JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Sean Parnell used his State of the State address Wednesday to lay out plans to change Alaska's education system, including improving access to charter schools and giving parents more choices in where they send their kids.
Parnell told lawmakers that if they are willing to work with him in passing "real education reform," he would work with them to boost public school funding.
Parnell said as an act of good faith, he would propose increasing the base-student allocation, or per-pupil spending, for each of the next three years — something he has been loath to support in recent years, in part citing the need to see greater results.
The Republican dedicated much of his fifth State of the State address to education, an issue that critics have said he's given short shrift in the past. He called for a digital initiative to give students in rural areas greater access to array of classes and for allowing high school students to "test out" of a class for credit. He said nothing is gained by keeping a student in a class whose subject matter he or she has mastered.
He also proposed scrapping the high school graduation exam, which he said is no longer a valid measure of student success given new education standards. In its place, he said he will propose that high school students take the ACT, SAT or WorkKeys skills test within two years of their expected graduation rate, with the first test taken at state expense.
Parnell said he supports giving parents more choices in where to send their children to school. He called on lawmakers to debate and send to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would strike a provision in Alaska's Constitution that prohibits the state from using public funds for the direct benefit of private and religious schools.
Critics of the proposal, which has been pending before the Legislature, fear it could take money away from the public education system. Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, in his response to Parnell's speech, said he was disappointed with Parnell's position on that issue.
"Diverting public money to private schools simply continues to deprive our public schools of the resources they need to do their jobs," French, D-Anchorage, said. He said minority Democrats would put forth education reforms of their own.
Parnell, in his speech, said the question of school choice "is not about private schools or religious schools; it is about whether parents should have the freedom to say what school best meets their child's education needs with their child's share of public money — their money."