Legal opinion: Education initiative is 'aspirational,' has no measurable standards - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, December 7, 2019
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Legal opinion: Education initiative is ‘aspirational,’ has no measurable standards

‘WELL INTENTIONED, POORLY EXECUTED’

A legal opinion provided to the Anchorage Superintendent of Schools last month points out a number of flaws in the current self-identified “Education Bill of Rights,” which is in the signature-gathering stage. Proponents hope to get the ballot initiative onto either the Primary or General Election ballot this year.

An opinion from the law offices of Holland & Knight point to a number of problems with the initiative — everything from funding, to actual measurable standards to legal disputes between school boards and the State of Alaska.

[Read: Sweeping education initiative approved for signatures]

Some of the main points of the Holland & Knight legal opinion include:

  • “The Initiative seems not to appreciate or understand the current relationship between DEED and local school districts, and in several places, it potentially usurps the control and authority of local school boards.”
  • “Without any funding mechanism, the Initiative establishes aspirational goals but is imprecise as to how those goals will be achieved, which entities will be responsible for those goals, and how programs designed to meet these objectives will be funded.”
  • “The Initiative contains a number of aspirational statements … the challenge is how to convert these aspirational statements into actual policy, practices, and expenditures, and in determining which entities are responsible for these tasks.”
  • “The Initiative proponents describe their proposal as establishing ‘an education standard’ … but a ‘standard’ is typically something that can be measured or defined. It might be more accurate to describe the Initiative as proposing ‘goals’ or ‘aspirations.’”
  • “It seems likely that the Initiative, if enacted, could diminish the role of school boards, could create room for conflict between school boards and DEED, and could lead to other unanticipated legal disputes.”

Although the opinion was released to the school district in October, it had not been made public until obtained by and posted this week at the Alaska Policy Forum.

The costs of the initiative are unknown, as described in an opinion from the Office of Management and Budget, which said, “Without additional detail, an accurate cost estimate cannot be developed at this time. Further, the impact of the additional detail required is an unknown variable. The department recommends the Alaska Legislature as the appropriate body to undertake the public process of defining the additional detail and direction required to prepare an accurate cost estimate for this comprehensive ballot initiative.”

The opinion of OMB on the cost of the measure can be found at this link.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • If this initiative passes the legislature & governor will ultimately be by passed. The courts will take their place (if either of those entities do not budget education to the satisfaction of liberal legislators/teachers, school districts, lobbyists or educator unions) & the courts will control how education is provided in Alaska & particularly how much funding will be required to meet imposed standards. Taxpayers will lose total control of the process. Mark my words.

    • Great points Dave! At the end of the day, education in Alaska has become a jobs bill without standards that are specific, measurable, achievable and reproducible. Three separate areas of educational efficiency should be targeting ultimate success in high schools, trade schools, or home schooling programs.

      • Thanks Ross

  • Do you know what group(s) composed this Education Bill of Rights?

  • I’ll add one more comment on information I discovered last night from my sister in Washington State where education has basically been designated a human right to be equally available to all. Her friends had an autistic child who, as he grew older (and bigger) began to evolve an extreme, black & white, sense of right & wrong. So one day another student was giving a teacher a hard time so the kid jumped up & tryed to stangle the trouble maker. Whether it was warranted or not, who knows. But the end result is whats important here. The school would not accept this autistic minor back in class due to the fear he might do some real damage to another student or staff. The parents, after many attempts, found a special school/facility where they were willing to work with their kid’s autisim in Montana. They got him enrolled and the father even moved there temporarily to be close to his son. I think they had some insurance to help pay for this very expensive residential placement but they also hired a lawyer to represent their interests to the originating Washington school district. The bottom line is this. After the private insurance of the family was used to help pay for the Montana special needs schooling (probably a mental health benefit of some kind) the original school district (tax payers) was responsible for the remaining costs. I’d assume were there no insurance the school district would have to pay 100% of the special education costs. Imagine a school district with a smaller tax base in a rural area dealing with something like this, maybe with more than one student! In this case it was a district near Bellvue. So this kind of legislation can have unexpected budget impacts on local districts & tax payers (especially property taxpayers) far beyond what we might see in plain view.

  • Let’s look at the real objective of this initiative. The real objective is to lock into concrete the current failing K12 education system. And to lock into this monopolistic system all of Alaska children. Why would anyone with a brain want to pour more money into a mediocre/failing system? Makes absolutely no sense. More importantly, what about the kids whose futures will be stolen from them?

  • If you’re a productive Alaskan who can’t afford to lease or buy a professional politician or get in a public employees’ union, what recourse do you have but the initiative process, amateur politics at its best or worst?
    .
    But it’s not all bad, Madam Editor.
    .
    In one corner we have an initiative sponsored by the group who played a leading role in the decline and fall of Alaska’s public-education system.
    .
    In the other corner, we have school boards, accountable to nobody for what they spend, for the dismal quality of what they produce, obedient to the union-management team who is Alaska’s education industry, equally preeminent in the decline and fall of Alaska’s public-education system.
    .
    In the audience, we have taxpayers, productive Alaskans and their children, who’ll lose any way the fight ends.
    .
    So, Governor Dunleavy, Madam Editor, why not sit, back, relax, indulge in your favorite adult beverages, let them flail away at each other, enjoy a real cage match, a donnybrook to warm the heart…
    .
    …with any luck, they’ll do each other in.
    .
    Then, maybe, with your help, productive Alaskans can salvage a decent public-education system from the ruins.
    .
    It could happen.

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