Michael Tavoliero: Power of the governor to enforce Alaska’s Constitution

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By MICHAEL TAVOLIERO

Article VII, Section 1 of the Alaska State Constitution states, “Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control.”

This provision is aimed at ensuring that Alaska’s public education system, which includes its university system, remains impartial and free from influence or control by any particular religious or ideological group. It underscores the importance of maintaining neutrality and inclusivity within the state’s educational institutions.

If you agree with my constitutional reading, then how can this best be approached by our state government? 

The National Education Association-Alaska has over 12,000 members. It is obligated to represent its members. However, its ideological control over the Alaska education system is considered ubiquitous and multilayered in local school districts, our state bureaucracy and our tripartite government, the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and the federal government. 

In a seismic legal upheaval, Alaska’s educational landscape is in tumult, with the future of homeschooling hanging in the balance. Recent judicial action has delivered a stunning blow by striking down laws supporting the state’s correspondence education program, citing them as unconstitutional.

The reverberations of this decision are felt across the state, as over 20,000 homeschool students face uncertainty, and public-school districts are thrust into chaos, tasked with integrating these displaced students back into traditional classrooms. With the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development now at the center of this urgent crisis, the need for a swift resolution looms large. 

It’s baffling to witness our state government hesitating, caught in indecision over the crucial next steps: Do we pursue a legislative remedy or take the matter to the Supreme Court? The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated, yet inexplicably, the government remains on the defensive, failing to seize the initiative. Let’s be clear: This is not just about politics or legal wrangling. It’s about the very future of our children, the very future of our state. The time for action is now.

To address the issue of NEA-Alaska violating Article VII, Section 1, the governor of Alaska holds significant authority and avenues for action.

Firstly, under the state constitution’s Article III, Section 16, the governor has the authority to ensure the faithful execution of the laws, including constitutional mandates such as sectarian control in education. This authority empowers the governor to take appropriate legal action to enforce compliance with constitutional provisions and legislative mandates, as well as to restrain any violation of constitutional or legislative powers, duties, or rights by state officers, departments, or agencies.

Additionally, Article III, Section 23 grants the governor the authority to make changes in the organization of the executive branch or in the assignment of functions among its units for efficient administration. These changes, when requiring the force of law, are set forth in executive orders. The legislature has a specified period to disapprove these orders, after which they become effective. The governor also has administrative order authority which can be solidified into regulations without legislative review.

Moreover, the governor’s oath of office, as mandated by Article XII, Section 5, requires the Governor to uphold the U.S. and Alaska constitutions. This oath underscores the governor’s commitment to respecting and adhering to constitutional principles, including those related to education policy and sectarian control.

The governor and all members of the state legislature are required to comply with Article XII, Section 5. Additionally, every public official and employee of the state before entering upon the duties of office are required by AS 39.05.040 and AS 39.05.045 to take and sign an oath which includes supporting and defending both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska.

Do the members of the NEA-Alaska support this when teachers have also taken an oath? The oath is same per 4 AAC18.010(a)(5) and AS 39.05.045 so all contracts for teachers and administrators must include in this all Alaska public school contracts.

This brings into question the practical application of the state’s Legislative Ethics Act, specifically Section AS 24.60.010, and the role of the Ethics Committee when the governor identifies a constitutional violation.

If you agree with my constitutional reading, how can any of our state government and our teachers support the continuation of NEA-Alaska’s sectarian control of education in the light of the oaths taken?

In practical terms, the Governor can utilize legal mechanisms such as executive orders or administrative orders to address concerns regarding sectarian control in education. These orders could outline specific actions or directives aimed at ensuring that schools and institutions remain free from sectarian influence or control. Additionally, the governor may use this opportunity to reign in the NEA-Alaska’s unconstitutional behavior through regulation.

Furthermore, the attorney general, as the legal advisor for the state, can work with the governor to assess the legal basis for any actions taken against NEA-Alaska or other entities perceived to violate constitutional provisions.

