cuts alone, and $400 to make up for the past three years of flat funding.  I believe inflation proofing the BSA is another essential component of future legislation.

Please don’t let education become a partisan issue; our children are worth too much!

Thank you for taking the time to consider my concerns. Most sincerely,

Staci Cox
Anchorage

As a parent of two teenagers currently enrolled in Anchorage Public Schools I’m firmly opposed to SJR9 which as I understand it would put an initiative on the November ballot that would change the Alaska Constitution to allow the state to spend public money on for-profit, private and religious schools.  Key concerns that I share with others are: 

  • Oversight: Private schools can choose which students they accept and can dismiss students at will.  There is limited or no state or federal oversight of private schools’ educational standards in comparison to the many federal and state benchmarks public schools must meet and the safeguards in place to protect student rights.
  • Voucher programs in the Lower 48 have not improved graduation rates or led to better classroom performance or student success. Vouchers do not improve overall student performance but rather deny already scarce funding from our public schools in favor of private institutions not currently enrollment challenged
  • The use of public funds should always have accountability tied to it. Public schools have multiple statutes requiring strict accountability. Testimony in the Senate Finance Committee the spring session of 2013 centered on data from states that have public money going to fund private charter schools and showed that in many not only were there NO improvement gains for students, but many have even returned to their local public schools and are behind in academics. Public funding of private schools has not been the magic answer to school reform.
  • Alaska’s constitution has clear intent that public money is for public schools. Article 7, Section 1: “…Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” Opening up the constitution is a serious step and one that should be thoroughly examined IN PUBLIC before placement on the ballot.

I would appreciate your thoughtful consideration to the long term impacts of this proposed action on the overall school population in the State given the outlook for continued challenges to basic school funding system-wide. Thanks and regards,

Dave Scarbrough
Anchorage

Resolution from West High School PTSA

I do not support State Joint Resolution 9 (SJR9).  I do not believe a school voucher system will benefit education in Alaska. 

I do strongly support increase financial support of our school system and believe it is one of the principal tasks of state and local government to provide for the education of its people.

—Bruce Rein
Alaskan citizen , Alaska voter

I am proud to say that I’m and constituent in your district and would like to thank you very much for opposing gutting ASD funds in favor of funding private schools.  Thank you for being on the side of justice and equality; on the side of parents and children whose voices are seldom considered; the poorer people in our community. 

Sincerely,

—Ann Sugrue
Anchorage

I believe you are probably on the same page as we are but just in case…

I believe that the recent under-funding of the schools by the State of Alaska is intended to privatize public education and legitimize vouchers. The voucher proposal will take more money away from the public schools by sending tax dollars to private schools. The downward spiral for public education will continue.

We must recognize that public education is an essential institution of our democratic society. We must make it better, not privatize it.

 I vigorously oppose SJR9 to amend Alaska’s constitution, and I hope you do, too.

—Brooke Dudley
Anchorage

Please oppose SJR9, the resolution to allow public funding to be used for private schools.  Do not allow this initiative to consume more public time and money on hearings or on a Constitutional referendum.

SJR9 proposes an enormous change in the foundations of democracy in Alaska.  Article VIII, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution guarantees that public schools shall be free from sectarian control.  SJR9 would allow public funding of school that are under sectarian control, a direct conflict with separation of church and state.  It is an affront to me as an American and as an Alaskan, as well as to my religious beliefs.

Private schools are a move to RE-segregate Alaska.  Few private schools reflect the economic, religious, or economic diversity in Alaska.  In contrast, our public schools are a model of what our state must be – a place where all can learn to cooperatively, constructively contribute to our society and economy.

My daughter went to East High, Alaska’s largest high school.  Not only did East prepare her well for college, it also prepared her to live in a diverse world.  East High has a stunning range of diversity in its overall student population, and the same diversity on the honor roll – a huge accomplishment and gift to our state.  SJR9 weakens funding for our successful public schools at a time when budgets are already tight.

Please oppose SJR9.
Thank you,

—Martha Freeman
Anchorage

Thank you for your hard work during this legislative session.  As a voter in the State of Alaska and a parent of a child in the Anchorage School District, I’m writing to you today with a concern about how our public schools are being funded, or actually, the lack of funding.  Admittedly, the Anchorage School District probably needed to "trim some fat" from their infrastructure and budget, as does most public entities as well as large corporations.  However, the continued flat funding for our schools with no inflation proofing is about to impact children in Alaska directly with less teachers, counselors and support staff to help ensure that Alaskan children get the education they deserve–which is the best. 

 As one of the wealthiest states in the country, it saddens me to hear the statistic that Alaska ranks 47th in the United States of America for the percentage of the state’s budget that actually goes to funding our education system.  I definitely think the legislature should relook at how the funds are allocated to our public schools.  It seems the emphasis has been on capital improvements to schools with very little emphasis on the actual education of our children.  Granted, we need to have safe, comfortable schools for our children to be educated in.  However, I’ve seen some of the extreme capital improvements that has been going on in the Anchorage School District, and I feel we need to reallocate a portion of those funds to actually educating our children, especially when we are talking about dismissing teachers and increasing class size and shortening class time.  Also, the large percentage of children in Anchorage (I assume the same could be true of other school districts) need school counseling to be successful both now and in the future.  Some of these children have no direction and no mentoring from home and by receiving this at school, you give these kids a better opportunity for a brighter future from the kind of life that they have to lead right now.

 We cannot continue to short change our public schools, and therefore, short change our children out of the education they deserve.  Please search your hearts and do what is right by these children.

Sincerely,

—Danna Grammer
Anchorage

Taxpayer dollars should, and must, be spent on public schools, not private.  Please vote against this misguided legislation.

—S. Lane Tucker
Anchorage

I’m one of your constituents and wanted to let you know that I think it’s bad policy to spend public education dollars on private school vouchers.  I appreciate your service and am thankful for the opportunity to express my opinion.

— C.M.P.
Anchorage

I urge you to VOTE NO on SJR 9.

Thank you,

—Lauren Blanchett
Anchorage

I did some research. Did you know there are 70 private schools across the state of Alaska? Nearly 70% of them have a religious affiliation. What about the First Amendment?  I don’t want my tax dollars supporting a place like ABT that bans the Boy Scout troops for taking a stand against discrimination.  The projected cost of a voucher program is $100 million. The cost is exorbitant, considering most towns in Alaska don’t even have a private school. (80% of the state’s private schools are located in just five cities; 30% are in Anchorage alone.) Vouchers will take money away from those communities and populations that have already been denigrated enough. “No child left behind”? How about no demographic left behind! ASD is rich with opportunity — optional programs, charter schools, language immersion schools and alternative schools.

We don’t need to change the state constitution to offer “choice” for an elect few. Even the authors of the school choice implementation handbook stated in their analysis that a voucher program in Alaska would be “problematic.” 

— Jennifer Harmon
Anchorage

adn.com/2014/02/04

Can Gov. Sean Parnell continue to ignore all the recent writing about the lack of funding for education in Alaska? We’ve heard from people with firsthand knowledge: teachers, administrators, students, parents, community members, legislators and so many well-informed citizens who know the value of educating children, from pre-school through high school. There are too many names to acknowledge here, but I thank Berta Gardner, Julia O’Malley, Shannyn Moore, Ron Fuhrer, Diane Hirshberg, Alexandra Hlll, Les Gara, Harriet Drummond and Andrew Halcro, who have expressed so well the need to adequately fund education — now.  The governor seems to have forgotten the people he is governing, as well as the future of the state of Alaska.

— Diane Crawford
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/04

Amid the hubbub regarding public funds for private schools, a couple of items need mentioning. Proponents cry that “choice” is being denied to fans of private school funding by the public: This is not true. In Anchorage there are many options among the publicly funded charter schools. It is facetious to claim that the waiting lists are too long — just because options exist does not mean a school district needs to leap into action to satisfy people who were among the last to apply for a limited number of seats. 

Try telling Alaska Airlines they are incompetent or unfair because the flight you want to take has no seats left and that they should trot out another airplane because you only lately realized you want to go to Seattle. Again, there are numerous private, religious schools or both from among you can choose to send your child. You’ll need to pay the tuition if you choose not to accept the free schooling available to your child. 

Some taxpayers lament the fact that, although they are currently childless, their tax money goes to support public schools. They also should get a tax break if they do not drive on public streets, or if they do not use bike paths, or do not go to the library, or have not had to use police protection or fire department services. “Why should I pay for something I do not use?” 

