Published Online: February 19, 2013

Senate majority clarifies course on amendment

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Senate majority announced Tuesday that a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be used for private schools could be heard by the Senate Education Committee if "significant education issues arise" during the legislative process.

Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, faced criticism Friday for deciding to pull SJR9 from its Education committee referral and instead have it heard by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees. Huggins said the measure involves a legal issue, and he made a mistake in the initial referral to the Education Committee.

The Senate approved the change Friday, with Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan of Juneau, who is part of the GOP-led majority, joining the minority Democrats present in voting against it.

The proposal would remove language in the state constitution that bars public money from being used for private or religious schools. Senate Democrats described the Republican move to bypass the Education Committee as "shenanigans" and ludicrous, given the implications the measure could have on education in the state.

Senate leaders insisted the public would have a chance to debate the merits of the issue if or when the measure went to Alaskans for a vote. Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, in a caucus news release Tuesday, said this is not yet a question of which schools will receive the funding.

Senate Education Committee chairman Gary Stevens, who was gone Friday and not given a head's up that the measure was being pulled from his committee, said in the release that he plans to start informational meetings immediately on the issues surrounding so-called school choice.

The meetings won't address SJR9, he said. "Instead, we are taking an open-minded approach," said Stevens, R-Kodiak. "We want to see how school choice is working in other states. We want Alaskans to be armed with the best information available."


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