Legislature(1999 - 2000)
04/26/1999 01:25 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 6 - CONST. AM: EDUCATION FUNDING CHAIRMAN KOTT announced the next order of business is HJR 6, Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to state aid for education. Number 0828 REPRESENTATIVE VIC KOHRING, Alaska State Legislature, came before the committee as sponsor of the resolution. He stated, historically, HB 5 was before this committee which would have established the framework for an education voucher system. The committee felt that the framework would not have met a constitutional muster, and HJR 6 is the result. He noted that the resolution does not establish a voucher system. It simply asks the question of whether or not the constitution should be changed. He mentioned that Article 7, Section 1, says no money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or private educational institution. But, the intent of the Founding Fathers of the state constitution was not to preclude a direct benefit for individual children in terms of payment for public dollars. The direct benefit that they were referring to was the maintenance and operation of schools - the premise of his argument. He reiterated that this resolution is not a voucher bill; it simply addresses whether or not to change the constitution. If the voters agree with changing the constitution, he would follow with legislation that would put in the framework to provide monies to be paid towards education choices, such as home schools, charter schools, private institutions, etc. Number 1065 RANDY LORENZ, Researcher for Representative Vic Kohring, Alaska State Legislature, came before the committee to further explain HJR 6. He stated the question before the committee today is whether or not it wants to provide the opportunity for education choices in the state. It's clear that the Founding Fathers of the state constitution were inclined to support the individual child, and if that meant an indirect gain for a private educational institution, that was not a problem. They just did not want to support the building or operation of that school. He further noted that it was a decision of the supreme court in 1979 that linked the words "direct" and "indirect" together to mean the same thing. The resolution would go back to the original intent of the Founding Fathers. It's important to keep in mind that there is a problem right now with the Delta Cyber Charter School, which has had to move forward with an injunction to stay open because of this exact issue. Number 1182 CARL ROSE, Executive Director, Association of Alaska School Boards, came before the committee to testify in opposition to HJR 6. He noted that the association is opposed to vouchers. The issue of vouchers comes down to choice. The public schools in Alaska offer a tremendous amount of choice. They are locally controlled and decisions are made to represent the communities. As a result, the number of opportunities given to a community come as a direct benefit from those who represent the school district. This issue, however, lacks a recognition of the greater purpose. That being, in a free, democratic society it is critical that there is a well-educated populous. In that vein, the state has recently identified standards as an issue to get behind - not only standards for the students - but performances for professionals and system accountability. He cited the exit exam as an example. The exit exam has caused the school districts to exam what they are doing to ensure that the students pass the exam in the face of limited resources. He referred to SB 36 and noted that it was suppose to address equity, quality initiatives, and adequacy. The issue of adequacy is at the root of trying to expand the scope of education. He cited that 90 percent of America's kids are educated in the public system. The capacity of home or private schools is just not in place to be able to satisfy the need of the electorate required across the nation. He said, "When I take a look at the issue of adequacy and how we're to make this turn to satisfy these quality examinations, curriculum, development, professional development to meet these standards we do so with very limited resources. To allow an initiative such as this that would allow monies to be passed through to privates to individuals. I think, if we want to do that as a state, we should make a policy decision to completely fund that effort. But, to take that from the public education system as we struggle to make the improvements that we need to make, I think, is a serious error." Number 1405 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said it appears that over the years the state has gone astray in terms of morality in public education. She asked Mr. Rose what he thinks is the responsibility of public education in terms of morality. Number 1451 MR. ROSE replied the issue of morality is something that is dealt with at the dinner table. The public schools are an extension of a community, and if there is a morality problem in a school it is a reflection of society. It is something that everybody needs to step up and take responsibility for - parents, community members, church members, etc. He said, "I don't know that we can look to our public schools to provide morality for our kids, and I don't think all of us want that." He noted that the data shows the more parents that help their children "navigate through the waters," that child has a better chance of being successful. Number 1526 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES stated that, according to her observation of the public schools, the morality that was taught at home was undone in the schools. She asked Mr. Rose what sort of obligation does the school have to at least let the morality that is taught at home be the morality that guides the child. Number 1558 MR. ROSE replied the schools are