By MICHAEL TAVOLIERO
In February of 2013, then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy introduced SJR9, a resolution amending the Alaska State Constitution relating to state aid for education.
Specifically, the resolution would amend, through a vote of the Alaska people, Section 1 of Article VII and Section 6 of Article IX of the Alaska State Constitution.
These amendments would have deleted the prohibition allowing public funds to be used for the direct benefit of any religious or private educational institution. The sections of the Alaska State Constitution in question are called the “Mini-Blaine Amendments”.
The Mini-Blaine Amendments were a result of a Republican U.S. congressman’s efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent public funds from going to the Catholic Church for education purposes back in the late 19th Century.
His prejudice against religious freedom was so great that when his efforts failed, he convinced Congress to require the installation of this language to prohibit public funds from being used for private and sectarian education purposes in new states’ constitutions as a requirement to enter the union.
As a result, and a requirement for union entry, in the late 1950’s the State of Alaska included these Mini-Blaine Amendments in its state constitution.
With the adoption of SJR9, Alaskans for the first time, since statehood, would have had the opportunity to vote on the question of providing public funds for private and sectarian educational institutions. The Alaska State Legislature decided this would not happen and SJR9 died in the state legislature.
The arguments against and the defeat of this resolution were and still are corporatist. Those in labor and industry who control and benefit from the Alaska political machinery would not allow this resolution to pass just as most of the attempts to allow the Alaska people to vote on the question of individual liberty have been usurped by their heavy control over the Alaska state legislature.
The surprise was Republican Senators John Coghill and Click Bishop were responsible for the procedural death of this resolution.
Why does the Alaska Legislature continue to deny the Alaska people the opportunity to vote on fundamental issues?
Subsequently, the slow death of the Alaska public education system continued its anguish as the lifestyle opportunities of Alaska’s progeny result in the lowest scholastic performance in the nation at the highest cost per student in the nation. Look up performance in the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Performance Evaluation of Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS).
Contrary to the Marxists who control the Alaska political echo chamber, the result would not be “School Choice” or a “Voucher System.” The result would be for the first time in Alaska’s history, “Competitive Education”.
Competitive Education is the greatest and perhaps the final defeat to Marxist controlled public education. It is also their greatest fear, because it stops them from having access and complete control of billions of education dollars.
Why? Because public funds will follow the child through the education process, thus enabling parents to determine the education opportunities for their children and not the special interests of the unions, the education industry and the health care industry.
What’s more critical is that public funds could go directly to the parents, who would be the only ones to attach “strings” to the subsequent distribution to whatever schools the parent chooses for the child.
Private and sectarian educational institutions would not have the onerous regulatory realities state government would attempt to impose on them. The state gets out of the public education regulation business and trusts the parents to make the best decisions for their children by opening the door for all private educational institutions to compete head-to-head with all public educational systems for public education funds.
Any bets on who would have better performance results?
Any bets on a more cost effective and efficient education expense benefit to the state and the Alaska people?
On June 30, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled through Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue that the Mini-Blaine amendments in 38 states were unconstitutional.
Marxists will readily argue that it did not, but I’ll leave it up to the author of SJR9 to decide and consider implementing Espinoza.
Justice Roberts in his opinion for the Court concluded, “That ‘supreme law of the land’ condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are ‘member[s] of the community too,’ and their exclusion from the scholarship program here is ‘odious to our Constitution’ and ‘cannot stand.’”
Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion stated, “Returning the Establishment Clause to its proper scope will not completely rectify the Court’s disparate treatment of constitutional rights, but it will go a long way toward allowing free exercise of religion to flourish as the Framers intended.”
Justice Alito brilliantly nailed the Mini-Blaine amendments for what there were and still are. “Backers of the Blaine Amendment either held nativist views or capitalized on them.” In Alaska, the only beneficiaries of the Alaska Mini-Blaine amendments are the unions, education industry and the health care industry, not Alaska’s children.
Justice Gorsuch in his concurring opinion establishes, “The [US] Constitution forbids laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. That guarantee protects not just the right to be a religious person, holding beliefs inwardly and secretly; it also protects the right to act on those beliefs outwardly and publicly.”
And “If the government could intrude so much in matters of faith, too, winners and losers would soon emerge.”. Sound familiar Alaska?
And “Effectively, the [Montana’s Supreme] court told the state legislature and parents of Montana like Ms. Espinoza: You can have school choice, but if anyone dares to choose to send a child to an accredited religious school, the program will be shuttered. That condition on a public benefit discriminates against the free exercise of religion. Calling it discrimination on the basis of religious status or religious activity makes no difference: It is unconstitutional all the same.”
It is time to implement Espinoza and save the children of our state from Marxism, mediocrity and a desolate future.
If this is not enough for the Alaska state government to understand, then wait for Carson v. Makin. Here, the court will be asked to decide whether Maine violated the Equal Protection or Religion Clauses of the U.S. Constitution in preventing students from using their grant-in-aid money to attend schools that provide sectarian education.
Michael Tavoliero is a realtor in Eagle River, is active in the Alaska Republican Party and chairs Eaglexit.