Choice is a two-way street, isn’t it? Some do not consider that the private school can choose not to admit their student. Private” school staff can choose to send an unsatisfactory student away, i.e., back to the local public school, which must accept him or her and does not have the option to reject the private school discard. Not all private schools have qualified for state or regional accreditation, an important factor related to continuing education. 

Do all private school teaching staff and administration have qualifications which would enable them to be hired by an accredited public school?

And how would private school funding advocates feel about public funding for a school run by “heretics” or “foreigners”? Will the playing field be level? America has a long and envious history of private education paid for with private funds. It would be a shame if the Koch brothers — who can afford everything — prevail in their efforts to abort public education. Perhaps it would serve America better if they turned their many dollars into improving the public schools they now malign.

— Don McDermott, Ph. D
Anchorage 
adn.com/2014/02/05

The proposed change to Alaska’s constitution, allowing public money to be spent on private schools, is ill advised. I don’t always agree with Julia O’Malley but she hit the nail on the head in Sunday’s column about the correlation between poverty and student learning. As a teacher and resident of East Anchorage, I believe the additional challenges faced by low-income students are obvious. I challenge every member of Alaska’s state congress who is in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment to clearly explain to their constituents their answers to the following three questions:

 1) How would you challenge the assertion that private and charter schools would only be accessible to the more affluent members of Anchorage because parents must provide transportation to and from school?

2) How would you challenge the assertion that private and charter schools have higher test scores because they receive significantly more parental support while enrolling significantly lower percentages of low-income students?

3) How will the amendment help students with little or no parental support?

—Asher Harley
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/05

To the editor: Please be aware that our governor supports SJR 9, which proposes using a voucher system where public money supports private schools.

Something to think about: If public money can support Christian schools, it can also support madrasas.  Is this the slippery slope we want to be on?

Public money for public schools.

E pluribus unum, right?  We are one people, and public schools support that concept. Let us not be divided.

Please contact your state senator and representative and ask them not to support the voucher system.

—Jean Weingartner
Fairbanks
Fairbanks News-Miner 02.05.14

I am writing as a pediatrician, mom and concerned citizen requesting you support an increase in the BSA and vote No on a constitutional amendment authorizing vouchers.

My husband grew up in Anchorage and the ASD schools. We moved here upon completion of our medical training to raise our family and build practices. This move was inspired by the unique opportunities available to us as parents hoping to bring up children connected to the natural world and their community. The quality and diverse educational options in the ASD were a large part of this decision. 

I fear for the future of our city. I am afraid we will not attract industry and high quality professionals to a town with struggling public schools and few private school options. If I were reading the paper and considering a move to Anchorage at this point, I would likely make a different choice.

I fear for my children’s educational future. I do not know where we will send our oldest, soon to enter middle school. There will be even fewer adults in the building and those who are there will be increasingly stressed by demands of the District, students and administration. This sounds like a set-up for our children to fail. Chugach Optional School has educated our children in ways I never could have dreamed. My children are part of a community where they feel responsible for other children at school and the wider world. In kindergarten, my son brought in an extra pair of gloves for a child who had none. My 10 year old yearns to travel to Malawi where our school sends financial support (through a program started by our incredible school nurse). The custodian high-fives kids on their way into school and knows them by name. Our teachers somehow find a way to make all kids find their "gifts." We can only stretch school staff so far and still expect this level of involvement in children’s lives.

Most of all, I fear for my patients. In my work as a pediatrician I see kids daily who rely on their school communities to see the possibility in the world, to know that there is more than what happens in their often chaotic homes and even for basic human kindness. When I saw a homeless family last month in which all 3 children were infested with scabies, lice and bed bugs picked up at the hotel they were living in, I knew who to call for help. I called their school nurse who sees them daily and helped formulate a plan to be sure they were treated and bathed. She had a stash of fresh clothes for them so they wouldn’t have to attend class in an unkempt state.

I fear that the many, many wonderful things that happen in ASD schools each day which do not directly relate to a test score are being at best overlooked and possibly even ignored. It is a reality of our time that schools do more than educate. As a community we need to own this and fund the employment of people who make the difference in young people’s lives.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE take a page out of the elementary school primer and treat others the way you would like to be treated. Please fund the ASD to educate our kids well by increasing the BSA.

Thank you,

Michelle Laufer, MD
Anchorage

First, thank you so much for taking the time not only to read, but to respond to my letter. You are one of only five senators or representatives who have done so yet. (And nothing from the Governor either. Hmmm . . . .) Second, I appreciate your suggesting that I submit something for the ADN to consider for a Compass Piece. I have been trying to decide on which angle to focus. In light of your bold move, I now know how to proceed. Which brings me to a final thank you for tonight: it is so encouraging to know that you are preparing a bill to raise & inflation proof the BSA!!! You have restored my faith that someone in Juneau is listening and truly cares about public education right now and for the future. Thank you so much for bringing more light to this issue and for calling the Governor to task on his measly proposition. Friends and I are working on gathering support for your bill. Let us know whatever we can do to help make this happen. 

With Hope and Gratitude,

Valerie Buckendorf
Anchorage

Totally opposed to vouchers for private schools.
Thanks for the great job you are doing!

Carolyn Lyons
Anchorage

I am writing to request that you fund public education.  Adequately funding education is more important than any other policy issue.  Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders.  Free public education is one of the greatest American institutions and every child deserves an education. Radio storyteller Garrison Keller said the following: “When you wage war on the public schools, you are attacking the mortar that holds the community together.  You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”

Please vote against Senate Resolution 9 (SJR 9) that would put an initiative on the November ballot that would change the Alaska Constitution to allow the state to spend public money on private and religious schools.  There is separation of church and state in the USA and in Alaska.  The Alaska Constitution states: “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”  I do not want the state’s constitution changed.

I live in the highest mill rate area in the city of Anchorage.  I absolutely do not want my tax dollars going to support private or religious schools. Churches pay no income tax; why should they receive tax dollars to pay for their schools?  Churches should provide a free education to those who want a religious education.  Private schools could take funding and disappear in the night like thieves.

In the worst-case scenario, this is what I predict will happen. Public education disappears.  Only the rich can send their children to school.  But then the government will decide that tax payers again need to subsidize the poor and will expect the tax payers to pay for the education of those who cannot afford private schools.  Or those children won’t attend school at all, which would lead to more kids roaming the streets and committing crimes, and needed social welfare support.  I have observed this situation directly in the private school system in Mexico.

Among ASD teachers, moral is at an all-time low.  Why are teachers treated so poorly?  I cannot think of another profession where the members are at the whim of others.  Every year, teachers cringe, are stressed and worry that they might be displaced.  New teachers are already scrambling for jobs because they know they will be cut. That leaves the teachers with years of experience and masters degrees who are the most expensive. 

In the 1980’s, Alaska used to be the best state for teachers.  Now it is one of the worst.  Why would anyone want to become a teacher here?  What would be the incentive?  Low pay, added work load for the same pay, large class sizes, low moral, and annual stress about whether or not a few dollars more might be spent on education.

I have four college degrees, one a masters of fine arts.  I am also a middle school teacher.  I could teach in college but I prefer to instruct adolescents because I believe that I can make a difference in their lives.

Years ago, I taught in a junior high school.  The difference between the middle school model and junior high is distinct.  Junior high is not student-centered; it is academic centered.  Support for adolescent issues was non-existent.  Teaching six classes a day left no time for collaboration between teachers.  There were no warm and fuzzy programs like Social Emotional Learning, AVB, and Differentiation. Whatever happened to kids happened.

Middle school is a welcoming, student centered model, where everyone works together to help students make it through the rough adolescent years, to learn that there are consequences to choices, and to achieve academic success. I am an elective teacher and I frequently talk to team teachers to trouble shoot issues with students, and we work together to solve problems.

With the proposed changes to the school day, here are some of the changes that will occur.  Think about the impact this will have on the children who are our future and our most important resource.  The following is a direct quote from the PTSA at Goldenview Middle School where I teach:

Here are some of the changes that would most likely occur if teachers are asked to teach 25 more students and have half the planning and collaboration time. The public deserves to know of possible changes ahead.  We will not be a Middle School anymore (whole student centered). Unfortunately, few noticeable changes will be visible to the public next year.  Results of these drastic changes sometimes take three or four years to present their unintended consequences.  We may find at that time that the district and state have backed the education of their youth into a seemingly inescapable corner, which will take many years of painful work to reverse. 

