David Boyle: Senate teams up with teachers’ union to kill student opportunities

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By DAVID BOYLE

Alaska Superior Court Adolf Zeman’s decision to shut down the Alaska correspondence program created a firestorm among correspondence school parents.

Now the Alaska Senate is attempting to rewrite laws to limit correspondence schools’ parents the freedom to educate their children.

Senate Bill 266 is an effort to crush the current correspondence school program in which parents have enrolled more than 22,000 students.  The Senate, led by Sen. Loki Tobin and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, seems to have taken the lead from the NEA-AK in writing the bill.

Ironically, these two senators have most of the worst schools in the Anchorage School District. Why would they not want more public school opportunities for students in their districts? Wouldn’t these senators want their constituents’ kids to be able to attend a public correspondence program?

In its response to Judge Zeman’s decision, the teachers’ union has rewritten the State of Alaska’s regulations setting out the rules for correspondence schools.

It’s surprising how similar the language in the proposed senate bill SB 266 is to what the National Education Association-Alaska submitted to the judge for the rewrite of the regulations for correspondence schools. Some would call it plagiarism.

Here are some of the striking similarities comparing the NEA-AK regulation rewrite to SB 266:

NEA-AKSB 266
The correspondence school district must require students to participate in the statewide tests.  A mandate to parents. Mandates correspondence students take the statewide assessment test.  Requires correspondence school districts to provide the test scores of their students to the state.  Deletes the freedom of a parent to remove a child from the state’s statewide tests.  A mandate to parents. 
A parent may spend public funds to pay a private individual for tutoring in the fine arts, music, or physical education.  But that cannot be given by a private or sectarian educational institution.  Guess the state can pick and choose what is and isn’t “private”. A parent may use an allotment to pay a private organization for tutoring in fine arts, music, or physical education.  The state can determine what is a “private” educational organization.  But the parent cannot pay a private educational organization for tutoring in the core subjects such as math, reading, the sciences? 
A parent may not use the allotment to buy uniforms or physical education equipment.  That includes barbells, exercise mats and other small PE equipment. A parent may not buy physical education equipment.  That leaves out barbells, exercise mats, etc. 
4.  A correspondence program may not pay for, reimburse for, or provide money for: religious, partisan, sectarian, or denominational textbooks/materials; physical education equipment; items that are considered excessive by the school administrator; tuition, instruction, or any other expense from a religious or private educational institution.Student allotments cannot be used to pay for services or materials provided by a private or religious educational institution.Student allotments cannot be used to pay for religious, partisan, sectarian or denominational textbooks or other curriculum materials. Tutoring may not be provided by a religious or private educational institution. 

The NEA-AK goes to the extreme and mandates “The correspondence program must provide, and require parents to sign, a written statement that they understand, and will abide by, the requirements of the assessment program.” Whatever happened to freedom, privacy, and choice?

And the teachers’ union does not stop there. It wants transcripts of correspondence students’ courses that they paid for themselves!  Here is the quote from their emergency regulation rewrite: “A transcript that includes the source of any course taken by the student that was not offered or approved by the governing body of the district…and for which no public money was provided…”.

And SB 266 goes even further.  It requires correspondence school districts to provide demographic information on their students.

Parents cannot use their allotment funds to pay for testing by private organizations. A parent cannot pay Sylvan Learning Center or any other private educational organization for testing their child.  

Here’s the real kicker: Parents can no longer roll over their fund balances at the end of the school year. Their unspent allotment funds go back to the school districts to enrich their coffers.

Both SB 266 and the teachers’ union rewrite of correspondence school regulations want to shut down opportunities for students to learn outside the brick & mortar schools.  The education industry is losing thousands of students to the correspondence school programs. They also lose millions of dollars when a student goes from a neighborhood school to a correspondence school.

And when the education industry loses students, it loses power.  It loses control.

Here is one parent’s comment that summarizes the situation, “I’m wondering if that’s the plan. To make EVERYTHING but state curriculum to be from a “private organization” and not able to be used for allotment. A way to force people into the state curriculum”.

You can provide testimony to SB 266 on April 29 at 3:30 p.m. Here is a link to the bill.

David Boyle is an education writer for Must Read Alaska.

32 COMMENTS

  1. It is about power and money not the kids or them learning.
    These unions and politicians are in bed together.
    The Alaska legislature sucks.
    The teacher union should be outlawed as they have way too much power over the poor taxpayer.
    Anybody had enough of this blatant disregard for a good education of our young?

  2. What is it with the Alaska Senate and other Alaska education deniers? The one program which proves and has proved performance and outcome hope in a desperate and ruinous education system is a target for only NEA’s power and control. This is the NEA’s money not Alaska public funds. Make no mistake it is about their money and not education.

