Legislators Question Funding Proposal for Private Schools

Aaron Selbig

     Representative Mike Chenault of Nikiski is in a position of power as House Speaker in Juneau. He says education funding is always a big issue in the legislature but has received an extra level of attention so far this year. So far, he says the conversation has mainly centered around the BSA – or Base Student Allocation – the per student dollar amount committed by the state.

     Chenault says he believes the BSA will go up this year but he can't venture a guess as to how much. He says there is a lot more to the education funding puzzle than just the BSA, though. He says school districts receive funding from many other sources other than the state – such as the federal government – and the BSA number can be quite a bit higher, depending on the region and the type of education. He says special needs students, for instance, can have a BSA as much as 13 times the baseline BSA.

      Chenault thinks the legislature has taken an undue amount of criticism for shortfalls in education and some of that blame should be spread to the federal government.

     "I don't mind taking a beating for something I did but I do have a problem taking a beating for something someone else did," said Chenault. "The state legislature is getting blamed for not funding education and that's just simply not true."

     Another hot-button education topic this year has been a controversial idea put forward by Governor Sean Parnell to allow public funding to go to private schools. Such a change would require an amendment to the state constitution. Right now, that’s something that Sen. Peter Micciche is just not comfortable with.

     "I just haven't heard the vision for the plan," he said. "Before I'm going to support a constitutional change, I'd like to know a little bit more about what they have in mind, in detail."

     Micciche says he’s unlikely to support Parnell’s idea, in part because the true financial costs to the state are not yet known. On the philosophical question of whether or not state funds should go to religious schools, Micciche says “probably not.” He believes there could be unintended consequences of such an action that its supporters might not have thought of.

     "If you open that door, there's really no way to say 'no,'" said Micciche. "It doesn't matter if it's 'Bob's School of Satanism' or ... a Catholic school or another private school that has a strange philosophy. You really can't say 'no.'"

     Chenault says he shares Micciche’s concerns, particularly when it comes to cost. He says he’s heard estimates that it could cost the state up to $100 million to bring private and religious schools up to academic standards. He’s also concerned about admission policies for private schools and whether or not all students would have equal access.

     Representative Mike Chenault and Senator Peter Micciche made their comments on the “Coffee Table” program, which aired Wednesday on KBBI and KDLL.