Changes for students:
            Higher class sizes
            Lower teacher to student contact time
            Lower individual attention to student needs
More independent work with less teacher guidance
            Less and slower feedback on performance
            Communication and parent meetings less frequent
            Less time for student interventions, lost in masses
            Student absence follow-up less effective
Fewer elective choices and higher elective conflicts
            Team projects and collaboration will discontinue
            No field trips or team activities
            Fewer science labs
            Less “fun stuff” (demos, class speakers, etc.)
Less writing, more book work, more homework, and more whole group instruction
            Teams may only be in common by location, if that is possible
            Feeling of lack of connectedness – SEL drops
            More students will fall through the cracks, less identification of special needs
            More student failures
Changes for Parents:
            More difficulty in contacting teachers
            Slower feedback in communication
            Less personal teacher-student-parent connection
            Fewer opportunities for teacher meetings
            Lowered availability of counselors
            Lack of ability and flexibility to meet with teams
            No ability to meet with teachers as a team, parents will have to have many individual meetings before or after school
Less opportunity to participate in school activities (aide/volunteer, chaperone, observe)
            More involvement in planning student academics for the future
Changes for School:
            More discipline issues – less coverage
            Lowered "family" feel
Scheduling conflicts and difficulties
            Higher work load with fewer people
Higher teacher turnover – less experience in district
Loss of mentor/experienced teachers
More substitutes
            Aesthetic decline (less classroom care/maintenance/decoration)
            More difficulty in getting extra-curricular sponsors
Few to no grants or fund raising
Changes for Community:
            Higher dropout rate – against 2020 goals
            Lowered student achievement – against district goals
            More community responsibilities in educating our youth
More community/parent involvement necessary for student success and support
Lowered faith in public education – against district goals
            Lack of future support for public education
            Increased demand for private education
            Higher teacher burn out
Changes for Teachers:
            20% more work with half the available time (25% more if you are talking about core classes)
More STRESS
More preps, some not in qualified disciplines
More sick days
            Lower morale
            Teachers do not feel the district supports or values them
            Less teacher collaboration

The school district and school board should be obligated to inform the public of the actual changes that will take place due to the current fiscal situation.  To not inform the public of these changes reinforces the notion that this district is opaque in its handling of fiscal and policy matters. 
           
Why is education not prioritized?  It should be. The State of Alaska has a lot of money, but chooses to throw it away on other ‘more important’ expenditures.  Imagine this:  What if schools were fully funded and the military had to have bake sales to buy weapons?  This is such a skewed priority system.  What if an education fund similar to the permanent dividend fund was established?  Then the yearly begging for dollars would not happen.

To quote Lars Danner, whose Guest Opinion was published in the Anchorage Press: “A quality public education is important to attract well-educated, skilled workers to live in Anchorage and the rest of the state.  We need to build a city where people want to live.  Education is the key to personal success and to Alaska’s continued economic development.  Educated workers are critical to staffing oil fields, banks, and other local businesses.  Education reduces poverty and crime while increasing health, life-span, and civic participation.  Good education spending is not about building new facilities—it is about keeping good teachers in the classrooms—teachers who can motivate and inspire their students.”

Thank you for your time and consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

(Name Withheld)
Anchorage

A year ago I received a letter from you about an editorial I wrote in ADN about why education is important to everyone in the state. I appreciate your enthusiasm for what was said. Unfortunately things haven’t changed and our public schools are once again facing the massive budget cuts that are destroying our chance to make a difference in Title I schools.

As a high school teacher it is easy to see why I have a vested interest in education because of what I see and do on a daily basis.  As a future parent I continue to worry about the quality of education my son will have, but it’s as a citizen of Anchorage and the state of Alaska that causes this issue to hit me the hardest.

We are not just graduating students from a system; we are creating the future employees and employers in all facets of the job market. They will not only clean, cook our food, build our roads, but they could one day be our future bosses. Ask yourself, how educated do you want your employees, coworkers and bosses to be?

These kids are going to make important decisions for us as voters, legislators and politicians. How educated do we want our general population to be?

The rates of violent crimes being committed have recently gone up in Anchorage and according to Forbes Magazine, with 813 violent crimes per 100,000 residents this city now ranks number 10 on their “America’s Most Dangerous Cities List.”  It is no surprise that dropouts and poorly educated individuals are specifically linked as the perpetrators of these kinds of crimes. Yet the state refuses to focus its attention on education and we are forced to continually make cuts due to flat funding. The money spent on corrections goes far beyond the millions when you take into account the money pumped into prisons, the police, medical facilities, courts, property insurance; not to mention the value of human lives. If we can keep counselors in our Title 1 elementary schools working with children on their social emotional learning and counselors in the high school who can keep at risk kids in school and off the streets, we have a shot at changing this city.

Schools don’t just teach math, science, reading and writing; we teach many kids how to interact with each other. On a regular basis we teach the skills that can keep these kids employed, out of jail and on their way to becoming contributing members of society.

The kids who need our help the most are not going to benefit from vouchers to private schools, the blanket masses of these students will gain their knowledge from public education. Our future cannot afford another cut due to flat funding. Please increase the BSA and give Alaskans a chance.

Thank you for your support of education,

 Lydia Lantz
Anchorage

I want to thank you for proposing a real solution to the BSA.  Your increase of $404 to the BSA is fantastic! Automatically increasing the BSA each year for inflation is just what is needed. Our children and their education is key to our future. 

Nicole Farr
Anchorage

As a parent of a child who attends an Anchorage area public school, I need to let you know that I am opposed to the current plan to rewrite the AK state constitution and allow public monies to be used for private and religious schools. Families who elect to send their child to public schools should be responsible to pay for their child’s education out of their own funds. Public education is suffering as a result of your decisions and weighs terribly on our schools, administrators, and teachers. This is unacceptable. Please take into consideration how this affects the entire state of Alaska. This is not good politics and is not in the best interest of ALL kids.
Sincerely,

Kathleen Heinle
Anchorage

  

Speaking on behalf of all students in Alaska, I issue to you the following plea: Let our voice be heard in Juneau! Show us that our system is not broken! Show us that you care about our future!

We have watched silently as our fate is being decided by adults who have seemingly forgotten the importance of education and this cannot go on any longer! We deserve a voice and we will have one! We are watching silently as dreams of going to college, and giving back to the communities that have built us, are being torched in the fires of bureaucracy! We are watching as our dreams of becoming successful leaders are being washed away in a flood of ignorance, and yet we ask only one question: Why? Why do we, the citizens who are soon to be entrusted with the fate of Alaska, have to lose the education which we so dearly need? The education which we so rightly deserve! There can only be one reason and that is, we are being led by officials who believe that since we are young, we are also silent. We have held our tongue and refused to speak out regarding many losses and changes to our educational system, but this time we cannot stand silent!

Do you realize what you are doing? Our schools and teachers sometimes play a role greater than just teaching us to read and write, they show us compassion, and the value in that cannot be understated, especially in a state so riddled with domestic abuse. Sometimes going to school is the only stable part of a student’s life; it is one of the only places where a child thrown in the middle of a breaking family can feel safe and secure. Are you really willing to destroy this one place where they can feel safe and secure, by taking away funding and severely limiting the after-school programs, like our Governor proposes? If so, I implore you to revisit Horton Hears a Who, a classic tale by Dr. Seuss, so that you will be reminded of this, “a person’s a person no matter how small!”

Students are not the only ones being threatened by our governor’s proposal; teachers are on the figurative chopping block and have had their load of stress increased dramatically. The teachers that I have had the pleasure of knowing are held here in Alaska not only by their job or love for this state, but by the compassion they have for their students who they often treat as their own children. In my own experience my sixth grade teacher at Rogers Park has been the most influential, she took a huge risk by petitioning to accelerate me past seventh and eighth grades and just this past September I enrolled as a freshman at Bartlett High School. My encounters with the faculty, staff and administrators within the Anchorage School District enable me to declare, without hesitation, that you truly have many invaluable resources right in front of you and it would be a shame if you vote without acknowledging that. If the Governor encourages you to “spend the budget wisely” then I argue that there is no wiser place to spend it than on improving our educational systems. To build something up does not first require that you tear it all the way down. In a recent interview our governor was asked whether or not he would allow his own children to attend public school in Alaska and he, an alumni of the Anchorage School District, could not even directly answer this question.