    A secular institution is an organization or entity that is not affiliated with any particular religious belief or institution. It operates independently of religious influence and does not promote or endorse any specific religious ideology or practices. Public unions by definition are secular institutions, meaning they are not affiliated with any particular religious belief or institution. They operate independently of religious influence and focus on advocating for the rights and interests of their members regarding workplace issues such as wages, working conditions, benefits, and professional development.

    Public education unions primarily focus on advocating for the rights and interests of their members, which include educators and other school employees, regarding wages, working conditions, benefits, and professional development. While their primary mandate is to represent the interests of their members, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are solely concerned with those aspects to the exclusion of everything else, including the well-being and success of students.

    Public education unions are sectarian institutions. So why is the State of Alaska letting the pot call the kettle black? Simply because it is about power and control. The public education lobbying force is the strongest and most dangerous lobbying force in Alaska. Further, when Alaska’s education system yields performance and outcome for reading, writing math and science on a less than proficient basis and if public education unions only advocate for the rights and interests of their members, who are educators and other school employees, regarding wages, working conditions, benefits, and professional development, do they advocate for the students? If not, as in this case, shouldn’t the State of Alaska nullify these public unions?

    In this case as well as historically, how can anyone with a straight face especially public unions not identify these public unions as secular institutions. Are they not violating Article VII, Section 1, as directly violating “Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control”?

    Simply put, the public unions control Alaska education. They have violated the Article VII, Section 1. Where is the Governor and the Department of Law?

  3. Trace it all back to Jimmy Carter and the growth of big government control, including the DOE. It’s been going downhill ever since, and George Bush I didn’t help it much either with No Child Left Behind. Regan should have pulled it all back but he did not.
    As it is, there is an ugly, incestuous relationship between politicians and the unions that has not been a benefit to children at all. American education is now a laughingstock.
    If you value your children’s education, get them out of public schools no matter what it costs. They are beyond saving.

  4. Two comments: 1. The NEA has a huge building in Juneau about a block from the capitol. Isn’t that convenient? 2. I recently read a study that showed home school kids did better on all testing. Sounds to me like the NEA knows they do a poor job and want to keep it as quiet as possible. The Mat Su School District does not provide any special programs with kids with dyslexia. My grandson would not be able to read if he had gone to public school. Aside from that all the bullying and other problems at brick and mortar schools need to be addressed. Kids are not safe at school. I would never put a child of mine (or one of my grandkids) in public school!

  5. So I read both versions of the bill. Maybe I missed something but I didn’t see any mention of “secular” in the bill. I did see strong affirmation of parents rights. I also saw better accountability for use of public funds. The ‘ demographic reporting needs to be kept blind or I see serious privacy issues.While not a particular fan of the sponsors, perhaps this is their honest attempt at keeping some programs aceptable to parents until we can amend our constitution to better serve our students. Speak up on this and support the constitutional changes needed so we can provide a competitive educational environment. Right now we are swimming in the bottom of the educational barrel, and expecting different results while we maintain the status quo, —well we know the definition of that.

    • Dave, you sound like a reasonable guy, so I’m willing to engage you in conversation about this. How do you see better accountability for use of public funds in these 2 bills (SB 266 and HB 400–nearly identical)? Are you familiar with how correspondence schools operate? Are you a homeschooling parent who uses these programs? I have used them for 12 years and anticipate being enrolled for another decade. Here are the issues with how funding is allocated under these new bills: it’s flawed. Take PE, for example. The bills restrict the purchase of equipment, so a family would not be able to purchase a set of weights, for example. But it also doesn’t allow for family gym memberships (currently allowed) anymore–which gives families access to using equipment that parents aren’t allowed to purchase but that public schools have access to. For example, every school has a basketball court, and kids play things like dodgeball for PE. But if a homeschool kid wants to play dodgeball for PE, he needs access to a gym. Under this new bill, a parent’s membership to accompany the child to the gym and teach them how to dribble a ball or arrange to meet up with friends for a game of dodgeball midday is now restricted. A child’s portion of the family membership may be prorated, but only for time spent under DIRECT instruction. So if they take a formal class at the gym, that counts. But then you have to keep track of those hours against the hours they spend at the gym just doing “unstructured” activity like dodgeball or running laps or–like my teen boys do, lifting weights– so you have to prorate a prorate. It’s ridiculous, really, to suggest that access to a gym for the parent and child is an inapporpriate expenditure while a child can only justify a gym membership expense if the instruction is provided NOT by the parent. In a homeschool. Homeschool means we are teaching our own children many things. We outsource some, but we generally teach those things we are capable of teaching, and dodgeball and running laps falls under my area of comfort. This will only result in more outlay of funds for less benefit for the child (a family gym membership that allows the entire family to go work out for PE credits–all 5 of my enrolled kids from grade 1-12 currently utilize the gym as their primary PE–is far cheaper than enrolling each child in their own separate instructional classes for fewer hours of PE a week.) How does that make sense and constitute a “better accountability” of funds? I could go on, but there’s one good example for you of the problems with this new regulatory language.

