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28th Legislature(2013-2014)

Committee Minutes


HOUSE JUDICIARY
Feb 19, 2014

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	              HJR  1-CONST. AM: EDUCATION FUNDING                                                                           

2:41:33 PM

VICE CHAIR LYNN announced the next order of business would be
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 1, Proposing amendments to the
Constitution of the State of Alaska relating to state aid for
education.

2:41:44 PM

CHAIR KELLER, speaking as the sponsor of HJR 1 described the
Alaska Constitution as neither infallible or prescient, and
therefore there is an amendment process built into the
constitution. He advised that there are only the two following
ways to change the meaning of the constitution: the language can
be interpreted differently as time passes or the text of the
constitution can be changed by amendment. He explained that HJR
1 would allow the people to vote on the changes proposed in HJR
1. He reminded the committee that an amendment to the Alaska
State Constitution can only be adopted if two-thirds of the
House of Representatives and Senate agree, which increases the
burden on legislators. Changing the Alaska State Constitution
is an important matter. Furthermore, it is an important matter
to choose to prevent the sovereigns of the state from voting on
an issue. Chair Keller then informed the committee that the
amendment embodied in HJR 1 and SJR 9 as well as House Joint
Resolution 16 [in the 27th Alaska State Legislature] have
received a total of 24 hours of testimony and over 150
testifiers. However, he submitted that the text itself had not
been reviewed.

2:46:31 PM

CHAIR KELLER then directed attention to Page 1, line 8, which
would delete the following language from the Alaska State
Constitution: "No money shall be paid from the public funds for
the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational
institution. The aforementioned language is known as the
"Blaine Amendment," which he believed it caused a "shameful"
blemish on the history of the United States as it was based upon
prejudice, bigoted action, and discrimination. Chair Keller
reviewed the history that led to the Blaine Amendment becoming a
standard feature of state constitutions during this time.

2:52:33 PM

CHAIR KELLER then pointed out that HJR 1 proposes on page 1,
lines 14-15 to add to Section 6 of the Alaska State Constitution
the following: "; however nothing in this section shall prevent
payment from public funds for the direct educational benefit of
the students as provided by law."

Representative Keller related his belief that everyone would
like the best education possible for the children of Alaska, and
it is not an offensive position to allow the state government to
spend money for the direct educational benefit of the students
as provided by law. The debate on HJR 1, however, has been over
the word "voucher," which may or may not be an issue because
[the benefit] is "as directed by law" and is [to be determined]
at a future time, he opined. The point of HJR 1, he explained,
is to change the text of the Alaska State Constitution and
delete prejudice against Catholic and private schools, which he
believes is a valid choice for voters to decide. He encouraged
the committee to focus on the testimony and the question of why
the public should be able to vote on the proposed change in HJR
1. Representative Keller stated he is personally convinced that
Alaskans want the option to vote on this proposed constitutional
amendment.

2:55:49 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LYNN related his understanding that it is not a
question about vouchers, but rather would afford the voters an
opportunity to remove the [Blaine Amendment] from the Alaska
State Constitution.

2:57:01 PM

REPRESENTATIVE FOSTER clarified that if HJR 1 passed by a two-
thirds vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate, it
would go before the voters of the state during a general
election, and would require a majority vote to pass.

CHAIR KELLER noted his agreement

2:57:38 PM

REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT characterized the time of the passage of
the Blaine Amendment as an embarrassment in terms of how
[immigrant] legal citizens of the U.S. were treated. She then
requested that the historical documents with which she is in
possession be included in the committee packet. Although the
Blaine Amendment was in place prior to Alaska's Statehood,
during Alaska's Constitutional Convention the conversation was
not about the Blaine Amendment but rather about public money
going to private schools that were religious; she opined, and at
the time of the [Constitutional Convention] there were many
religious groups moving into Alaska villages and creating
schools. The committee's conversation, she further opined,
should be whether or not to have the Blaine Amendment in the
Alaska State Constitution rather than whether to have vouchers
and [state funds] going to private schools or religious schools
because that is an entirely different conversation than the
purpose of HJR 1, which is to remove the Blaine Amendment.

3:01:56 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LYNN predicted that if HJR 1 were to go before
the people, there would be a lot of debate. Furthermore, if HJR
1 was approved by the people, it would return to the legislature
where legislation would likely be introduced and go through the
committee process of debate. He stated his agreement that HJR 1
merely addresses the Blaine Amendment.

3:02:28 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX requested that a Department of Law (DOL)
representative explain how the state is constitutionally able to
provide opportunity scholarships to high school achievers to
[attend] either a University of Alaska school or a private
school.

CHAIR KELLER assured the committee that he would have DOL staff
available to the committee to answer questions.

