Parnell offers deal on education: More money in exchange for school choice option

In one of the boldest moves of his time in office, Gov. Sean Parnell said in the annual State of the State address on Wednesday night that he would increase funding for education if the Legislature passed his education reform agenda, which includes a bill that would open up the option of using public money for religious and private schools.

“Real change comes only with real reform. If you are willing to join me in passing real education reform, I will work with you to authorize an increase in the base student allocation (BSA),” Parnell said.

The offer comes at a particularly tense time. School teachers across the state are being cut because of what they say is the lack of funding, or increases in the base student allocation.

In his speech, Parnell also spoke about the natural gas pipeline, about the budget and other state financials, all of which he said were paving the way for “the great Alaska comeback.” Specifically, he called on legislators to put $3 billion of savings into the state retirement account, and an initial investment of between $70 to $90 million on the natural gas pipeline.

But to the extent that Parnell is passionate in any of his speeches, it was on education in this one. He called for those on both sides of the aisle, including himself, to climb out of their various trenches and to declare that 2014 be “the education session.”

In addition to the school choice issue, Parnell also proposed expanding boarding schools, reforming laws governing charter schools, increased funding for career technical training and digital teaching.

But the choice issue is the most controversial. Currently, the Alaska state Constitution prohibits public dollars to go to religious institutions. To amend the Constitution would require a vote of two-thirds of the House and the Senate. Then it would go to a vote of the public, hence the refrain heard around the halls of the Capitol building on Wednesday night: “Let the people vote.”

Many Democrats will fight hard against the proposal. In the Democratic response to the speech tonight, Senate Minority Leader Hollis French said he was “disappointed he’s going in this direction.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at


6 thoughts on “Parnell offers deal on education: More money in exchange for school choice option

  1. Michael Eastman

    Could you please stop using the word “reform” when talking about radical change. Amending the Alaska Constitution to impose private school funding on the general population is not reform anymore than the American Revolution was a “reform” of British colonial policy. Captain Zero is mustering the troops for a full frontal assault on public education. His Hessians are hoping to pillage the public coffers to finance their own saber-toothed capitalist privatised versions of the madrassa.

  2. Samuel Abney

    School vouchers would be the undoing of our education system. Why don’t we start allowing people to not pay the portion of their taxes that goes to the military just because they’re not happy with how the military is being run? It would be just as stupid and detrimental.

    Prevo’s lobbyists are hard at work.

  3. Lynn Willis

    There was a time when parents were expected to deliver to the schoolhouse door each morning a disciplined, fed and clothed child. I understand that today, absent parental effort or ability, that responsibility is to be assumed by the government. I would contend that no school voucher in the world is going to remedy an absence of parental responsibility in the education process.
    So now, In a period of fiscal decline the Governor suggests creating a parallel education system based on vouchers. Before this resolution to amend the Constitution is placed on the ballot I want to see a careful analysis of the cost and a specific plan for the people will pay for this. When is Governor Parnell he going to realize that his record breaking budgets have pretty much slammed the door on this option without new taxes? How much will he increase taxes or perhaps reduce the PFD to pay for this. What public schools is he going to close to pay for these vouchers if alternate funding is not available? Are these schools going to be held to government standards and if so what happens when a voucher school fails? For those of us who pay local property taxes for schools, are we expected to contribute our local tax payments to private schools and the private and/or religious organizations that operate them? Will all of Alaska’s children have access to these alternate schools? If these questions are not answered, I will vote no.

  4. LuAnne

    I’ve not always been a big fan of Parnell’s, however, his speech tonight about comprehensive education reform got my attention. Parnell is right to demand comprehensive education reform before putting more money into our schools. We need to focus on improving our schools before throwing fists of dollars at a system that oisnt working. Hope Parnell’s commitment and passion for school reform stays alive and well.

  5. JT of Anchorage

    My hats off to Governor Parnell. Great State of the State address. I couldn’t agree more with the governor. He’s right. Money alone isn’t going to fix our broken education system and schools. Comprehensive reform, along with increased funding, is the way to go. It’s time to tell the NEA to get out of the way and let’s do good for our kids. I applaud the governor. Further, I will oppose any legislator who doesn’t join our governor in this important endeavour.

Comments are closed.