  6. Evil scum.
    You can make the case that Alaska has THE WORST public schools in the country.
    Many of our “honor” high school student graduates have to take remedial English and math classes in college.
    The majority – yes the majority of high school “graduates” are functionally illiterate.
    They do not read or do math a expected grade level.
    Their understanding of history and geography are negligible, at best.
    The majority of our politicians on the state level are so mediocre, it hurts.
    To think they would enact legislation to disrupt a different avenue of learning – that has test results superior to class attending students – is evil.
    The MAJORITY of teachers, due to their political bias and brainwashing by the NEA are failing our students, communities, and nation.
    Our educational system, including the universities are failing our Nation – and the response by our state political leaders is this?
    Shame?
    Disgusting?
    Banal evil?

    • Lol. I worked with many teachers. None paid dues to the NEA mostly because they were priced out. That, and they realized the union got them nothing, their contracts were approved by the Superintendent and the board, not the union.

  7. The Alaska education union is like Hamas – hiding behind children while they pursue their scorched-earth policies that do nothing but damage choice. They’d rather see it all burn to the ground rather than give up their power earned at the expense of children.

    • This entire topic is about weak, feckless parents abusing their children. The NEA is only able to gorge itself on the lives of children whose parents willingly sacrifice them to the perverted public education system. Parents elected those who wrote our state constitution giving the teacher’s union monopolistic control over state funding. Parents elect legislators who sell their souls to the NEA. Parents elect politicians who appoint perverse judges to support the NEA. Parents fail to implement initiatives to amend our constitution to allocate money intended for each child’s education to that child’s parents. The NEA is a problem created by passive parents. By the way, anyone not voting actually voting for whoever gets elected.

  8. What?! State employees work for a union?! Say it’s not so! /s The senate needs to make a decision- do they work for their employers (Alaskans) or do they work for a entity (NEA)? I hate saying this, unions need to be made illegal. They control our lives way too much with the laws they lobby for their own interests. I landed a state job years ago. I lost that state job because I refused to join their union. Why is union membership a part of the conditions to work for state government..?

  9. Correspondence students are already under these rules as the regulations are now. They are already required to do the state tests for example. But the district superintendents don’t want the homeschool kids taking the tests as the results are made public and it looks bad for the schools. I tried for years to get the Gateway District to give my kid the statewide tests but they refused. Only after covid and they needed to show that they hadn’t failed as bad as they did, did they allow the homeschoolers to take the tests. And of course it showed the homeschoolers were 60% proficient in English and math. The regular sc hool kids were 12% in math and 15% in English.

  10. Do not confuse the purpose of education. It is not a system to help bring out the best in every child. It is a boot camp to break children down and shape them into good mindless drones to serve the technocracy.

  11. Agree with all above – power and control. Nothing to do with actual education. The success rate of students educated at home overall is far higher than in the public school classroom. There is an organization that accumulates data and used to publish statistics regularly. National Home Education Research Institute, NHERI – nheri.org . I feel like our public schools are becoming simply communist, and even cultic, training camps. Despite many good teachers it seems all forces are against simply giving a good solid academic education.

  12. Sent the following POM to all the legislature this morning:

    What an arrogant, outrageous attempt to put the NEA completely in charge of education here in Alaska, the very union that destroyed it. You now go after correspondence to remove that choice. Pass it. Create another 22,000 voters who hate you. Go ahead, make my day. Cheers –

    Good show, David. Cheers –

  13. I will find out who votes for this bill and my votes will be against them forever more.

    Sick malicious people created this bill.

    Draw the lines .
    Free the children. Educate humanity.
    Support ethical quality education.
    Parental choice!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Conflating the NEA with the Alaska Constitution does not change the Constitution. Attacking teachers does not improve outcomes. Anonymous trolling does not improve outcomes. Voting for responsible legislators may be something to consider.

  15. I don’t see anything proposed saying parents can’t pay for their own kids education themselves. Take them out of the “public education” morass 100%.

  16. Get rid of the teacher union shills: Utterly fake “Republicans” Cathy Giessel, Jesse Bjorkman and Kelly Merrick. They are little more than water carriers for the NEA teacher union.

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