By Jess T. Ellis, DDS, MS
Most parents want what’s best for their child. They want them to be successful in life and receive the education needed to qualify for a well-paying job or occupation.
Education — the gaining or transfer of knowledge — is really one of the basic functions of life. It’s why we have a brain with a nervous system feeding it information from our five senses. Much of human activity in this world is intended to affect how well education is accomplished. Attentive parents spend much of their time teaching and nurturing their children.
Education is big business. We spend vast amounts of money on schools where educators add to the effort. Education is a major part of the state budget. It doesn’t start with pre-school, nor end with a college degree — or even a PhD.
Then there is “the media.” Ours is called the “information age.” People with a good idea of how to convey information better have founded new schools, started news networks, created the Internet or improvements to it and invented computers, “smart” phones, fax machines and other gadgets. With these aids to communication, information is literally flying everywhere at the speed of light.
When it comes to formal education, all this has rendered the education model of one teacher at a chalkboard in front of a class of 15-40 students expounding on some chapter in a textbook as obsolete as a Princess phone.
Our standings in national test scores witness to the need for improvements in Alaska education. For example, our fourth-grade reading scores for low-income students were dead last; reading scores for fourth-grade middle/upper income students were 49 out of 51.
Parental interest in improved ways of schooling has given rise to home schooling, charter schools and a demand for other educational options. In many cases, the private sector is stepping up to the plate and providing solutions. In Alaska, there are more than 2,200 students paying tuition to attend the top five (by attendance) private K-12 schools.
The Constitution of the State of Alaska needs to be amended to allow the legislature to provide more families the option of choosing the schools their children attend. A sentence in Article VII of the state constitution, sometimes referred to as the Blaine Amendment, has been interpreted by the court as prohibiting the legislature from directly or indirectly funding parental choices of alternative schools.
Many Alaskans are content with the offerings of their neighborhood public school. For those who are not satisfied, the Blaine Amendment needs to go. In education, one size doesn’t fit all. There are too many different needs for one giant bureaucracy to effectively meet.
Some have expressed skepticism that “school choice” could work in the bush. Such a view suggests a lack of vision or a lack of knowledge of the many innovations in distance learning currently available to anyone — especially those with a computer and access to the Internet.
These offerings from the private sector are made to order for the bush, particularly those villages with too few students to qualify for a school.
Educational achievement in Alaska could take a giant leap forward were parents free to use their child’s government-provided educational allotment on the school of their choice; whether it be a public or private-sector-developed program.
Passage of SJR 9 and HJR 1, which are ready to be voted upon by the legislature, is required to put the question on the 2014 ballot so Alaska voters could decide this issue. If you haven’t expressed your views on this issue to your state senator and representative, now is the time to do so.
Jess T. Ellis, DDS, MS, has been an itinerate endodontist practicing in Alaska for 25 years. He has testified before the legislature as an advocate of choice in education.
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