REPRESENTATIVE LYNN returned the gavel to Chair Keller.

3:03:51 PM

RICHARD KOMER, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice, noted
agreement with earlier testimony that the [Blaine Amendment] is
a relic of an anti-Catholic past that proliferated directly in
response to the increasing immigration of Irish Catholics to the
United States in the 1800s. At the time the Irish and Catholics
were arriving, public schools were not the secular schools of
today in that were public schools used the King James Bible,
Protestant doctrine, and history that was specifically anti-
Catholic. The aforementioned resulted in Catholics starting
their own schools. Therefore, there were Protestant public
schools and Catholic parochial schools and the Catholics
requested equal funding for their schools. The language of the
Blaine Amendment was specifically designed to rebuff the efforts
of Catholics to achieve equal treatment from the public
authority. With dereligification of public schools, the
situation is such that there are secular public school and
private school marketplaces with many different religious
schools, including quite a few Catholic schools. Therefore the
Blaine Amendment has continued its original discriminatory
purpose of depriving Catholic schools of any state aid.
However, today the school choice movement is an effort to
provide assistance to families to choose the school that best
suits their needs, he opined. The aforementioned, he said, is
the paradigm outside of Alaska in terms of how higher education
scholarships assistance and Federal Pell grants provide.
Alaskan students can receive Federal Pell grants to use at
religious colleges in Alaska, however, due to the decision in
Sheldon Jackson [College] v. State [599 P.2d 127, 1979] there
are inhibitions in allowing private scholarships used at
religious colleges in Alaska.

MR. KOMER then turned the question as to why it is necessary to
amend the Alaska State Constitution. He emphasized that it
shouldn't be necessary to amend Alaska's Blaine Amendment
because on its face Alaska's Blaine Amendment does not forbid
school choice scholarship type programs. However, two Alaska
Supreme Court decisions interpreted Alaska's Blaine Amendment
extremely broad as if it read similar to other states' Blaine
Amendments and prohibits any programs that provide direct or
indirect benefits to religious institutions. The Alaska Supreme
Court, he charged, expanded "direct" to include the concept of
"indirect," which was specifically rejected at the
Constitutional Convention as it chose to only forbid direct
benefit to private institutions. Therefore, amending this
language, he opined, returns the state to where the [delegates]
of the Alaska Constitutional Convention [intended].
Furthermore, due to the Alaska Supreme Court's
misinterpretations of the Mathews v. Quinton [362 P.2d 932,
Alaska 1961] and Sheldon Jackson [College] cases, the only
recourse now is to amend the underlying language and overrule
the Alaska Supreme Court's decisions. Thus, a constitutional
amendment is necessary unless it reverses itself. Therefore, he
surmised, the Alaska Blaine Amendment has been interpreted with
a much broader limitation than the Federal Establishment Clause,
which permits religiously neutral scholarship programs at both
the K-12 and collegiate level.

3:13:01 PM

MR. KOMER then turned to the question of whether the
constitutional amendment is constitutional. In Bess v. Almer
[985 P.2d 979 Alaska 1999] the Alaska Supreme Court addressed
the issue of when to use the amendment process and when to use
the revision process when amending the constitution. He
submitted that this amendment, HJR 1, is constitutional because
it is narrow, addresses a single subject, and is focused on
overruling the Sheldon Jackson [College] case. He opined, this
does not create a voucher/scholarship program but allows the
legislature to provide for a scholarship program at the higher
education level or at the K-12 level. Mr. Komer, in response to
Chair Keller, informed the committee that the Institute for
Justice is reviewing state constitutions and advocates for
school choice programs.

3:17:05 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked if the inclusion of the [Blaine
Amendment] in the Alaska State Constitution was the result of
Catholic bias.

MR. KOMER stated he could not answer that [question], but did
not believe there was [Catholic bias] as this provision was
never intended to prevent students from using state scholarships
to attend religious colleges or religious schools. However, the
Alaska Supreme Court in Sheldon Jackson [College] said that by
giving aid to students, the state would be giving direct benefit
to the colleges the students attend.

3:19:56 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX related her understanding that the state
provides opportunity scholarships for high school students who
meet certain criteria and can be used anywhere in Alaska,
including private or religious colleges. In view of the Sheldon
Jackson [College] case, she questioned whether that program, if
challenged, might face problems.

MR. KOMER stated, "Yes, I would."