Even if funding is given back to the K-12 schools, and the 2020 plan is plausible, what do you intend those graduates to do? The proposed large cut to the University of Alaska would make graduating almost pointless. This cut would push many valued intellectuals out of Alaska and create an unstable environment for those who choose stay. Many Alaskans do not have the chance to go to college outside of their home state, so cuts to UAA are an idiotic idea as destination 2020 is completely useless if we feel that as future students of the University we will continue to feel the impact of the decision which now rests solely in your hands. Consider this, UAA offers something which makes Alaska unique in this country; while many Universities, in the lower 48, pride themselves on their athletics department, UAA has a debate team that has won international fame for Alaska, and has truly shown that we must go “North to the future,” because they still value education there! This current proposal is putting us on track south to stand alongside our fellow states where they are creating a society which seemingly values athletics and celebrity above all else. Why don’t we take this opportunity to set Alaska apart and show that education should be the priority?

It is my dream, that one day I will be in a position of leadership and I hope to always remember what has motivated me to draft this letter, so that if one day I receive a plea from a child I will take the opportunity to prove to him that you do have a voice in America, no matter how small you may feel at times.

Not long ago, the world lost one of the greatest revolutionaries of our time, Mr. Nelson Mandela. He not only left behind a legacy of perseverance, leadership and forgiveness; he left us with many valuable words of wisdom. And so to honor him I leave you with this, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” So I challenge you, leaders of this great state, are you willing to arm our youth with the weapons necessary to shield them from the ignorance of the world? Will you bring the last frontier into a new frontier in education?  

Lastly, I think that it is important to note, that my father’s commitment to the United States Air Force will soon take me to a new destination, but Alaska will always hold a special place in my heart. The motivation behind this letter is not a self-serving one, for I will not be here to directly feel the impact of the choices that you are about to make. I was motivated to write this letter as I feel a sense of duty to nobly represent the state and the people who have graciously shared their wonderful home with me and my family for the past four years.

I would be honored to have the chance to meet with you and discuss this in a venue more personal than this typed letter will allow, so until then…

Best Regards,

BBrendan S. Gerdts
Anchorage

I am a parent of a second-grader in the Anchorage School District.  I am writing to urge you to give our wonderful Alaska public schools the funds they need to keep up with inflation and rising costs and avoid making cuts to teacher, counselors and other important resources at the schools.  Please increase the base student allocation by a meaningful amount that will prevent the threatened cuts to school district budgets around the state.  The BSA increases proposed by Governor Parnell in his education bill (HB 278 and SB 139) are far too small and will neither avert the proposed cuts nor stop public school funding from continuing to fall behind inflation and rising costs.  My family is very happy with our son’s school experience so far, but we are very aware that teacher cuts will lead to larger classes and a worse teacher to student ratio; this will result in teachers having to spend more time on classroom management and student behavior, at the expense of learning and the quality of students’ experience.  You can prevent this deterioration in the quality of our public schools by giving a meaningful boost to the BSA and adequately funding the schools.
Thank you for considering my views.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Bernard
Anchorage

I am so glad you are my Senator! You articulated my thoughts one hundred percent. Today during my lunch break in the teachers lounge, I am substituting, many of the teachers voiced these same concerns in respect to poor educational outcomes and how very far behind many students are before they even come to school. Everyone is worried about the massive cuts looming over the Anchorage School District and the continued importance of test scores over substantive learning. I understand that there are monetary pressures but how can we expect to have a thriving community if we continually cut back the resources to develop our future community members? I do not have any answers and I commend you for all you do for us.

Thank you,

Amy
Anchorage

I heard from yesterday’s hearings that Senator Dunleavey was using the BYU independent study online high school program as his argument that our state constitution allows for "partnerships" with religious schools/affiliation.

I am a school counselor in the ASD and have been for the past three years.  I have also been a school counselor/teacher in rural Alaska for ten years.

Accredited schools like ours (national standard) accept "credits" from other accredited high school programs.  This is due to articulation agreements to do so no matter their school public, private, or religious status.  The schools have to be a legitimate program of study providing a high level of rigor.  BYU independent study is one of the best if not the best program of its kind in the country.  They require proctors for all exams and have a very solid program and so meet the most close inspection and criteria requirements.  They are also frequently used by many schools throughout the state because they provide programs often not provided by the schools.

The point.  We as a school or as a district DO NOT, however pay for the students to take classes from programs like BYU.  Any classes or credits earned from these programs are the financial responsibility of the students/parents.  Most (0.5) credit classes from BYU Independent Study cost $136.00 in tuition.

It is a very weak argument by Dunleavey at best and an outright lie/misinformation to the public and other members of the Senate at worst.

Please look into this. Thank you,

(Name Withheld)
Anchorage

I am writing to express opposition to Senate Joint Resolution 9 under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee. SJR 9 seeks to change the constitution to allow public funds be used for private, for-profit religious and secular schools. I think that the most important responsibility of the members of the Alaska State Legislature is to accept responsibility for providing for an educated and strong Alaskan community, and provide adequate funding to support that ideal by sufficiently managing our plentiful resources.

The voucher legislation is in direct conflict with that goal. It will deplete limited resources and provide more resources to students whose families have demonstrated that they are be able to afford the religious alternatives in which they have enrolled their children.

Providing an adequate education within the public education system for children of our Great State is of utmost importance. When you travel throughout the regions of our state, you will find schools that have failed to provide an adequate, minimal level of education for a lot of complicated reasons. As policy makers, there needs to be great attention to what must be done to support those schools in crisis and help their students make adequate academic growth. Instead of providing more resources to the families that have demonstrated they can afford options, we need to find ways of better
supporting those school districts with the lowest student achievement performance. The effect of SJR 9 is to divert potentially over $100 million for a purpose that does not benefit the ideal goal of government providing basic needs.

Another important point is that when families want to exercise their right to choose, they have many choices. Families can choose to have options within our public education system or they can choose private education. Private education is often subsidized by the primarily religious organizations which provide the private education system. Private education, more often than not, experiences low taxes as non-profit organizations or are tax-free. Private education choices can be provided at a low cost to the consumers. When I was growing up, my parents enrolled my two sisters and me in a religious school in Anchorage. There was only one wage earner in the family. There was a lot of financial support opportunities for those who wanted the assistance.

The fact of the matter is that within public education, there are choices. It is not a one size fits all type of education program. School districts have encouraged options within public education by providing choices, outside of the typical charter school model.

I’ve worked as a professional educator for over 20 years in three school districts, which include the Juneau School District, the Anchorage School District, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. I own property in each of those school district boundaries and have connections to those communities. During my years of public service, I’ve witnessed a number of education options become more available to parents. Parents have wanted options and districts have provided many options, as long as they could be options provided to the good of the whole, instead of a religious few. Please find the enclosure an overview of options available within two of the largest five school districts in the state. The information is available on the Juneau and Anchorage School Districts’ webpages.

Best wishes,

Kimberly Homme
Juneau

Thank you for sending me your most recent email briefing to your constituents.  I am in 100% agreement with your stated positions for SB111, SB117, SB130, SB147, and SJR9. 

In regards to SJR9, I personally support Catholic schools through my private donations because I fully appreciate the Catholic education I received.  In my spirit of protection for the independence of Catholic Schools I do not wish for public funds to go towards private schools.  The truth is and always has been, if you take government money the government will want a voice in how you use it.  There is no free lunch.  Supporters of SJR9 are not thinking clearly about the independence of their school systems.  I strongly and emphatically am against SJR9. 

Margaret Johnson
Anchorage

I am so appalled about the push to allow school vouchers.  I feel like allowing vouchers would be the end of high quality public schools.  Having had children in the public school system, I see the pressure that is put on the school system.  They are required to take anyone who registers.  Currently I have seen the issues related to an autistic child that is at one of the alternative grade schools.  He has an aid but is given candy when he behaves.  Since it is kindergarten the rest of the students are now misbehaving because they want the same treatment.  The poor teacher is at her wits end trying to teach the students.  The parents are seeking legal action to keep their child in the class.   

I know how selective the private schools are in this community.  They take who they want.  I really feel like the public schools will be left with the hard to teach.  I sent my children to public school because it is a microcosm of the world they will be dealing with as adults.  I felt that college was the time to send them to private school. 

This entire issue is so depressing and it seems like everyone is piling on to make it happen.  I just wish people would stop to think what they are doing.   We should be doing everything we can to strengthen public education.

 Thanks for your help.