Regarding campaign donations to members of the legislature, the constitutional mandate for schools to be free from sectarian control may influence donor behavior and legislative decisions. Donations from organizations like NEA-Alaska may face greater scrutiny, and legislators receiving such contributions may be questioned about their commitment to upholding constitutional principles as well as their oath of office.

Will such a declaration of unconstitutionality by the governor trigger the Alaska Public Offices Commission to investigate every donation which supports this unconstitutionality? The governor certainly has the authority to demand this.

Ultimately, the governor’s authority, combined with legal and ethical considerations, provides avenues for addressing concerns related to sectarian control in education and ensuring adherence to constitutional mandates.

If the governor determines that NEA-Alaska has violated Article VII, Section 1 of the Alaska State Constitution, specifically regarding the freedom of schools and institutions from sectarian control, he has the authority to act, including addressing public education union contracts through administrative orders immediately. 

Administrative orders issued by the governor typically pertain to the organization and functions of the executive branch. If the governor declares unconstitutionality, the structural components of NEA-Alaska may be challenged. The governor could also take indirect actions within the scope of his authority to address concerns related to sectarian control in education.

For example, the governor could utilize administrative orders to initiate investigations or audits into public education union activities to determine compliance with constitutional mandates. If violations are found, the governor could work with relevant state agencies to enforce corrective measures or impose penalties as allowed by law.

Additionally, the governor may leverage his authority to influence legislative action or budgetary decisions that impact public education union contracts. By working with the state legislature and other stakeholders, the governor could advocate for policy changes or funding allocations aimed at addressing issues related to sectarian control in education.

Ultimately, any actions taken by the governor must adhere to constitutional principles, respect the rights of all parties involved, and comply with applicable laws and legal procedures. The governor must carefully consider the legal and practical implications of his actions and ensure that they align with the broader goals of promoting impartiality and inclusivity in Alaska’s public education system.

But the fact remains as open as the air we breathe, in Alaska, the education system is controlled by one entity, and one entity alone, and that is NEA-Alaska.

Michael Tavoliero writes for Must Read Alaska.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly evident that certain policies and initiatives promoted by the NEA have not been in the best interest of our students and educators. While the NEA undoubtedly aims to advocate for the rights and well-being of educators, some of its actions have inadvertently hindered the quality of education provided in our schools.

    One of the primary issues is the overly bureaucratic nature of NEA-endorsed policies, which often lead to cumbersome administrative burdens for teachers and school administrators. These policies can stifle innovation and creativity in the classroom, as educators find themselves spending more time on paperwork and compliance rather than focusing on effective teaching methods and student engagement.

    Furthermore, the NEA’s staunch opposition to certain education reforms, such as merit-based pay and performance evaluations, has impeded efforts to improve teacher effectiveness and accountability. By resisting these reforms, the NEA perpetuates a system where all teachers are treated equally regardless of their actual impact on student learning outcomes, which ultimately harms both students and dedicated educators who strive for excellence.

    Additionally, the NEA’s involvement in political activism often detracts from its core mission of promoting quality education. While it is important for educators to advocate for issues that affect their profession, the NEA’s heavy involvement in partisan politics can alienate members who do not share the same views, creating division within the education community and diverting resources away from initiatives that directly benefit students.

    The NEA has undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping the landscape of public education, it is essential to critically evaluate its impact and address the negative effects that it may have on our schools. I urge Alaska to consider alternative approaches that prioritize student success and teacher empowerment while ensuring accountability

    I am hopeful that together, we can work towards a brighter future for public education.

  2. sectarian
    /sɛkˈtɛəriən/
    adjective
    -Of, or relating to a sect.
    -Dogmatic or partisan.
    -Parochial or narrow-minded.

    When I was forced to pay “fair share” dues to the NEA, I noticed that the union would print cards for all the teachers telling them who to vote for for POTUS, US Senator, US Rep, etc. Every single time I saw these, only one political party was listed on that card. The Democrats were always the “pro-education” party. What a joke. If the word sectarian needs a poster child, the NEA is it.

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