3:21:53 PM

STEVEN O'BRIEN advised that when he studied the Alaska
Constitutional Convention he thought all the [delegates] looked
to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution
regarding separation of church and state and didn't believe
there were any racists at the convention. He then noted his
expectation that a constitutional amendment would have more
specificity. As a retired educator, graduate of a parochial
school system, and Catholic, he questioned the admission
policies of these schools and asked whether they would be open
to anyone. With regard to discipline policies, would these
schools have to be in compliance with state law and would
suspensions and expulsions be reviewed by a body such as a
school board or would they follow their own church or private
school policies, he asked. Even busing of students becomes a
consideration as does the entity that monitors the expenditures.
In terms of curriculum, he inquired as to who would monitor it
as it should be thoroughly vetted by the state. He then asked
if certified teachers who have passed the Praxis as required by
state law be the recipients of this money, he asked, or will the
teachers just be high school graduates. Moreover, will the
administrators be certified under state law, he asked. He
further questioned who would monitor the budgets and state
expenditures of these schools. Will the aforementioned be
relegated to elected school boards, another body, or will there
be no monitoring at all, he asked. In a situation in which
teachers and staff of private schools receive state funds, would
they become part of the Alaska Teachers' Retirement System (TRS)
and/or the Alaska Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS,) he
asked. At the present time, Mr. O'Brian characterized [HJR 1]
as a blank check in that it seems to be using tax dollars
without any direct voice of the people to monitor the situation.

3:25:52 PM

STEWART THOMSON provided the following remarks:

This constitutional amendment about education should
be put to a public vote. What is at issue is a very
basic human freedom. Freedom of mind that is founded
on freedom of choice. What is at issue socially is
the ability of our state's people to reach for
posterity. The only real virtue of U.S. private
education is its reduced class sizes and dedicated
teachers that survive intimidation. The only real
virtue of U.S. public education is its economic
efficiency and dedicated teachers that survive
intimidation. The major defect of private education
has developed by contagion from public education's
major defect and that is indoctrination masquerading
as education. Symptomatic of indoctrination is
emphasis on memorization encouraged and forced by
testing and adult duress. This in turn produces
people who cannot think with or long remember what
they memorized and worse, have mental conflicts
creating attention loss that naturally arise from what
they do not conceptually understand. Educational
snake oil salesmen then push psychotropic drugs and
crack pot educational theories as solutions to student
problems, inattention and unruliness. On the basis
that student passivity equals attention and
information assimilation. The lack of retention that
naturally results has put the U.S. near the bottom of
national economic achievement by populations of
industrialized countries for numerous recent studies.
What is the result? Our nation is dying. We justify
a consumer, not industrialized, economy, government
encouraged psychotropic drug and entertainment doping.
Spiraling individual and national debt, population
protected directed by an elite, government supported
special interests for the public good, and force and
bribery masquerading as international relations
because it supports our so-called high quality of
life. This is proof that our general population is
insufficiently educated to recognize the propaganda of
the economic, scientific, and intellectual
aristocracies covering up degradation of the American
people. I do not think the framers of the Alaska
Constitution envisioned the disaster in the face of
valiant individual teacher efforts that our
educational system has fallen into. But they did
establish an amendment process, let's do it, it is
only just. We just might get young people actively
engaged in helping to rationally educate themselves
because they have been taught how to research and
learn and do, in any subject, for all their lives, not
only things to pass tests and feed the egos of
ignorant adults. Thank you for your attention, good
luck on your deliberations.

3:29:06 PM

CHAIR KELLER announced he would continue the committee meeting
until 3:50 p.m., when a committee member has to leave and
requested witnesses to limit their testimony to two minutes. He
added that he will open public testimony the next time the
resolution is before the committee.

3:29:51 PM

YOLANDA GRIFFITH maintained it was not right [to limit testimony
to two minutes] because other people testified longer than seven
minutes and everyone should be allowed equal time with no
preference. She advised she did not belong to the National
Education Association (NEA) or to the American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC). She then stated her opposition to HJR
1 and related that her children had attended a private school
where those children whose parents had political influence
received priority and preference, but now attend public school
and are doing well as they have different choices and excellent
teachers and counselors. Therefore, she related her strong
support for public education and argued that politicians should
set an example to children by showing respect to the Alaska
State Constitution as it was created. She questioned why there
is an obsession to destroy public education and change the
Alaska State Constitution.

CHAIR KELLER, in response to Ms. Griffith, advised there is no
intent to harm public education as the education of all children
is considered a high priority. Speaking for himself, he said he
liked the idea of parents having a choice.

3:32:40 PM

MARK WIGGINS said he found Mr. Komer's remarks and all such
remarks about the Blaine Amendment to be sheer and transparent
obfuscation around the issue of church and state. He noted that
he is Irish Catholic and attended a Catholic school, and finds
it "hilarious" that at this stage of his life when he is a
fairly well-to-do, professional oil and gas Caucasian can claim
he was discriminated against by having to pay for his Catholic
education. Mr. Wiggins advised he is a strong proponent of
public schools as his children have an estimated total of 15-17
years in public education and there has never been an
unacceptable occurrence. He expressed the need to take SJR 9
and HJR 1 off the table and move to the task of strengthening
the [public] school system to the premiere educational system
desired by all. Wisely, the framers of the Alaska State
Constitution included Article 7 1. [Public] Education to try
to insulate it from this "religious fervor" that seems to be
driving this "gut the constitution" push, he opined. Mr.
Wiggins asked that the committee not approve HJR 1 and instead
increase the [base student allocation] to a level that does not
cause teachers to work under stressful conditions with such
large classes.