Gail Sieberts
Anchorage

I do not support State Joint Resolution 9 (SJR9).  I do not believe a school voucher system will benefit education in Alaska. 

I do strongly support increase financial support of our school system and believe it is one of the principal tasks of state and local government to provide for the education of its people.

Bruce Rein
Anchorage

Thank you for taking the time to accept my tesimony against SRJ9.  I am COMPLETELY against our/MY taxpayers dollars being used for school vouchers that in turn could be used to pay for religious or private schools for the following reasons: 

Public schools are at the heart of a democracy, and have been since the beginning of our country.

They are inclusive and open to ALL children. Public schools are where students learn to cooperate with a diverse group of others, just as they must do in the larger society. The children are not all the same creed, race, religion, or social or economic status, and cannot be turned away because they are different or may not “fit the desired mold” of a private school.

 -Public schools provide a free education and an equal opportunity to ALL children. They tie a community together, linking neighbors to the common good. Society has a responsibility to provide an education to its citizens, and this benefits everyone.

 -America has been called both a “melting pot” and a “salad bowl” – and public education is a local example of that. It is a solid base upon which to build good citizens who must work together.

 -Public education has many challenges, but it deserves our full support. Tax dollars should not go to private schools, which often have a “bias” in one direction or another and are “exclusive” and are not open to all children. Our son has been a life-long public school student and I simply do not agree having MY taxpayer dollars paying for the choice of private or religious schools. 

 Thank you,

Contessa S. Gossett
Palmer

Thank you very much for listening to such a long public testimony tonight on SJR 9. I was at the Anchorage LIO this evening, and was fortunate enough to be called on fairly early in the proceedings. I appreciate your listening to my testimony, and to my fellow Alaskans. I am one of the many people who are opposed to the bill.

I noted that every person who testified in the first two hours was asked by someone on your committee whether they were a member of the NEA.  (I’m not sure who was asking, since we were on a teleconference.)  

I am not, nor have ever been, a member of the NEA. But I have a lot of respect for those people who are educators, and who have been educators in the past. Just because a person has been or is a teacher does not mean that their testimony on educational issues should be disregarded. In fact, I think that we should be listening especially carefully to teachers about a bill that could change our current school system.

Perhaps your committee did not mean to be disrespectful of the many educators and other NEA members at the meeting. I’d like to suggest, though, that educators are a wonderful resource of information when we are debating school issues.

Thank you again,

Alison Arians
Anchorage

I am the mother of a first grader and an incoming Kindergartner student for next year.  I have been a resident of Anchorage for over 15 years.  My husband and I decided to raise our family here, in large part due to the quality education that has taken place in Anchorage over the years.  

I find myself disheartened with the current assault on public education.  I fear that without long term financial security for our school district, my children will no longer be receiving the level of education that has been afforded to Anchorage residents over the years.   

The LEAST we can do for our kids is to give them the same funding as last year, or the year before, or the year before that.  By doing this, we have to increase the Base Student Allocation at the minimum to be in line with Anchorage cost of living increases  I’m not asking for more money for my kids than those before them had.  I’m asking for the same.  The only way you can ensure that they get the same is by increasing the BSA and inflation proofing it   

I watch what happens in our district, year after year, when faced with budget uncertainty.  Please give them an honest commitment to keep our level of funding the same for each kid by inflation proofing the BSA.  Long term planning is as essential for the public sector as it is for the private sector. The refusal of you elected to office to do what’s right for Alaskans, is damaging our youngest Alaskans.  

One time allocations of additional funds, funds coming back to the district earmarked for a specific purpose, and last minute "gifts" do nothing to improve the education that my child gets in her classroom each and every day.  Good teachers are what matter, access to aides, and availability of counselors if issues were to arise for them are at the core of determining how well my child will do.  Not broadband width, not mandated standardized tests that are unfunded by those demanding of it, a new auditorium for a particular school, or something similar.  I’m happy that you’ve financially supported things of this nature, but they only supplement my child’s education.  They NEED the basics.

Lastly, as a bit of a side note: please stop this smoke and mirrors discussion about public funds for private education.  Opening the constitution for this is ridiculous.  The only outcome of this sort of approach is an increase to the state budget.  An increase  That’s going the wrong way.  And for whom?  What we know of other states is that the result of such vouchers has amounted to at best; those already in the private school setting now getting money for that choice (and a decrease in what they pay through tax credits) and at worst; random "schools" being opened and closing shortly after.  I’m all for private schools.  I encourage those who wish to make that choice for their child to do so.  But I refuse to allow pubic tax dollars to offset the consequence of their choice.   

If you care about Alaska and our future, you will commit to inflation proofing the BSA.  

April
Anchorage

I am writing to ask you to vote for adequate school funding in line with what is being requested by the school board. I would like the legislature to vote for stepped increases in a multi-year budget where school administrators are not faced with budgetary uncertainty yearly.

On a side note, I am in favor of the school district working with the state’s revolving loan program to do energy retrofits on school buildings. This will save money in the long run.

All this being taken into account, we cannot short-change our children. That’s one of the worst things you could do. It is robbing the present and robbing the future. My daughter is a freshman in high school. I can tell the teachers are already overworked and overextended. Larger class sizes and more work could make for hellish conditions for both pupils and teachers and a drop in ability for Alaskan students to compete on the national front for college placement. If there is any one area in which cuts or meager funding erodes the overall quality of life for Alaskans it is in school funding.

Governor Parnell’s oil tax cut does us all a disservice because from all I’ve read, it has not resulted in new investments nor is it likely to. It’s a giveaway to large out of state corporations at the expense of Alaskans.  Governor Parnell made assurances that school programs would not be cut as a result of his reduced oil tax. Now we see this is not true. Even at his latest proposed funding levels for schools at $200/ student base increase, there will still be significant degradation of the education we offer our children. His proposed funding levels are insufficient. Unless you address this as a legislature, our children will suffer.

Many thanks,

(Name Withheld)
Anchorage

One of the most basic expectations that the public has for their government is the affordance of a free and appropriate education. While the education isn’t free – my taxes pay for it – it used to be appropriate in Alaska. Now, my tax dollars may inappropriately go to pay for a someone’s private religious education, and my children may have much larger classes with fewer teachers. 

It is everyone’s choice to go to a private school, but my public tax dollars should not go to pay for someone’s choices when Alaska has an excellent public education system.  Or, at least it used to have an excellent education system before the state started to strip away the most basic education funding. 

Earlier this month, I heard a 16-year old high school student speak at the Anchorage Legislative Caucus.  She said, "Please invest in my future and our future. I swear we are worth it."  This is the message that our Alaskan youth are hearing every time Alaska refuses to provide adequate funding to their school. They hear that they are not worth it.  Actions speak louder than words. These kids need to know that their government believes in them and thinks they are worth investing in. My children need to know that Alaska believes in their future and thinks they are worth it. 

I am writing this letter to you today to express my views on these education issue and how I want you to vote in the upcoming legislation session.  Please appropriately fund and inflation-proof public schools so there will be no more cuts, and do not allow a private school voucher bill to pass.  

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. 

Sincerely,

Janel Walton
Anchorage

I am a parent with three children enrolled in the Anchorage public school system. I am very happy with the education they are receiving. I have been very involved over the years being on their local school boards (PTA’S) and volunteering in a myriad of functions. The last few years I have seen our schools become more crowded and the loss of school counselors has been terrible. I have gone to listen to "informational" on the voucher program and absolutely believe that would be devastating to our schools as a whole and particularly to the children and schools that are struggling. We need to support them not toss them out as "not trying hard enough."  I went to private Catholic schools and believe my kids are getting a better education than what I did. None of my friends went to Ivy league schools but there are loads of kids each year that go to ivy league schools from this school district. You absolutely can not get into those schools without a stellar education. Please support Senator Gardner’s  bill to bring back the Student base allocation funding to a level that can keep our teachers and support staff doing the good work that they do.

Thank you,

Lisa Paesani
Anchorage

I do not support public funding for private schools. Public funding is for public schools. It is outrageous to consider vouchers for private schools when public schools are not receiving adequate funding. 

Additionally, please support the increased Base Student Allocation bill that Senator Gardner is putting forth. We need to bring the BSA up to adequate levels and inflation proof it. Governor Parnell’s proposed $85 increase to the BSA does not meet the needs of the education system.  

Education is the most vital function that government provides for the people. Please support public education!

