Education group seeks new standards through ballot measure

October 1, 2019 | KTVA | Steve Quinn

An education advocacy group can begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure it says will establish standards and a framework for education policy, according to a state review.

The proposed statute changes “are in the proper form,” according to the Department of Law’s recommendation to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
Now, a group called Alaskans for Excellent Public Education must deliver 28,501 valid registered voter signatures to the Division of Elections before the Alaska Legislature gavels on Jan. 21.
According to a news release, the group wants statutory changes to ensure that:
  • Incentives are in place to make voluntary pre-elementary programs as available, affordable, and high-quality as possible;
  • Public schools receive the tools to attract and retain educators
  • Class sizes are conducive to one-on-one interactions with educators
  • Culturally sensitive curricula is provided to reflect the needs of Alaska’s diverse student populations
  • Public university education is affordable and accessible to all Alaskans.

“I think it’s something we need to articulate as a state and put into state law and say this is what people think public education is about,” said Tim Parker, National Education Association-Alaska president, who taught English for 20 years in Fairbanks.

Parker said the group’s drive for change received impetus from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Feb. 13 amended budget that initially called for cutting more than $300 million to public education, including early education funding.

“That was a big factor,” Parker said. “I think there was always this thought, this is what Alaskans value and we know what we value. When there was a proposal to cut that much, that kind of rocks your world a little bit.”

Education funding for the current fiscal year that began July 1 is being disputed in court while the state continues to make monthly payments to districts statewide.

Even as the DOL signed off on the group’s ability to collect signatures, it still noted some concerns about prospective changes. It wrote:

“We acknowledge that some of the initiative bill’s language may be inconsistent with existing statutes and difficult to implement because of ambiguity in the bill’s language. For example, some of the new duties imposed on [the Department of Early Education and Development] include areas that are statutorily assigned to, and have historically been decided at, the local school district level.”

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