3:36:27 PM

MATHEW FAGNANI, Chairman, Board of Lumen Christi High School,
noting he is the past chair of Anchorage's largest charter
school, began by stating his support for HJR 1. He informed the
committee that Lumen Christi High School is a Catholic high
school with 40 percent of its faculty and students coming from
different denominations of faith. He advised his children had
participated in all three types of education: charter,
parochial, and public, and found that choice was important as
his children did not fit the one-size-fits-all-philosophy. The
Alaska State Constitution may not benefit from the one-size-
fits-all philosophy either. Not all children learn the same way
and the "cookie cutter" approach is not sufficient to compete in
today's market place, he opined. By passing HJR 1 the
legislature is providing exciting opportunities of innovation
and education for students while allowing parents to take
control of their children's education and choose the best
process for education Alaska's money can buy, he stated. The
founders of the state recognized that future generations would
need flexibility to respond to possibilities in a manner that
would benefit all students, he maintained.

3:38:26 PM

CHAIR KELLER pointed out that passage of HJR 1 will place the
constitutional amendment before the people for a vote, and [if
passed] there would be a legislative process.

3:39:10 PM

DEENA MITCHELL advised that her husband works in the oil and gas
industry, she is a stay-at-home mother with three children in
the public school system, and has been pleased with the choices
available in [public school]. She opined that while the Blaine
Amendment may have been anti-Catholic, it has been effective at
keeping the separation of church and state, which she
characterized as a plus. Although it is an admirable goal to
allow voters to decide in November on HJR 1, she related her
belief that the general public just does not have the time to
vet these issues. This resolution should not go on the ballot
until the financial and institutional ramifications are
understood, she opined. As a state, she contended, the
[legislature] should consider whether during these tight
budgetary times this is really the time to be opening this
[issue]. She questioned the true purpose of HJR 1 as there has
been testimony that [HJR 1] is not about vouchers but instead is
to remove the Blaine Amendment due to its insidious history.
Furthermore, she contended that there are a great number of
choices and options through the public school system, including
Specialized Academic Vocational Education (SAVE) School in
Anchorage, Family Partnership [Charter] School, Interior
Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA), and public schools. Noting
her Master's degree in Economics, she advised she would have to
review the study that some have said found 90 percent of people
in Alaska are in favor of HJR 1 because "numbers can say
whatever we want them to say." She then mentioned a study she
heard about that found 90 percent of parents would recommend
their school to others. She opined that Alaska public schools
are doing a fine job with a challenging demographic and
conditions in spite of the last three years of budget cuts. She
echoed Mr. Wiggins' testimony to take HJR 1 off the table and
focus on the real issue of strengthening and restoring financial
stability to public schools.

3:43:59 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LYNN highlighted that there are a number of
initiatives on an upcoming election and questioned whether the
general public is trusted to vote on those. He reminded the
committee of the democratic process in which the general public
takes part.

3:45:16 PM

SUSETTNA KING, Second Vice-President, Alaska Native Sisterhood,
Glacier Valley Camp 70, advised that the Alaska Native
Sisterhood Glacier Valley Camp 70's main goal is education.
Although she appreciated the committee bringing forward the
intent of HJR 1, she questioned from where the funding would
come. More specifically, she questioned whether funding would
be diverted from public school, which are struggling financially
due to severe budget cuts, increased class sizes, declining
resources, and [funding] not keeping up with inflation. She
then asked whether private school teachers and administrators
would be held to the same expectations as with public schools.

MS. KING, in response to Representative LeDoux's clarified that
if HJR 1 goes before the [voters] there should be more
clarification as to what is desired with HJR 1.

CHAIR KELLER advised that HJR 1 merely allows discussion because
legislation is required to appropriate funds for education. The
legislature, he opined, has demonstrated a strong commitment to
funding education. He estimated the state spends approximately
$22,000 per year [per student].

MS. KING conveyed that the Alaska Native Sisterhood, Glacier
Valley Camp 70 opposes HJR 1.

3:50:57 PM

JENNIFER HOWELL stated she is representing herself, but noted
she is a kindergarten teacher. With only 90 days in the
legislative session and the legislature hasn't put the funds
forth to fund education. She expressed disappointment the
legislature is putting energy into taking [the Blaine Amendment]
out of the constitution and possibly opening doors that will
erode public education, rather than focusing on issues currently
affecting the public education system. She then related that
she truly believes in the existing [public] education system.