governed under public policies which are guided by the state constitution, laws, regulations and negotiated agreements. If anything has been lost, it may have been lost in the process. Mr. Rose further stated that through the generations society has changed to the point that interests are put before the interest of the state as a whole. The problem is deeper than just saying that morality has changed. Number 1671 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI asked Mr. Rose whether the 90 percent figure for the U.S. holds true for Alaska. MR. ROSE replied, he doesn't have a specific number for Alaska, but it probably is close. Number 1693 CHAIRMAN KOTT stated the resolution is a fore-leader to a voucher system, and asked Mr. Rose how many states have implemented a voucher system at this time and what are the results. MR. ROSE replied, in looking at Wisconsin, the results are skewed. The country hasn't been involved in a voucher system long enough to collect data. In looking at public policy, the number of opportunities for vouchers, charters or alternatives for public schools are minuscule by comparison. In looking at home schools, those students are doing extremely well on standardized tests. He is not trying to discredit home schools, charter schools, private schools or vouchers; he thinks they do very well, but the capacity to handle the public's demand is limited. The right thing to do is to provide appropriate funding for public schools, and to provide appropriate funding for other alternative schools independently. But, to expect the public school system to simultaneously improve while funding other alternatives is a difficult task and one that limits success for both. Number 1783 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Mr. Rose whether, in his opinion, it's more important to have overcrowded schools or a lower amount of funding. MR. ROSE replied he would choose to build more schools. He understands the question, but he can't make a choice in that regard. It's far cheaper to build new schools than to decimate a system when the outcome of a newly created private system is not known. Number 1859 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said he is concerned because the kindergarten enrollment is down. He wondered, therefore, whether in a few decades there would be schools that are under capacity. MR. ROSE responded the best thing to do is provide a quality system for who is in Alaska now. He further stated that the best way to deal with an economic slump is through the public system, even if it includes double-shifting. He recalled that was an option in the Mat-Su valley ten years ago. It is not a good option, however, to look at a private system or voucher system as a means to relieve the current problem. Number 1918 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said it is a public obligation to ensure that every single child has the best education available. She further stated, in reference to goals and exit exams, those types of things were present when she was in school, which were eventually pared down. Her main issue is that children shouldn't have to come home from school and tell their parents that what they have been teaching them is not what is being said in school. Number 1976 MR. ROSE appreciated the comments of Representative James, and noted that the state has recognized that and has decided to return to a set of standards. CHAIRMAN KOTT noted that many children don't see their parents during the course of a week and aren't getting taught anything. Number 2019 DEBBIE OSSIANDER, Member, Anchorage School Board, came before the committee to testify on HJR 6. In response to the sponsor seeing a need for more options and choices for parents, she cited the following choices and options that are available in the Anchorage School District (ASD): - Spanish emersion program; - Japanese emersion program; - Open-option schools that are available in all parts of town; - Back-to-Basics schools; - ABC schools; - Montessori schools; - School-of-the-Arts at West High School; - Four charter schools, including a family partnership school where parents design the curriculum and contract with teachers; - Individual classes of choice - university classes or classes outside the district for credit; and - Correspondence schools; MS. OSSIANDER stated the school district is open to moving towards more alternative schools, if a school community as a whole chooses to embrace that. There are also plans for the construction of a new Back-to-Basics ABC school in the Anchorage bowl area. In addition, if the state chooses to move in the direction of a voucher system, there would be strict accountability standards for those that receive funding. In addition, in relation to the current revenue picture, enlarging the pool of recipients for public education dollars would bring an increased fiscal note. Number 2161 CHAIRMAN KOTT stated he was not aware of the options available within the Anchorage School District. He referred to a letter that the committee received indicating that the school district was not able to meet her son's special education needs. He asked Ms. Ossiander to respond to the letter. MS. OSSIANDER replied, in general, special education services are offered so that the parent component is required and necessary to move ahead with a plan of service. The parent is a full, equal partner. The Anchorage School District offers a broad range of special education services. In fact, many members of the armed forces request assignments in Anchorage because of the special education services that are offered. She was not familiar with the particular case that Chairman Kott mentioned, but she offered to work with the individual in question. Number 2226 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said, of course, if the state is to provide education services for every child there would be