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Parnell lays out education vision in speech

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 22, 2014 at 11:27 pm •  Published: January 22, 2014

Parnell said wealthier Alaskans can send their kids to private or religious schools but others, under the constitution, currently cannot.

He said Alaska has one of the most restrictive charter school laws in the country and a local district can approve or deny charter school creation with no path to appeal. He said there needs to be a way to appeal such decisions to the state education commissioner. He said he also proposed that all state, local and federal funding, except some capped district administrative expenses, travel with a student who goes to a charter school.

He said the debate over education has generally proceeded from two fronts, with one side believing reform lies with increased funding and others focused on results. He included himself in the latter camp. He called for working together to offer more opportunity to more students and making 2014 the "education session."

Parnell, who faces re-election this year, also used the speech, televised statewide, to make a pitch for a couple major initiatives. Those include moving $3 billion from savings to help address the state's unfunded pension liability — a move he said would allow for future, flat annual payments rather than escalating ones and ease pressure on the state budget — and having Alaska take an equity stake in a proposed liquefied natural gas pipeline project that would be capable of overseas exports.

He said Alaska can best control its own destiny if it owns a stake or participates in the mega-project.

He said he would ask legislators to review commercial agreements and take up legislation that would move the project through a phase that would include preliminary engineering and help refine costs. Parnell said the state's share in that phase would be between $70 million and $90 million.

He previously said that legislation would include asking lawmakers to switch to a flat gross tax and allow for certain leases to pay production taxes with gas.

He said this is all part of a phased legislative approval process that he said will make his approach to securing a long-hoped for gas line more open and transparent to the public than past efforts.

Parnell also made clear the state would continue pursuing a smaller, in-state gas line as a fall back for getting gas to Alaskans if the big line falters.