3:52:24 PM

RON FUHRER, President, National Education Association-Alaska
(NEA-AK) began by informing the committee he represents 13,000
education support professionals and teachers and 130,000 public
school students. In response to an earlier question as to why
HJR 1 should not be on the ballot and a discussion of vouchers
and the bleeding of money from the public school system should
be discounted, he identified the problem as the [proponents of
HJR 1] are trying to boil it down to a simplistic question of
"yes" or "no" on the Blaine Amendment. Alaskan voters deserve
to know the impact of their decisions as the people supporting
HJR 1 believe they will have school choice, while the people
opposing it believe it will harm public education. However, he
opined that no one knows [the answer] because the [proponents]
are hiding behind the "piece" that says to just vote the Blaine
Amendment up or down and if it passes, then "we'll" tell you
what it does. The real issue, he stated, is the ballot language
and whether the voters wish to remove the Blaine Amendment from
the Alaska State Constitution or whether [the question is about]
family school choice. He expressed concern that people will be
voting based upon their perception of what HJR 1 does, or do not
do.

CHAIR KELLER advised that within the legislative process are
constituents and each legislator tries to represent his/her
constituents and there has been a lot of input that this should
be there.

MR. FUHRER remarked that voters like to know for what their
representatives stand.

3:55:23 PM

MARY HAKALA advised she was a 1975 graduate from Juneau Douglas
High School (JDHS), with three children who went through that
system, and a parent founder of a charter school. She
emphasized the importance of choice within the public school
framework as there are possible innovations to review. This
proposed amendment is not an attempt to remedy a past ill and
does not remove a sentence or two that is disliked or is racist,
rather it opens the door for state funding in support of private
and religious schools, she opined, in a state with a very clear
and strong distinction between church and state. She urged the
legislators to focus on the real issue, which is how to improve
schools for all children. She then related her belief that JHR
1 will lead to discrimination as private schools are not
required to [enroll] every child and can kick them out at will.
She then expressed concern for children with disabilities in
terms of additional choices given to those families and those
children under [HJR 1]. She noted that she would leave the
committee with information about vouchers. In closing, Ms.
Hakala emphasized HJR 1 proposes a significant change in
Alaska's State Constitution.

3:58:21 PM

MARK CHOATE, noting that he is an attorney with the Choate Law
Firm, LLC. stated he is representing himself, but as a trial
lawyer he works a lot on framing issues. He expressed concern
with the committee's decision to consider HJR 1 a repeal of the
Blaine Amendment is simply framing done by very sophisticated
outside interests and it does a great disservice to the founding
fathers and mothers who wrote the Alaska Constitution. He then
expressed disagreement with the idea that the framers of the
Alaska State Constitution were anti-Irish or carrying out a plan
from the 1860s-1880s that was anti-Irish and anti-Catholic.

CHAIR KELLER interjected that earlier the history of the Blaine
Amendment, which is a remnant and reminder of a time in history
of discrimination and bigotry was presented. Chair Keller
maintained the Alaska Constitution was written after that time
period.

MR. CHOATE highlighted that many of the Alaska constitutional
founders were Catholic and the founders were not anti-Irish or
anti-Catholic. The provision was not included with the
intention to harm or hurt Catholics or the Irish people, which
he presumed Chair Keller would agree. Therefore, that's the
concern with the statements that [HJR 1] repeals the Blaine
Amendment.

CHAIR KELLER agreed with Mr. Choate's statement and pointed out
that the Alaska State Constitution only prohibited the direct
investment in private and religious schools and had the court
system not interpreted [the Blaine Amendment] differently, [HJR
1 would not exist]. The court applied the same wording that is
in other states, and other states with the same language [as the
Blaine Amendment in the Alaska State Constitution] do not hide
behind the language to "protect a weak government monopoly on
the system."

4:00:53 PM

MR. CHOATE, mentioning the Establishment Clause, pointed out
that the founding fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution
Establishment Clause were just three generations away from
English civil wars and had direct familiarity with the
involvement of church and state in terms of the millions of
lives lost here and in Europe. The Alaska State Constitution is
considered a model, particularly in terms of its right to
privacy and the way it has been utilized in the Alaska Court
System is a national model for impartiality. Mr. Choate
suggested the committee avoid characterizing what Alaska's
founding fathers did as being any form of discrimination.

CHAIR KELLER noted his agreement with Mr. Choate that the
discussion is not about Alaska's founding fathers, but was the
broader picture.

MR. CHOATE, in response to Representative Gruenberg's question,
stated that during 2006-2012 he was a member of the Juneau
School Board.

REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG emphasized that he appreciated Mr.
Choate's testimony and was hopeful he and other members of the
bar would monitor this legislature and also work with the
committee, even though it may not always agree with their
advice.

4:03:47 PM

ANN GIFFORD advised that although she is an attorney who has
worked with school districts in Alaska for more than 25 years,
she is representing herself today. Ms. Gifford stated her
opposition to Amendment 1 and noted she had previously submitted
written testimony in opposition to vouchers, and therefore today
her testimony is regarding provisions of the constitution
itself. Ms. Gifford noted that from everything she has seen the
Blaine Amendment's discrimination issue was not part of Alaska's
constitutional delegate's discussions as the framer's primary
concern was about supporting and protecting a strong system of
public schools. The aforementioned is why the language
specifics there won't be any direct [state] support for private
schools including religious schools. She then voiced concern
that there has been no discussion today about the second part of
the proposed resolution [Sec. 2. Article IX, sec. 6. Public
Purpose.]. Alaska's constitution, she posited, would be
weakened by [HJR 1] by adding an exception to the [original]
provision that all public funds must be spent for a public
purpose; the constitutional delegates wrote the provision as a
fundamental principle in Alaska's constitution. The
constitution reads that if the state or a local government is
going to tax and spend public money, the money is to be spent
for a public purpose. In that regard, any educational program
should at least be able to pass that test, she opined.
Therefore, she urged the committee to not weaken that
constitutional principle.

4:06:13 PM

CHAIR KELLER asked if Ms. Gifford would consider [public money]
spent for a direct educational benefit to the student as a
public purpose.

4:06:28 PM

MS. GIFFORD responded that [legislators] should not be changing
that part of the constitution because any program that is for
the direct benefit of students and meets a public purpose is
appropriate to spend [public funds], but if there is [a reason]
for the direct benefit of a student that is not for a public
purpose she did not believe public funds should be spent. Ms.
Gifford expressed concern about "mucking around" with any of the
language in that section of the constitution.

4:07:07 PM

REPRESENTATIVE LYNN questioned whether education is a public
purpose.

MS. GIFFORD responded that public education is for a public
purpose, but she opined that private education is not a public
purpose. She further opined that public funds should not be
used to support private education.

4:07:26 PM

MS. GIFFORD recalled Mr. Komer's testimony in which he stated
the reason he gave for removing the Blaine Amendment is to allow
vouchers/scholarships. If the aforementioned is the case, then
it is important for the committee to also listen to testimony
from people with thoughts about whether or not vouchers are a
good idea, as vouchers [scholarships] are the reason Mr. Komer
gave for why the committee is considering HJR 1 today.

4:09:16 PM

CARRIE GOTSTEIN advised she was testifying on her own behalf and
as the mother of two children attended the Anchorage School
District. She remarked that there are a lot of red herrings
being tossed abut and it is interesting to hear the various ways
in which people frame HJR 1. With regard the perspective that
people should be allowed to vote, she opined that it is the
legislature's job to properly vet the implications and
consequences of HJR 1 before putting it to a vote so people can
be informed. She characterized framing HJR 1 with the Blaine
Amendment as a red herring. The main issue with HJR 1
amendment, she said, is separation of church and state.
Religious freedom is one of the founding principles of this
country, but she said she relies on Alaska's public schools to
not promote one religion over another and to teach respect for
another's beliefs, which is the hallmark and cornerstone of
Alaska's democracy, of a civil society. Public funds should
only be used for public education, she stated, and is one of the
reasons she strongly supports public education. She related
support for the right of families to choose what is right for
their children and that the Anchorage school system offers a
wide variety of choices. In fact, years ago she was the chair
of a parent committee that worked to develop Poloris K-12
school, although her children did not attend it. Therefore, she
testified that one can get their children's needs met within the
public school system. Ms. Gotstein expressed support of the
existence of all religious schools and respect for parents'
rights for a religious form of education, but did not think it
was appropriate to be paid for on the public's "nickel."
Furthermore, funding for public education is currently sparse
and using public money for private education will end up
decimating the public school system, she opined. In response to
Representative LeDoux's earlier question regarding Alaska
Performance Scholarships, advised that students who attend
religious schools can benefit from the Alaska Performance
Scholarships if they meet the criteria. The Alaska Performance
Scholarship goes to public schools, which is how it was
designed.