a fiscal note. She asked Ms. Ossiander whether she believes that every child is entitled to that amount of money regardless of where a child goes to school. MS. OSSIANDER replied she is coming from a position that strongly values the public education system. It has been a great leveler in the country, and has been a great means of upward mobility for some who might not otherwise of had a chance. Certainly, the door to a public education should be open to everyone, but if a person chooses to not take advantage of that door, it doesn't mean that the public should fund everyone's individual choice to move in his/her own direction. Number 2275 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said she believes every child should have his/her education paid for in some way. Number 2281 REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI said, as a parent of two children enrolled in an optional school in Anchorage, she knows how far out the ASD has gone in terms of providing choice within a public school system. She asked Ms. Ossiander what the other school districts across the state are doing in terms of providing a choice. MS. OSSIANDER deferred the question to others present, who can answer it better. REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI further stated that she hopes the ASD will continue with these optional programs. MS. OSSIANDER stated that the school board is committed to providing choice and options in Anchorage. Number 2332 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Ms. Ossiander what the regulations are for private or religious schools now. MS. OSSIANDER deferred the question to other present. Her job with the school board is to deal with policy issues. In working with the implementation of charter schools, they have expressed frustration - and understandably so - with the bureaucracy required. The steps involved are not broadly recognized. Number 2379 BETTYE DAVIS came before the committee to testify in opposition to HJR 6 as a representative of the Association of Alaska School Boards and the Alaska State Board of Education. In response to choices, a recent study shows that many school districts throughout the state provide choices, even the smaller districts. In response to regulations put on private schools, a teacher does not have to be certified to teach in a private school. All teachers in a public school have to be certified. They are paid more because their salaries are agreed upon by the districts and the unions. In a private school, there can be two people working for one salary, but that is their choice. TAPE 99-41, SIDE B Number 0001 MS. DAVIS continued. She stated most of the people in the room probably went to a public school. She noted that she would not have had the education that she has if it were not for the opportunity to go to a public school. She said: "I can't say that there would not have been something in place that might of--would have met some of the needs of people, but all the people's needs would not have been met and we would not have as many people with a high school education as we do today had it not been for public education." Although this resolution does not address vouchers directly, she reminded the committee members that they let HB 5 go because they found it unconstitutional. "I say before they bring to you an amendment then they ought to be addressing why they want the amendment in the first place and convincing you - the legislators - that it should be before you take it to the public and have them voted on something that sounds good." It might not be in the public's best interest. In addition, why change the constitution when the framework has not been developed to show that the state is ready for the voucher world? She noted that no state has adopted a voucher system statewide. The sponsor indicated, when discussing HB 5, that he wants a voucher system regardless of the cost because that is what his constituents want. The sponsor further indicated a voucher system would be a panacea for charter schools, but Ms. Davis stated that charter schools are public schools not private schools. They wouldn't get any more money and the sponsor should not be saying that. She agrees with charter schools and believes that they are quite valuable to the larger school districts. In conclusion, she stated that the time is not right for a voucher system to be considered given the state's fiscal gap. Where will the dollars come from to help remediate the students who do not pass the qualifying exam? "The final thing that I will say, if we're going to bring vouchers into our state then some of the regulations that are not there for the private sector need to be put there. And, if they have to do the same thing that we did, then they're no longer private except that it's just a private source because they would have to change the way they do business also. That mean they'd have to pay their teachers more; that'd mean that they would have to also meet the needs of special education children. You know that now in private schools they do not have to meet the needs of a special ed children. We are required by law to do that, and even though they might be in the private sector they can come to us for those services. Did you not also realize that with some of the new bills that just passed that anybody in any school system - private or wherever - can come into the public school system and be enrolled in any class and not have to wait until we fill the needs for the kids that are in school for first-come, first-serve. So, there's a lot of issues that need to be addressed before we go out and put a constitutional amendment to the public saying that this is going to improve public education and also give a better chance for those kids that want to go to private that will not happen." Number 0217 CHAIRMAN KOTT asked Ms. Davis whether she thinks there would be any "cherry picking" if a voucher system was implemented. In other words, would the cream-of-the-crop move over into the private schools thereby affecting the socialization process. Number 0240 MS. DAVIS replied she doesn't see that there would be any "cherry picking." The sponsor has indicated that the voucher would be given to those in a lower-income bracket. That's not to say that there aren't any smart children in a lower-income bracket. She knows that the public schools are meeting the needs of the children going on to college. She does not see them leaving the public schools in mass numbers to get their needs met elsewhere. The problem is for the regular students who might need more help before moving on to the next grade. They need after-school programs and before-school programs, otherwise the state is going to be sued when the students do not pass the exit exams. Who will give the school districts the money to meet those needs? she asked. The parents are not going to sit by idly. Number 0310 CHAIRMAN KOTT stated the parents have the opportunity now to put their kids into a private setting. Number 0317 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said her personal belief is that the state should base its funding on every child in a district, not just on those who are registered at a public school. In addition, the amount of money allocated for each child should be divided between fixed expenses and teaching expenses. In a voucher system, the fixed expenses should not be taken away but only the teaching expenses. Number 0366 MS. DAVIS said, she agrees, that every child in the state has a right to a public education. "However, I do not go to the point where I would want those children to be counted in the count that we have to give for the money that you give to us for public education, if they're not going to have to be accountable for what they're doing. Why should we give money for public education--for education and not hold everybody accountable? You're pushing for more accountability from us. It would have to be the same for them." In addition she mentioned that the public schools do not have the money or staff to monitor home schools. The kids who are in home schools can utilize the public schools as well for subjects such as art and physical education. Number 0433 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked Ms. Davis whether the school system has failed in mainstreaming children thereby holding back some and not challenging others. Would the state be better off teaching to a strata, especially given the new exit exams? Number 0532 MS. DAVIS replied, she believes, that the state should meet the needs of all children for a quality education to be successful in the world. She does not believe that the public school system - in Alaska as a whole - is watering down its curriculum. The greatest student in a class can benefit a slower student. Kids learn from each other. It is not fair to say that the public school system is not doing its job if a student does not pass an exit exam; therefore that student should have been in a private school. Number 0633 REPRESENTATIVE JAMES said she is not convinced that parents send their children to private schools because of standards. She thinks it's for other reasons, and the state needs to recognize its obligation to pay for an education for every child who is of school age. MS. DAVIS said at some point the state needs to recognize that all children need to be educated. She recognizes that parents withdrawal their children out of the public school system because of the fear of violence, not necessarily the curriculum. However, in the private world, a school can refuse a child, whereas a public school has to take every child that comes to it. Number 0736 REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA asked Ms. Davis how important she thinks class size is in terms of a student's ability to learn. She is concerned about the overcrowded classrooms and the sharing of textbooks in Juneau. MS. DAVIS replied class size is very important. Research shows that a child is likely to learn more in a classroom with fewer than 20 students. But that takes more money. On the other hand, sometimes adding an additional person to help the teacher works. There are a lot of ways to overcome overcrowding. It requires innovation, such as double-shifting, in order to meet the needs of students. Number 0824 JOHN CYR, Representative, NEA-Alaska, testified via teleconference from Anchorage in opposition to HJR 6. NEA-Alaska is opposed to the resolution because of public policy and legal issues. In terms of public policy, there is no achievable difference between the voucher students in Milwaukee and the public school students. In fact, according to a study the public school students outperformed the voucher students in reading and math. In Cleveland, a study found no significant difference between the voucher students and the public school students. He cited in 1998 and 1999 about 6,000 Milwaukee students received a voucher worth $5,000 a piece; and about 3,700 Cleveland students received a voucher worth $2,500 a piece, but there is no accountability of that money. In Cleveland, $1.9 million was misspent. He cited $1.4 million was paid to taxi companies to transport the students. Since 1997, program officials have uncovered about a half million dollars in taxi fares that were billed for students who were absent. In 1998, that program was 41 percent over budgeted forcing the state to take $2 million from public schools to fund that overwrite. The intent of a voucher system, according to the sponsor, is to fund low-income families, but according to a special state audit in Cleveland 30, students who received vouchers came from households with incomes of over $80,000. He stated that the Permanent Fund Dividend program has taught, that if money is given to the public it has to go