Without Necessary Votes, Senate Leadership Pulls Controversial Education Amendment

(March 13, 2014 – Juneau Empire) A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow public money to be used for private or religious schools was pulled from the Senate floor ahead of scheduled debate Wednesday.

According to the Juneau Empire, the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, said he expected it to return, though there was question about whether it would.  Senate Education Committee chair, and critic of SJR9, Gary Stevens said Wednesday, “I would be surprised to see it again, frankly.”

SJR9 was returned to Senate Rules while awaiting information on constitutional and legal issues surrounding the measure. Senate Rules is the committee that sets the Senate calendar. It also is where bills wait until they receive sufficient support to advance.

Senate members, including Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, expressed that the legislation would likely not return until it appeared to have the necessary 2/3 majority to pass.

SJR9 proposes striking a provision in the state constitution prohibiting use of public funds for the direct benefit of private or religious schools. It also proposes adding, in a section of the constitution that says public money cannot be appropriated except for a public purpose, that nothing in that section shall prevent payment of public funds “for the direct educational benefit of students as provided by law.”

Since it would affect two sections of the constitution, questions have been asked about whether the change could be proposed by the legislature as an amendment or if it would require a constitutional convention.

Gov. Sean Parnell, in his State of the State address, called on lawmakers to debate SJR9 and send it to voters. A similar measure is pending in the House.

Supporters of SJR9 say a constitutional change would allow for more choices in how parents educate their kids. But critics fear it could take money from public schools. They also expressed concerns with not knowing how any constitutional change would be implemented.

Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau has spoken in favor of the proposed SJR 9 and it’s equivalent legislation in the House.