4:15:27 PM

SHEILA SELKREGG, speaking as a graduate of East Anchorage High
School and a mother of three children who went through the
Anchorage school district, said she recalled when Alaskan
schools were at the top in the nation and Alaska's teachers were
the highest paid. She highlighted that previous testimonies
stated the Blaine Amendment was framed in racism when actually
it was grounded in [General] Ulysses Grant's presentation to
veterans when he ran for president. General Grant propounded
that public money should not support "secular, pagan or
atheistic dogma" in the American education system, but instead
should support good "common" schools and good "common" education
for all citizens. General Grant's beliefs were grounded in the
country's fundamental belief of separation of church and state,
she opined. Ms. Selkregg advised she teaches public policy and
that having access to a public education has been and remains an
avenue that has served as stepping stones for all people. She
related her belief that private schools and charter schools
attract middle class and upper class families whereas public
schools have a large portion of poor and working class people.
In public schools people from disadvantaged and of less income
have the opportunity to make great strides in their life.
Education funding is allocated to the school systems on a "per
head" basis and as upper middle class and upper class families
skirt away from exposing their children to lower class families.
She predicted the defunding of public schools, which would be a
great loss to the middle class.

MS. SELKREGG then informed the committee that currently over 50
percent of children in the Anchorage School Districts are
economically disadvantaged. Furthermore, the schools with the
lowest outcomes for students have a turnover in students as high
as 50 percent, which means children attend two to three schools
in one year. The issue before the committee is not a struggle
of whether more options are needed as there are many, rather the
issue is how the state can begin to address the poverty and
disparity, which is a reflection of the national level, and
create good opportunities in the public schools, housing
programs, ex cetera in order to ensure that everyone has an
equal opportunity in life and access to the American dream, she
opined. She urged the committee not to move forward but rather
address the critical issues that help as this legislation was a
distraction from the working people of the state. In
conclusion, Ms. Selkregg stated public schools are doing a good
job and increasing graduation rates.

4:20:10 PM

MS. SELKREGG, in response to Chair Keller advised that she
currently teaches at the university but has spent most of her
life not teaching. Prior to teaching she said she worked for
the federal government, owned her own business, and was a member
of the municipal assembly. Ms. Selkregg characterized herself
as a committed citizen who care about the state and hoped the
focus could be on the critical issues before the state.

4:22:53 PM

MARKO HAGGERTY, speaking on his own behalf, informed the
committee that he two children through the public school system
and was pleased with the system. He took exception to [Mr.
Komer's] comments regarding equating scholarships with vouchers
as scholarships are based upon merit and vouchers are not. He
further took exception to the comments regarding the persecution
of the Irish and pointed out various American leaders. He then
disagreed with prior testimony that without [HJR 1] people will
not have a choice, and highlighted that everyone has the choice
to send their children to the school of their choice. Mr.
Haggerty opined that [HJR 1] is about vouchers funneling public
money into private coffers and has nothing to do with the Blaine
Amendment.

4:25:44 PM

CHAIR KELLER inquired as to why Alaskan should be allowed to
vote as there is no specific indictment or ruination of the
public schools. In fact, he said, other states have [used
scholarship programs], and that studies have shown when the
public funds are used for scholarship programs or vouchers it
has helped the public school system in the area where it took
place. Competition is a good thing, he remarked, Chair Keller
then noted that in his district the public school system has
done very well at providing choice within its system. He stated
that anything said was not meant to disparage what the good
schools have done. He agreed that Alaska's founding fathers did
not have an anti-Irish or anti-Catholic bias and stated that his
previous description of the Blaine Amendment was meant to give
background and was not meant to impugn the Alaska framers.

4:28:30 PM

MARTHA McNAUTY, speaking as a 27-year resident of Alaska with
two children who went through the Anchorage School District,
explained that while living in Fairbanks her son's public school
teachers recognized that he had severe learning disabilities.
Throughout the years her son received an excellent education
with the assistance of specialists in speech and reading
therapy, such that he graduated without advanced placement (AP)
classes with a 3.98, despite all of his learning disabilities.
She related her understanding that religious schools do not
accept children with disabilities and that if a child in a
private school is not performing correctly or has issues, the
child is removed from the [private] school in order to keep the
school's number up. Therefore, she opposed use of public funds
for schools when all children are not accepted. Looking back
had this voucher program been in place when her son had these
issues, she said she was not certain public funding would have
been there to help him and she doubted private schools would
have assisted her son. At that time in their lives her family
could not have afforded the assistance her son needed as she and
her husband were going to college.

4:31:49 PM

GLENN PRAX, representing himself, stated that the issue is not
about public education but rather the governing process. The
[Preamble] to the Alaska Constitution proclaims in part:

We the people ... in order to secure and transmit to
succeeding generations our heritage of political,
civil, and religious liberty ... do ordain and
establish this constitution...