to everybody, which bring the question of who would really use vouchers? He cited less than one-third of the public school children in both Cleveland and Milwaukee actually come from public schools. There is no evidence that suggests a voucher systems is cost-effective. The Milwaukee voucher program cost $29 million for 1989 to 1999 for 6,000 students. The Cleveland voucher program cost more than $9 million for less than 4,000 students. In using the sponsor's number of $4,000 per student when there are approximately 12,000 children in private schools in Alaska today, the math is not that hard to do. The state cannot afford this type of scheme. MR. CYR further stated, in regards to the legal issues, no state has voted to put a voucher system in place to date. In September, the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the constitutionality of its voucher program and ruled that it violates provisions in both state and federal constitutions. In Maine, both state and federal courts rejected efforts by parents to require the state to provide vouchers for religious schools. In Vermont, a state court rejected efforts to expand the tuition program to include religious schools. MR. CYR further stated, in response to the issue of small class sizes, data shows that there wouldn't be smaller class sizes with a voucher system. It would really pay for those who are already in a private school. In response to the teaching of morality, things have changed in the public schools. They are a reflection of the wishes of the communities. If a community is interested in teaching a more "moral point of view" the school board would ensure that it happens. But there is no control over private schools and whether or not they would teach morality. In response to the issue of accountability, right now the only thing that private schools are accountable for is the health and welfare of their students. The state has no control over the curriculum or standards, and it shouldn't; they are private schools. But, if public funds are moved into private schools, then they are no longer private schools and the public has the right to make decisions rather than the parents. He urged the committee members not to pass the resolution out of the committee. He asked that it be held, so that NEA-Alaska can send written testimony from its legal folks. Number 1383 KARLA FEELEY testified via teleconference from Fairbanks. She works with the members of the Education Support Staff Association and the Fairbanks Education Association. She is the product of parochial schools through her graduate degree, however HJR 6 is absolutely the wrong way to go. She urged the committee members to defeat it. In the U.S., there is a system of free, universal and public education, which is unique in the world. It's offered free of charge to any child. It is universal in that it is accessible to everyone. Public school students cannot and do not turn away a student, which is a wonderful advantage and foundation for a democracy. In addition, the schools in Alaska are extremely responsive to the public. They are the most available public institution. She cited people vote and play basketball in them as examples. The school board members are responsive and available. The schools are what the public has asked of them. If the public wants something different, then it should ask. Lastly, the schools are working very hard at providing the very best possible education, which involves raising standards for students and teachers. The schools need the support of the legislature and additional funding, not undermining their method of operating, which could be potentially millions and millions of dollars. Number 1574 JOSEPH L. STORY, Representative, Seventh Day Adventist Church, testified via teleconference from Sitka. The church has seven parochial schools in the state and, currently, is in the process of establishing several more schools. The increased funds and enrollment are very enticing, but there is nothing preventing state involvement in the curriculum. The testimony has called for a strong accountability to ensure the same standards for those schools benefiting from state funding, but he's not sure how that would affect the moral and religious aspects of education. He is also concerned about how the standards of dress and conduct would be affected. In addition, it doesn't appear to him that the private schools receiving the benefit would have any control over whether or not to accept the funds. There is also nothing that would guarantee the funds to students in private or sectarian schools in a time of budgetary constraint. He cited a scenario in Canada where funds were cutoff leaving the schools in great fiscal difficulty. In addition, enabling legislation could eventually take on other forms that could be problematic. He recognized, however, that these types of things are hard to pin down. The position of the church is to neither support nor oppose the resolution, because it sees the advantages while at the same times has concerns. Number 1778 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Story whether there is any regulation of the church's curriculum now by officials. MR. STORY replied he's not aware of any. The main regulation/involvement is in the health and safety issues. Number 1802 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Story whether part of his concern is reducing the selection process and putting minimum limits on the curriculum. MR. STORY replied exactly. Number 1862 MELINDA BROOKS testified via teleconference from Mat-Su. She feels it is inappropriate to consider an amendment to the constitution to allow for vouchers or tax breaks for kindergarten to twelfth grade educational purposes at the current time. The state is in a fiscal crisis. How can you justify this action while you are debating changes to municipal aid, senior exemptions, veteran