Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Keller's Privatize Our Schools Bill - No! No! No! No!

Rep Keller at ALEC Presentation Feb 2011
[Reader Alert:  This is a topic I feel strongly about and sometimes that affects how I present the content.  Also there is a lot of background I don't have time to put in here.  So, if you have a problem with anything, comment or email and we can continue the discussion.]

The Alaska Dispatch has an article today on Wes Keller's HB 145 to create "scholarships" for parents to use state money to send their kids to private (including religious) schools in Alaska.

Keller's from the same part of Alaska that gave us Vic Kohring and Bill Stoltz (who most recently has refused to release a bill from committee for a house vote - already passed by the Senate - to give state funding for school meals for the low income kids).

Keller is also a member of ALEC - the Koch brothers sponsored organization that prepares model legislation for state legislators and whose agenda is basically to make government as marginal and ineffective as possible.  Here's an early (2005) piece of model legislation called Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act posted at Heartland Institute (an organization similar to ALEC which champions free enterprise and believes global climate change "is basically irrational, ideological, and profoundly anti-science" - if you want to learn more, contact Rep. Gatto, he goes to their meetings) which cites "ALEC staff."

I posted about an ALEC meeting in Juneau last year - Keller was one of four legislators who sponsored ALEC and attended.  The others were Rep.Carl Gatto (Wasilla), Rep.Tammie Wilson (North Pole), and Sen. Fred Dyson (Eagle River.)

ALEC Materials at Juneau Presentation

From a Nation article posted at Susan

"Public schools,” ALEC wrote in its 1985 Education Source Book, “meet all of the needs of all of the people without pleasing anyone.” A better system, the organization argued, would “foster educational freedom and quality” through various forms of privatization: vouchers, tax incentives for sending children to private schools and unregulated private charter schools. Today ALEC calls this "choice"--and vouchers "scholarships"--but it amounts to an ideological mission to defund and redesign public schools.

There's lots that's been written exposing ALEC's agenda.  Basically it seems to be set on making government as ineffective as possible so that businesses can do whatever they want - gut labor laws, environmental regulations - and to give government assets and infrastructure over to the private sector.  This bill is a case in point.

Sec. 14.31.030 of  HB 0145B gives schools that lose students to the 'scholarships' and fall under the required 10 students [UPDATE: an issue in many of Alaska's small communities] to keep a school open, two years to operate.  Then, as I read this, the private school can petition to take over the school. 

Sec. 14.31.030. Effect on districts. (a) A school that, as a result of the program, has an ADM of less than 10 but five or more shall be treated as if the school had 10 students for a two-year period following the date on which the ADM is reported to be less than 10 but five or more for purposes of calculating state aid under AS 14.17. In this subsection, "ADM" has the meaning given in AS 14.17.990.
(b) If requested by a participating school, a school district that receives a payment under AS 14.31.020(b)(1) shall enter into a lease agreement with the participating school for space controlled by the school district if
(1) the lease is offered with reasonable terms; (2) the space that is subject to the lease agreement is available; and (3) the agreement is consistent with applicable state law.

In Sec. 14.31.035  the Education Department is to pay the 'scholarship' directly to the private school.
Sec. 14.31.035. Departmental duties. (a) In implementing the parental choice scholarship program, the department shall (1) obtain from the participating school a count of the number of participating students in the program; (2) make scholarship payments directly to the school quarterly after receiving proof satisfactory to the department that the student claimed under a scholarship attends the school on a full-time basis;

I feel very strongly about public schools.  It's the place in the United States where people can become Americans, where they mingle with people whose beliefs are not totally like their own family's.  There is a lot wrong with American public schools and I can make lists of the problems just as well as anyone else, but the answers lie in fixing how we deliver public education, not destroying it.

People complain about the polarization of US politics.  I would argue much of that has to do with the balkanization of schools into more and more specialized private religious school programs where students are taught that their group's truth is the only one.

Sure, neighborhoods segregated by race and income also produce similar effects in public schools.  It's a problem.  The disparity between good and bad schools is a problem.  But private schools, that can refuse to serve the problem students - whether the 'problem' is behavioral, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or cross-cultural differences - are NOT the answer.  Especially for-profit private schools whose top priority is profit.  (Remember those financial institutions we recently bailed out?)

No Child Left Behind is part of this attack on public schools.  The testing was set up to label public schools as "failing" to turn the public against public schools and susceptible to voucher programs that would let them take public money and spend it at private schools.

Well, now they are calling the vouchers "scholarships."

I call them subsidies to private businesses.

I did a post in December on how the right wing attack on public education is also happening at the higher ed level.


  1. What an excellent article, Steve.

    I feel very strongly about this, too. I feel that it will be impossible for this legislation to stand without a constitutional change. The gambit of directing the $$$ through filters to seemingly make it pass constitutional muster is a scam that will make a lot of lawyers happy, even as the bill ultimately gets thrown out by the AK Supremes.

    What a waste of time and money!

  2. Steve -- I couldn't agree with you more. Public schools made America what it is today -- and by that, I mean all the good things. They foster democracy and encourage common ideals and responsibilities. Since many Republicans, especially the wack jobs currently in control of the party, do not want us to have democracy, common ideals or responsibilties, they naturally want to kill the public schools (or at least turn them into garvage dumps).

  3. What does Stoltz have to do with SB3?

  4. Reasonable question, Bob, I should have put in links. Stoltz has held the bill in the Finance Committee and not allowed it to go for a vote on the floor, even though it passed without opposition in the Senate. See here and here

  5. Is Stoltz's support necessary or sufficient for getting SB3 on the floor?

  6. Bob, Stoltz is co-chair of the committee and can decide if a bill gets out or not. Party leaders can lean on a committee chair to keep a bill in or let it out. I don't know if Stoltz would move the bill if told to or if he's holding it because he was told to. In the original post I did on the bill, I guessed that he was holding it in retaliation against the sponsor who is part of the Senate coalition that has blocked an oil company tax reduction that the governor and the House Republicans and their oil company supporters want passed.


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