MR. PRAX specified that within [the Constitution] there is an
article that prohibits this generation's representatives from
funding educational alternatives that many Alaskans want.
Passage of HJR 1 and SJR 9 will give this generation of Alaskans
the ability to review that restriction. The opponents of HJR 1
are expressing an "elitist" fear of the people which should be
ignored. If a majority of Alaskan voters decide to remove that
restriction funding decisions are still controlled by a majority
of the legislature, as with all departments of state government,
he opined. Speculation is no excuse to vote against the
resolution as no rights are infringed upon if HJR 1 passes, but
if it does not pass, the public's right to review its
constitution would be infringed. The resolutions are about
letting the current generation reconsider a policy decision made
50 years ago by a previous generation. If Alaska's heritage of
political, civil, and religious liberty has been transmitted to
this generation the House Judiciary Standing Committee will
unanimously recommend passage to the full house.

4:35:00 PM

TAMMI GANGULI suggested that if the concern is regarding the
Blaine Amendment represented historically, a public message
[could be submitted] stating that this generation of Alaskans do
not support the Blaine Amendment. The [committee] is opening
the door as [HJR 1] is not simply deciding whether the public
should vote on removing the Blaine Amendment from the
constitution. Ms. Ganguli contended that Alaskans will not be
involved in the vote that could allow vouchers or funding of
private schools as only the legislature will be allowed to vote
on those. She said separation of church and state is a founding
[principle], and therefore, she didn't view leaving [the Blaine
Amendment] in as a problem. She expressed disappointment in the
House Judiciary Standing Committee that had an expert who does
not live in this state, does not understand how Alaska schools
work, and who is paid by an organization that supports the free
choice change was allowed to spend the majority of the
[testimony] time talking about this issue. She then questioned
where the other side is in this hearing other than the people
who testified earlier. She admitted that she was getting very
confused and believed [the issues] should be very clear to the
voters. Some are afraid to place this before the voters because
political groups, she opined, that manipulate the population
under a certain pretense, and furthermore when an [initiative]
is phrased a certain way the voters do not understand whether
saying "yes" or "no." The aforementioned is why such issues are
supposed to be put before those with lots of staff getting them
the correct information and research. She disagreed with
earlier remarks that it's elitist fear and charged that removal
of [the Blaine Amendment] will open the door...

4:38:45 PM

CHAIR KELLER opined the reason the Blaine Amendment should be
taken out of the Alaska State Constitution is because the Alaska
Supreme Court interpreted the language the constitution
differently than what was intended by the Alaska founders in
their use of "direct" instead of "indirect." He pointed out
that the "so-called" Blaine Amendment never had the purpose of
separation of church and state but rather was directed at
Catholics by the Protestants.

4:39:44 PM

MS. GANGULI responded that she appreciated the history of the
Blaine Amendment; however, if [HJR 1] is necessary because the
Alaska Supreme Court interpreted [the Blaine Amendment] in a
certain way, why then can't a case be brought forward to argue
the interpretation. Once the [Blaine Amendment] is removed, she
asked, where is the safety net for the voters of Alaska to say
"yes" or "no" to funding private education with public dollars.
She opined that removing the [Blaine Amendment] does more than
revoke a nasty provision written years ago. If the legislature
is going to fight to allow the public to be involved in the
process to removed [the Blain Amendment], then she stressed that
[the legislature] should ensure the public has input in the
funding process of using public funds for private industry.

4:41:05 PM

GEORGE PIERCE advised that he found it offensive that Chair
Keller took out-of-state testimony over that of Alaskans. He
then expressed concern that out-of-state people are [contacting]
Alaskan legislators and [imposing] their input on the State of
Alaska. Mr. Pierce stated he is opposed to HJR 1 for exactly
the same reason as with HJR 18 and all of the resolutions to
change the state constitution. He questioned whether there
would be accountability of private and religious schools in
return for accepting public funds as state money should be used
to comply with state standards. He further questioned how more
expensive funneling money to more expensive [private] schools is
going to fix the problems. He then informed the committee of a
survey of the Anchorage School District, the largest in the
state that found that 90 percent of parents were happy with the
district while legislators are working with studies linking
poverty to achievement. Mr. Pierce opined it is important to
continue the separation of church and state and if religious
schools cannot afford to remain open, they should "shut their
doors." He believed the legislators should stay out of the
constitution as it is a "slippery slope" and should listen to
their constituents of which 95 percent today said to stay out of
the Alaska State Constitution. In fact, the Department of
Education and Early Development Commissioner, Mike Hanley
believes [SJR9/HJR1] is a bad idea. Mr. Pierce then related his
belief that this could be a resolution from the American
Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and that legislators who
represent ALEC do not represent Alaska. He predicted a million
dollar lawsuit, and questioned whether the state could afford
that. He emphasized that legislators should hold town hall
meetings on this issue rather than listening to outside lawyers
and special interest groups. In conclusion, he urged the
legislature to stay out of the constitution.

4:45:20 PM

CHAIR KELLER closed public testimony.

4:45:31 PM