exemptions, PCE [power cost equalization] and virtually every other aspect of state funding? The state does not have enough money to be considering a new big government entitlement program. At the local level, most people feel that their taxes are going to be high enough. She mentioned that during the welfare debate many people said that they should not expect a handout from the state just because they have children, and that they should be responsible for their own choices. She said, "Providing state funds for private schools is like taking your kid to McDonald's because he refuses to eat his dinner. It leaves you vulnerable to even more outrageous demands." She agrees that the state has an interest in providing the public an education, but it cannot afford to provide for the luxury of private schools. Number 1951 KERMIT REPPOND testified via teleconference from Kodiak. He is testifying as a parent and as a board member of the Kodiak Christian School. He is in support of anything that leads to some type of voucher program. He noted the following assumptions: - The current system is rooted in the belief that a state monopoly on education is best; - That parents are too ignorant of their children's needs to make good decisions; and - That public schools are so rotten that they would be emptied like a fire drill, if the parents were given the chance. MR. REPPOND further stated those assumptions are patently false. It breaks his heart to turn away a student because his/her parents do not have the money to attend a private school. In response to the accountability discussion, when a parent hands money over directly to a school, that school becomes accountable. Right now, the parents really never see the money. A voucher system would increase the level of accountability of the schools to the parents. In response to the leveling discussion, shouldn't the schools be elevating students rather than leveling/homogenizing them? A voucher system would elevate all the students. In every other endeavor in an American system, a monopoly is thought to deliver inferior goods at a higher price, while competition is thought to deliver cheaper prices and better goods. In education, however, it seems that a monopoly is the best way to go. In response to the issue of the attempt to remove Cyber school computers from private schools, he commented that the criminal activity in the state must be low in order for law enforcement to plan raids on private schools. As a parent of a child who is enrolled in the Delta Cyber School and a private school, he has seen firsthand how his child's education has benefited. The students are studying spreadsheets, word processing, keyboarding, astronomy and Spanish. He noted that none of the subjects contain any religious (indisc.) that a reasonable person might consider as an aid to religion. The sites visited on the Web are unincumbered from any religious entanglement. If these computers are withdrawn, it will hurt the students not the school. It may even require additional expenditures from the local school district in order to provide supplemental education to the students who do not have access to the technology. It is inconsistent with common sense and statute to grant a child who is studying at home the use of a laptop computer who can access a Cyber school, and to prohibit the use of the same computer and same Web site if that computer is carried into a private school. Attorney General Bruce Botelho's attack on Delta Cyber School in unwarranted and a waste of tax payers' money. He said, "To think the passage of HJR 6 is some other measure to restore public sense of the justice department then that's what you should do." Number 2395 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Reppond whether he would have any objection to saying a student can go to a private school of his/her choice. In other words, a student cannot be refused admission because of race, disability, or some other criteria. Number 2452 MR. REPPOND replied, "You need to be careful that we don't get the idea that we achieve excellence in education by regulation." At the Kodiak Christian School... TAPE 99-42 Number 0001 MR. REPPOND continued. Since it is a Christian-based school, the parents are asked to sign a document indicating that they agree with the faith which the education is based on. That is what they are paying for with their own money. If a kid comes in asking to be instructed in a Buddhist education, that kid is informed initially that is not taught there. The secret here is choice. Number 0086 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Reppond whether it would be a problem for his school for the state to say it can't discriminate based on race because it's getting state money. MR. REPPOND replied no it wouldn't be a problem because it already has those same standards. Number 0106 REPRESENTATIVE CROFT asked Mr. Reppond whether there would be any difficulty in requiring a minimum level of curriculum because it's getting state money. MR. REPPOND replied the problem is a little rule gets bigger and bigger. The parents are satisfied with the current curriculum. The current system works. There is no reason to try to duplicate all of the regulations from the public schools to the private schools. Right now, the reason there are charter schools is to be free of the regulations. He noted that what comes out of the schools should be graded not what goes into them. Regulations go in and students come out. The Kodiak Christian School would be very leery of any kind of state control associated with its curriculum because that is its sacred ground. Number 0303 SHERRI JACKSON testified via teleconference from Anchorage in support of HJR 6. She is in favor of the resolution because it would allow for a choice. She has four children and has home schooled them all. She doesn't think the argument is about the teachers, but a fear of