Sincerely,

Blair Flannery
Anchorage

I wanted to thank you for talking out against Gov. Parnell’s recent proposal to privatize charters and allow the use of vouchers Alaska schools. I currently teach third grade at Northwood ABC elementary in your district. Our number one challenge is child poverty. Many of my students do not have stable homes or stable food and they come to school not ready to learn. I consider it an honor to teach these children because we are truly one of their hopes in life. When the private charter school and voucher schemes come along they cherry pick the best and brightest kids from neighborhood schools. This has created tremendous educational inequality in many other states that have already done this. Some call it educational apartheid. We already have several students in my school that have been dis-enrolled by charter schools and private schools. I am proud to teach these children and all children that come to us, I consider it a badge of honor. Politicians like our governor only care about special interest groups. If this legislature gets away with this scam, Alaska is in for big problems. Almost every day you read about charter school and voucher scandals in the news. This is public tax money going to benefit the few rich people. Again thank you for speaking out we need to stop this!

Ted Angstadt
Anchorage

Please pass this on to other legislators who are unaware of the choice options available in schools new this year. Please be aware that new this year, all schools are based on a lottery system, which gives every student choice to attend any school they want which is based on a lottery system, then a first come first serve basis and overall priority based on students in its own community. It is not like it was before where only charter schools are on a lottery system. Our school at Russian Jack has over 100 students that come to our school outside its community and many other schools are like that.

Tyler Desjarlais
Anchorage

Thank you for opposing SJR 9.  I know it will be a tough week (session), but take comfort and find resolve in the fact that you are doing the right thing by protecting the children of Alaska and their Constitution!  Good luck!

Tom Klaameyer
Anchorage

It is wonderful to read in the ADN that Sen. Berta Gardner is preparing legislation to increase the base student allocation by the amount public schools have lost to inflation over the past few years and inflation-proof the BSA for the future.

The BSA is the money schools use to teach. This is essential to having a thriving public school system for all students in the state of Alaska. We can not continue to cut operational funding to our school districts and expect that we will have quality public education in Alaska.

There are places in this country where people will do anything to not send their kids to the public schools. Yet, here we have rising graduation rates and thriving schools. Things may not always be perfect. There is always more to work on. But let’s make sure we give our kids the best educations we can.

— Megan Richotte
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/02

 I am opposed to SJR 9.  Amending Alaska’s constitution to allow public funds to be used in support of private and religious schools will not improve the quality of Alaska’s schools. We need to focus our time, energy and funding on strategies that give EVERY student in Alaska access to a great education.  Now when, Anchorage schools are facing deep budget cuts, this bill would strip more badly needed funds from public schools.

(I am a parent of students attending Gladys Wood Elementary and Mears Middle Schools in Anchorage.)

Thank you for making education a priority.

Sincerely,
C. K.
Anchorage

To the editor:

They want to throw our kids under the bus!

Our children are Alaska’s economic future. Our governor and our Republican Legislature have already succeeded in cutting taxes on Outside billionaire oil barons.

Now they propose to dilute our already meager state funding for public education. Our children are the victims of this unending attack on government finances by vested interests. Our revenues are declining by $2 billion a year, hundreds of school teachers are being laid off while classrooms are bursting at the seams — and no new oil production is on the horizon (which our governor promised when he cut their taxes).

We can thank our governor and his Republican Legislature for nothing.

We must stop this giveaway of our natural wealth. Stand up for our kids, stand your ground for our children and the future of Alaska. Just say “no” to Parnell, Dunleavy, Gattis and all the other oil company cronies who have joined forces to deny our children the future they deserve.

— Sid McCausland
Palmer
Frontiersman 2014/01/31

My father was a school district superintendent and my mom a teacher. I am an avid advocate for public schools and co-chair of the Anchorage Rotary Club’s 90% by 2020 committee. Our club currently has over 80 Rotarians volunteering in Central Middle School in some capacity,  22 of whom regularly tutor remedial math in the classroom. I see the struggle of these remedial students first hand through my tutoring experience.

I think we need to marshall every resource available into our public schools and adamantly oppose public monies going to private schools via vouchers. If we do not improve our schools, the future of our community is at stake. Many of the students our Rotary Club work with are challenged by suboptimal home lives and need every available resource within the public schools to help them succeed. In this day and age of constant budget struggles, I can’t support taking more money away for our public schools. Without strong public schools, our community suffers.

Cities look to 3rd grade literacy rates to determine future jail cell needs. Please, join Rotary and support these students success but doing everything in your power to strengthen public schools. Say no to vouchers.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Cheryl Myers
Anchorage

My two sons wake up every morning excited to go to school. They love it because their class size allows their teachers to take the critical time to individualize their learning and make it meaningful and just right for their level. My son’s teachers are creating engaged, active contributors and possibly future leaders of our society.

But I just met with an ASD employee who is challenged to be effective at her job because she’s trying accomplish what seven now laid-off employees used to do. There’s no room for more cuts. If citizens want productive members of society, then it is essential to provide a real, meaningful increase in school funding, specifically an increase to the base student allocation.

— Lilly Goodman-Allwright
Eagle River
adn.com/2014/02/02

Jack Balkin, in his text "Living Originalism", suggests that the US Constitution provides an opportunity for the public to daily redeem itself, to reconnect and re-establish our commitment to a way of life despite ever changing circumstances.

If you read the proceedings of the Alaska Constitutional Convention you can still hear the same sentiments echoing off the chamber walls. The Constitution is, as Jefferson might suggest, sacred not so much for its text as for its compact. It represents our oath that as a society we will strive for the common good.

That sense of responsibility is in fact the reason that there are among us those who signed our Constitution who have argued that no matter what else, the power to amend our Constitution should never be used in such a way as to rend asunder that which the Constitution has brought together. Unfortunately, the Alaska Senate is engaged in just such consideration  this session.

Let there be no doubt that Joint Resolution 9 is not about rectifying historical faux pas,  nor is it about rectifying an "old mistake". But the underlying purpose, as distressing as that is, almost pales before the grief that this resolution is intended to bring to the people of this State. For this is in a very real sense a cynical ploy; an effort to do just what we should never do.  This is an effort to drive a wedge through the heart of Alaska.  This is designed to promote the most vitriolic clash in Alaska’s history, to rend our very soul in twain, and is is being done, believe it or not, in the name of Alaskan youth.  For shame.

There are among you those who believe that they should use the Constitution as a political weapon, a device with which to promote their political agenda, not because it is in the best interests of  all, but because they think they can get one over on someone else and get their way.

But this body does not represent the interests of some Alaskans.  It represents the interests of ALL Alaskans, and I have to ask you, in all sincerity, if you truly believe the horrific politicization of education that this resolution would unleash is going to benefit Alaska.

We do not live in a democracy.  Indeed our founding fathers were terrified of democracy as well they should be, schooled as they were in Greek Philosophy. Instead they fashioned a republic specifically designed to prevent demagoguery. Specially fashioned to insure that popular passion would not result in momentary advantage.  In order words, to protect us from what you are here asked to unleash.

We understand now that JR9 is about holding hostage the students of this State for the purpose of promoting a highly polarizing effort to divert public funds to private purposes, among those purposes, religious education.  It is about opening Alaska media to millions of dollars of outside advertising intended to destroy public employee unions and public education. It is about the Texification of Alaskan education.

I call on all Alaska Senators to uphold that redemption offered by our Constitution, and acknowledge that the Alaska Constitution, that organ of unification, must not be used as a means of shattering the public trust or confidence in public institutions.

Marc Grober, Esq.
Anchorage

Gov. Parnell’s recent proposal to expand charters and allow the use of vouchers for private religious schools is a threat to democracy. We must keep public schools truly public.

I teach third grade in a Title One school in Anchorage. One of our biggest challenges is childhood poverty. When the private charter school and voucher schemes come along they pick the best and brightest kids from neighborhood schools. This has created tremendous educational inequality in many other states using vouchers. Some call it educational apartheid.

Students with behavioral issues and other disabilities are disenrolled by charter schools and religious schools. Many politicians seem to only care about special interest groups. I have read about private charter school and voucher scandals frequently in the news. Many of these schools have taken public money and then closed in the middle of the school year. This is public tax money going to benefit the few religious and private schools with their own agendas.

— Ted Angstadt
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/02

Dear Members of the Senate,

I understand the leadership’s desire to provide more educational options to parents and children, but our State can’t afford it, neither financially nor educationally.

#1) Our State is facing a serious budget shortfall.  The Governor has only proposed to increase the BSA this year by a fraction of what is needed to make up for losses over the last 4 years due to inflation; a mere $85 per student of the $404 per student needed to close the gap.  If we can’t afford to pay for our public institutions, how can we afford to pay for private ones?

#2) Accountability: If SJR9 were to pass, there will be a significant cost associated with supervising, tracking, and reporting on public monies given to private schools.  I did not hear where this cost was accounted for in the Governor’s proposed budget.  The supervising of private institutions will be significantly more expensive in the first 2-3 years, and then there will be an annual cost to the State for this continued accounting.  Our public institutions have both State and Federal standards as well as reporting requirements they must adhere to since they receive public money.  If public funds go to private schools then they should have to meet the same requirements as public schools to ensure that the citizen’s money is being spent wisely.  Again, we have a budget shortfall; how can we afford this additional layer of administration?

#3) Vouchers will NOT help more needy students attend better schools:  The single mother of three working two jobs does not have the time to drive her children across town to attend "better" schools, even if she has a voucher.  The truth is, we offer "choice" right now through our optional programs and charter schools, but it is really only a "choice" to those families of a certain income level, who have the luxury of time to drive their children to and from those charter schools, or who have family members in town who can.  Without also paying for busing for all of those students, we are not really offering a feasible "choice."

I strongly encourage you to read the article below from last week’s Washington Post (1/28/14) on the issue of vouchers and charter schools.  There is solid data out there that shows that vouchers and charter schools are not the silver-bullet solution to our education problems.  Some private & charter schools are good, some are bad, and the majority are no better than most of our nation’s public schools.  In some cases, the private and charter school leaders have run off with the public’s money, and the children have been left without their education!  (We had a situation similar to this with a charter school-run-a-muck in Anchorage not too many years ago.)

Please, read the article below to learn how these vouchers are effecting other parts of the country.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/28/the-hype-and-reality-of-school-choice/

I thank you for voting NO on SJR 9 and continuing to provide sustainable funding for our children’s future.

Respectfully, Anne Adasiak-Andrew
Anchorage

Some perspective on school vouchers please. The “success” of private schools is based on students who are from families that can afford a private school. Think about it. It means the family is stable and has enough money to buy clothes and food. Simple as it sounds, that is huge.

A child in that situation probably also has guidance and encouragement, not to mention some discipline, and probably some kind of (possibly enforced) study habits.

Public schools have good students but also have to deal with kids who may not have a real home. They may not even have regular meals. Some have English as a second language. Some have learning disabilities, emotional problems, discipline problems … even criminal records.

Let’s see some data that compares a cross section of private school students with students from the public schools. Then consider class size. One of the biggest factors for success in teaching is the student-to-teacher ratio. My guess is comparisons made on an equal footing will show that public schools are doing a really good job.

— Tom Mitchell
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/02

I am concerned about public funds being used to fund private institutions.  Please continue your support of public funding for all Alaskan students!

To be clear, I take no issue with Anchorage Christian Schools and students or parents attending an institution that promotes a belief system that is not accepting of different lifestyles and standards of living.  Anyone is our society should be able to make this choice and can choose to pay for attendance with private dollars. They can make a choice attend a private school and choose whatever lifestyle they would like to follow.  However, I have significant concern that public funds would be used to support an organization similar to this one.  I do not want public money going to an institution or organization that suppresses public comment (where is free speech here?) and promotes segregation and homophobia in our society.

Public schools are a melting pot of our society.  If you go to a public school in Anchorage, you will see students of all race, gender, and sexual orientation.  These students attend without fear of retribution for speaking their mind about what is going on in their school, showing their cultural background, their sexual orientation or a promise to be “clean shaven”.  These students will be well rounded when they exit the system and will be able to feel comfortable in society because they have been exposed to differing belief systems and lifestyles. 

Allowing public funds to go to private institutions that do not have to be held to the same educational standards as public schools, will create segregation in our society (an how many years has that been a fight to get rid of?).  Having schools that can selectively pick who attends creates segregation.  This weakens our schools and creates a society that isn’t accepting of diversity and diverse lifestyles.  Diversity makes our society strong!  Students who are around other students of differing belief systems will be better members of society because they can see and accept that there are different views other than their own.  Wasn’t Hitler promoting segregation and only accepting of certain belief systems?

If you are seriously considering allowing public funds to be used in private institutions, would you be accepting of those same dollars being used for a school that carried on anti-Christian beliefs, Atheism, Alternative Lifestyles, or any other “out there” belief?  Would that also be an acceptable use of public funds?  I do not support public dollars going to ANY institution that only accepts certain students and doesn’t use public policy to govern the organization. 

We have all heard that our schools are currently underfunded and teachers are being laid off.   How can we be considering instituting a system that would continue to drain public funds from the public education system?  We need to put more money into the system.  Siphoning off dollars to other than public school organizations will only weaken the public school system.  Is this really the goal?

M. J.
Anchorage

Once more we have an argument for the state to fund private schools. This had a nice twist; the original prohibition had to do with a fear of a Catholic conspiracy. Whatever.

The simple fact is America has always believed in freedom of choice. That does not necessarily mean the funding should come from the public.

If you want to set up a private school because of your beliefs, in my opinion that is fine. Good for you! However, do not expect the citizens of the state should pay for it. Why should we? If your belief is shared by enough others, you will find the money to pay for it.

Thank you.

— Dee Longenbaugh
Juneau
Juneau Empire 01/16/04

I am a 2013 graduate from West Anchorage High School. Recently, I learned about the impending budget cuts to the Anchorage School District. These cuts have left me greatly concerned for the wellbeing of the students and teachers in the district as well as the Anchorage community as a whole. I am hopeful that there is a solution that does not lead to more instructors losing their jobs. These students need their teachers, and these teachers need their students. We should increase the amount of state money being used toward public — not private — education.

Adding a seventh period class is also a huge concern because the days are already so short. Teachers are constantly rushing to get through the curriculum without falling behind and frantically grading papers for the five to six classes they already teach; adding another class would force upon the teachers and students an unfair amount of extra daily work, while taking time away from lessons. It is time our legislators get it right and fund education properly.

— Suzanne Snyder
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/01

I am very concerned about the upcoming $23 million in reductions that ASD is projecting for next year. Last year, the cuts resulted in the loss of nurses. As a parent of a child with an anaphylactic allergy, this greatly concerns me.

At my daughter’s school, there is no full-time or part-time nurse. There is no trained medical professional to make the split-second decision to save her life. Even with the best-laid plans with my daughter, her teacher and the staff at her school, a medical professional should be on site to make the decision and make sure safeguards are in place.

This year the cuts will go even deeper. The continued cuts to staff mean that many of the positions such as counselors, nurses and social workers are no longer available to provide the support our students need to be successful and safe.

I hope Gov. Parnell realizes the real life impact that budget cuts cause and how valuable I find my child’s life to be in his hands.

— Sue Armstrong
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/01

I worked for the Anchorage School District 32 years (teacher, principal, director of elementary schools, charter school liaison) and am amazed at the number of people who write in wanting more choices. Like none now exist! I have often described the ASD as cafeteria-style; there’s something for everyone. And if you want more, go see your school board because they work for you. It’s your school system.

During my tenure we serviced children from 98 different language backgrounds and offered programs for every learning style and then some. And if you liked another school across town better, you had the right to take your child there if space was available.

But now Gov. Parnell and others want to mess with the constitution to allow public money to be siphoned off into private and/or religious schools. Stop, already! Can you imagine the day when the Anchorage Islamic Academy opens on the public dime and you will have guaranteed it? I don’t intend that as a slam against anyone’s faith but let’s follow the U.S. Constitution and keep public schools neutral.

— Arge Jeffery
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/02/01

Our governor proves yet again out of touch with the desires of Alaskans. His proposed inadequate funding of the basic student allocation (BSA) for public education proposal has no basis in mathematical sense. He seems to view education in mostly simple subtraction.

After subtracting his typical ongoing budgetary education flat funding, the governor’s dubious addition skills come up with merely $201 additional total funding per student over the next three years. This year alone, the Anchorage School District needs a bedrock minimum $251 increase to the BSA to cover its shortfalls. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District needs $300 and the Juneau School District needs $425 per student.

More equations in subtraction computations he understands are educator layoffs. Over the last three years, school districts have been forced to cut over 600 teachers, guidance counselors and other necessary staff.