losing money. In light of that, she agrees that a commonsense approach is needed to consider what is best for the children. Those who want to teach their children from a religious based don't have a choice. "We're just saying, 'Hey, we're tax payers. We care. Can we now take that tax paying dollar and put it to where we can teach our child Jesus Christ?' We can stand on the rock and look forward." Two of her children are presently enrolled in Galena (indisc.) program. She is allowed $1,400 a year per child and she gets to choose where to spend the money. She reiterated those in favor of the resolution are so because of choice. She doesn't believe that there would be a mass exitus out of the public schools. She reiterated that everybody seems to be concerned about money when she is concerned about morales and the lives of her children. In response to the issue of "dummying-down," her friends have indicated to her that some schools in places like Barrow "dummy-down" because it's easier for a child to get a job for $18 per hour than to stay in the public school system for an education. She reiterated an amendment to the constitution would allow for a choice when she is responsible for her children's education. She sees the public school system as a huge God when some people want to serve their own God. She agrees with taking that $1,400 and applying it to any school that she wants to creating competition and making the administration more accountable and responsible. In conclusion she stated, "In the arena for my child going through a Christian school so he can learn Jesus Christ and he can learn godly principles and he can stand upon the rock and he's not fearful of humanism hanging over his head dictating to him what to do, I believe that is tremendously good for society. And, I don't think anybody can argue that." Number 0753 THERESE SYREN, Teacher, Lumen Christian High School, testified via teleconference from Anchorage. Her school also has the Cyber program. The only reason anybody could be against the direct, educational benefit of the Cyber program for students is because of the fear between the separation of church and state. Number 0841 CHAIRMAN KOTT called for an at-ease at 3:10 p.m. due to technical difficulties with the teleconference network and called the meeting back to order at 3:20 p.m. The technical problem was corrected. Number 0902 MS. SYREN continued. The only way anybody could be against the direct, educational benefit for students is the fear of violating the separation between church and state. She reminded the committee members that the phrase - separation between church and state - does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. It was intended to keep the church and state distinct, which means the state is meant to be friendly towards religion, but is not meant to adopt any particular one. Thus, to deny the use of Cyber school computer programs is taking a big step towards establishing secularism of a church religion. She noted that under a voucher system the money would go to the hands of the parents; therefore, it boils down to an issue of trusting parents or the state to raise the children. It is clear that the parents are the ones who are suppose to do that. Number 1107 NICK BEGICH testified via teleconference from Anchorage in support of HJR 6. He is the past president of the Alaska Federation of Teachers and the Anchorage Council of Education. He was also an organizer in the ASD in the mid-1980's that put together the first coalition of waivers. The idea of choice really gets to the root of the issue, not money. Those who are vested in the status quo would like to see it remain the same. NEA-Alaska has several millions of dollars in dues coming from school districts. He has not heard a good argument from them why public schools should have the monopoly or sole franchise for compulsory education in the state. In Alaska, children are compelled to go to school, but on the same token they are not given an equal opportunity in terms of the educational outcome. The idea that money cannot be put to private schools, under the current constitution, is probably correct. However, in looking at the state subsidized student loans, those funds do not necessarily go to public institutions. In fact, they go to many private schools without any strings attached because the money flows directly to the students. The argument that this might cost more is a small price to pay for those who do not currently receive any public benefit, which they are entitled to under the constitution as well. In response to the argument of accountability, he noted that he suggested to the ASD to adopt a policy that said all public employees' first obligation is to the public. But, Ms. Ossiander and others indicated that was too controversial and refused to consider it as a change. They felt that it would create a conflict between supervisors and subordinates. In response to measuring up to the upcoming testing standards, the ultimate accountability is with the parents. If parents don't feel that they are getting their monies worth things start to break down. He believes the ultimate accountability exists in the private schools because it rests with the parents. He further mentioned that his son was a beneficiary of a Cyber school program, and the idea that he can be denied access is logical given the fact that the legislature passed a law that allows private school students to avail themselves to the opportunities available to public school students, even though the ASD opposed that legislation saying it would be an undue burden. He reiterated this is an issue of protecting the status quo, educational unions, and establishment, which run counter to the good of the public. Number 1424 CHAIRMAN KOTT closed the meeting to public testimony. CHAIRMAN KOTT announced that the bill would be held over for further consideration.