Contact the governor and legislators of mathematical like-mindedness. Remind them to add to the value of education. Underfunding and subtracting teachers and staff from the complex story problem that formulates Alaska education is an incorrect answer.

— Sam Rhodes
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/31

In our community, we work together to solve problems. We should not pass the buck in the current political and budget morass that is running Juneau.

I’d like to think we will not tell the schoolchildren that they have to shoulder the budget woes of our state.

Juneau: Why attack education? Why underfund schools?

Increase the BSA and keep Alaska schools competitive. Tell kids their needs matter and their voices are heard.

Maybe Juneau needs to go into schools and see the damage budget cuts would do. See your future: leadership of Alaska.

— Adam Robinson
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/31

I’m writing to ask you to please continue the fight to add money to our base student allocation. Already class sizes are too big, and the teachers are stretched to accommodate all their students. With layoffs as proposed for next year, our children and young people are really going to suffer. Please, help us put our resources into educating our young people! Their knowledge and excitement and passion, if channeled and encouraged by great teachers, can make a huge different to the future of Alaska. 

I have three children—the two youngest attend Denali Montessori in Anchorage and the oldest is in the highly gifted program at Romig Middle School.  They are all receiving excellent educations—anyone that says the schools are not delivering results has not spent much time in the classroom.  But it is also obvious that the teachers are doing all they absolutely can and are stretched so thin.  Throw on top of that the lack of respect they undoubtedly are feeling with the unrelenting bashing of our public school system and I am afraid many of them will decide to leave the profession. 

Denali Montessori is a unique school.  It is an optional/lottery school with a long waiting list but it is also a neighborhood school.  The neighborhood it serves is generally lower income and very transient.  So you can see both ends of the spectrum in the classroom and the teachers work so hard to ensure an excellent education for each student. 

Please continue to work to find a way to increase the BSA. Without increasing our state funding to keep up with inflation, our teachers will be crippled. They can’t possibly teach our children well if they are managing huge class sizes.  As I understand it, the Governor wants to see improved performance from the schools.  But if the class sizes increase and resources decrease as a result of the budget cuts, how does he expect to see improved performance?

I am extremely concerned that by not continuing to fund Alaska’s schools adequately, we will lose opportunities to create well-educated children who can give back to our community. Alaska is a wealthy state: please, let’s put some of these financial resources back into our most important resource: our children. 

I know you support increasing education funding and I just wanted to encourage you to keep it up.  Hopefully, your colleagues on the other side of the aisle can be convinced.

Thank you very much for your consideration. 

Joann Mitchell
Anchorage

The governor and his colleagues want to use public money for religious schools. Their strategy is clear. First, they proclaim public schools and staff inefficient, over-staffed, over-paid. Second, they create a narrative that public schools are so deficient they can only be improved by starving them. Since 2011, they have frozen per-student spending, obviously unconcerned about inflation impacts on our kids’ education. Now in the fourth year of this starvation budgeting, if inflation further degrades school vitality and the public grows weary of the fight, their final solution is attainable.

By creating the illusion that public education is damaged, the governor and his colleagues believe we will be ready to accept their fallacy — the only fix to education is to siphon money to their select religious schools using a voucher system. If you value public education, tell the governor and your legislators very soon. Do it now, for the opponents of public education are on the move in Juneau.

— Mark Wiggin
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/31

Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed $200 per student increase over the next three years to the base student allocation (BSA) isn’t enough. Since 2011, school funding from the state has been flat, allowing increased costs of energy, health care, and insurance to erode the money that actually goes into educating our children.

Education needs to be a priority on par with economic development projects in order to ensure a healthy future for our state. We don’t pay a state income tax, and Anchorage’s tax contributions have been capped so that no more of our municipal property taxes can go to our schools. This funding needs to come from the state.

The school district is being forced to make massive cuts to our schools with such inadequate funding. The state should fund the BSA to what it would have been if it had been increased in tandem with inflation since 2011, and then inflation-proof it for the future.

— Alison Arians
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/29

Let’s get some public school funding terms straight. Alaska public schools are not being “flat-funded” — they are being slowly strangled by “declining funding.” Each year that the base student allocation (state dollars per student) is not raised, it falls further behind inflation, meaning fewer real dollars. This declining funding is why districts around the state are cutting budgets and laying off teachers.

Nor are public school advocates seeking “more money” for schools — they are asking for the “same money,” i.e. dollars that keep up with inflation and other rising costs.

Finally, the governor’s proposed “increase” to the base student allocation is so small ($85 in FY15, $58 in FY16 and FY17) that a better term for it is “misses by a mile.” This increase will not stop the teacher cuts in Anchorage or other districts and it continues the shortsighted pattern of declining funding and yearly cuts.

To keep Alaska strong, we must invest in our children with a real boost to the base student allocation that catches up and keeps up with inflation.

— Rebecca Bernard
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/28

Let’s be sure I have this right — the public schools are looking at serious budget cuts and the governor wants to give money to help support private schools? This does not add up in my mind.

— Mark Ryan
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/27

I’ll begin by saying I’m a proud middle school teacher, and I love this community, our district and our kids.

I’m concerned about past and current approaches made by the Parnell administration to funding education. Over the last three years, the district has downsized quality programs and positions: counselors, librarians and teacher assistants, to name a few. The proposed cuts for next year, however, have an even greater impact.

One of these proposals is to carve out a main component of the middle school model. Most people may not be familiar with this, but our kids and our parents are. At the heart of it is a 45-minute planning period for teachers, during which time we meet with counselors, parents and kids to provide support. It helps prevent suspension. It allows parents to communicate with the school what their needs are. It ensures that our kids know we care about them.

Please find the time to speak out about this. We simply cannot provide kids the support they need without proper funding.

— Kevin Voss
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/27

Thinking about the Parnell/Republican approach to public education and state government generally:

   The best way to improve education is to reduce funding.
   The best way to improve classroom instruction is to fire teachers.
   The best way to retain teachers long-term is to gut their retirement system (done prior to the Parnell administration).
   The best way to deliver health services is to limit insurance coverage.
   The best way to balance the state budget is to reduce revenue.
   The best way to produce justice is to limit public access to the courts.
   The best way to approach public involvement in state government, especially environmental concerns, is to limit public involvement.

Of course they want to privatize whatever they can get their hands on, even though after more than 30 years of privatization, we know it has failed. And privatizing education is the biggest prize of all.

Most of us don’t want an oligarchy or a plutocracy or a theocracy. We want to keep the “public” in education and “democracy” in state government.

— Clarence A. Crawford
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/27

I applaud many of Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposals from his State of the State address, but cannot support the idea of public funding for private schools. I believe this would be a publicly funded form of educational segregation.

Having had kids recently go through the Anchorage school system, with another still in, I do understand the desire for something different. There are many flaws. But removal of both the student and the funding from these schools does not help the system or society, it just allows those with the ability to shuffle their kids to and from private and charter schools to separate themselves from those who do not have that luxury. For the long term, society as a whole cannot afford to continue the segregation of those that have from those that do not.

Perhaps a better approach is to look at the existing system, have an open discussion to make the corrections needed. Some of Governor Parnell’s ideas towards education do begin to address this, but I believe fall short from his stated goal.

— Russell Oswald
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/26

It’s very disturbing to me that Gov. Parnell even thinks we should consider funding private and religious schools. Every child is guaranteed an education in the public school system. If people choose to send their children elsewhere, that is something they should fund themselves.

My sons were educated in the public schools, graduated and did very well. One son, attending a university out of state, could have had a full ride at UAA due to his exemplary grades. Does that mean the state should cover his tuition because he decided to attend an alternative institution? Absolutely not. That was his choice, and he will have to pay for it.

People saying that kids get a better education in private and religious schools have no factual information to back that up.

Do the governor and those who support cuts not realize the direct correlation of less teachers to more students per class, hindering one-on-one time with students? The governor’s alleged goals of improving schools and increasing graduation rates won’t be reached with his current choices.

— Colleen Jepsen
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/26

As a parent, I am concerned about inadequate funding for education. Governor Sean Parnell’s flat funding has led to deeply-felt staff reductions, which have harmed our children’s education. The State of Alaska has not adjusted the funding formula for education to keep up with inflation in the past four years.

We have million-dollar football fields, aptitude tests, and construction projects, but we don’t have enough staff to serve students’ needs. Gov. Parnell should increase funding for recurring costs in education to help our kids succeed in school and in life.

— Diane Sallee
Anchorage
adn.com/2014/01/26

 
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