Tim Barto: School choice annual event promotes education freedom, parental rights

Alaska School Choice Week. Photo credit: Tim Barto


A few years ago, Leigh Sloan was busily homeschooling her three children, but like many homeschool moms she wanted to provide her kiddos more interaction with others their ages, and she wanted them to have more exposure to other adult teachers.

Her solution was to create an alternative educational structure (a micro-school, if you will) that she calls “The Green Room.” 

The Green Room allows other families in similar circumstances to take turns providing instruction to each other’s children in their particular areas of expertise, all while supplying a positive and wholesome learning environment in the basement space they acquired in an Anchorage church.

Leigh and her fellow Green Room compatriots strongly believe that parents are in the best positions to decide their children’s educational paths. This doesn’t necessitate leaving the public schools, but may result in combinations that include some or all of the various schooling options: public, private, charter, trade, and home. 

The Green Room venture piqued Leigh’s interest in and commitment to school choice, and it led to her taking the reins in leading Alaska’s participation in National School Choice Week, with the major event being an annual School Choice convention. This year’s convention (which, to be accurate, was actually termed a “celebration”), took place Monday night at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. 

The National School Choice Week organization provided the bulk of funding for the event, but money also came in from generous donors, such as the local office of Americans For Prosperity. There were also 28 vendors, ranging from private schools to martial arts studios to policy advocacy groups to charter schools. These combined funding sources allowed the approximately 400 guests that showed up on Monday to enter for free. 

Speaking in person to the gathered attendees were Anchorage Mayor Bronson, stalwart Anchorage School Board member Dave Donley, Mat-Su School Board member Jubilee Underwood, Anchor Lutheran School Director Matthew Baxter, public school teacher Sharon Gibbons, parent and school choice advocate Evelyn Dutton, and Todd Smolden from Governor Dunleavy’s office. Appearing via video were Gov. Mike Dunleavy himself, as well as Education Commissioner Deena Bishop, Sen. Shelley Hughes, and Rep. Stanley Wright. 

While Leigh Sloan was the chief organizer of the event, she solicited and received much-needed assistance from Rebecca Koonce, Theo Ransum, and about 15 other volunteers, all of whom share a commitment to school choice. 

Ransum, who served as a roving emcee for the evening, has a story of his own regarding school choice. Several years ago, his two daughters found themselves unhappy at the Anchorage public high school they were attending, so Theo did some research and realized it was perfectly allowable for them to transfer high schools. They were then able to find a school (another public high school, it turned out) that provided learning and social environments more conducive to their educational goals, personal styles, and family values. 

And that type of freedom is what school choice is all about. 

With the trend in public schools being a continual chipping away at parental rights and a simultaneous promotion of leftist ideologies, school choice offers freedom for parents and students. Public schools may work for some – maybe even most – people, but many others would like to tailor their families’ educational programs to suit their children’s learning needs and values.

One of the positive outcomes of the Covid pandemic was the realization that education can be flexible, that families can break the stranglehold that public schools have on education. Staying home with their children and witnessing classroom instruction being administered via videoconferencing, parents were able to see firsthand how public schools were failing them, and the experience provided them the impetus to send their children to private schools, teach them at home, or provide a combination of the better parts of all the learning opportunities discussed above.

School boards, administrators, and teachers’ unions will not easily relinquish control of the education system. They will fight to maintain their power, influence, and funding, even – as we have seen – when confronted with the positive results of charter schools and other non-traditional public school programs. It is necessary to fight for, exercise, and promote school choice. Leigh Sloan and her volunteers and supporters deserve applause for doing so.

Tim Barto is vice president of Alaska Family Council and a regular contributor to Must Read Alaska. He and his wife homeschooled their five (now adult) children.


    • You know how much private school costs? It’s not that simple….when we get vouchers to help pay for private school, then private schools will become the new norm..that’s why they are fighting school choice so hard. Where the money goes is where the students go, which is where the money goes.

      • It’s sarcasm, but the suggestion is as equivalent to this bogus ‘parent choice for their child’s education’ bit.

        It is my understanding that folks that support this selfish short-sighted half-backed notion that they think they control the education of their offspring … do not have BS Education in their are of expertise.

        Already, there are news stories about public school teachers having to purchase supplies for their classrooms that school districts are short on funds to provide. Running away from responsibility for this mandatory right of society (childhood education) by advocating that government defer tax funds toward them, is not helpful to the general welfare of a country. It is punitive at one of the lowest levels of humanity -in effect setting up barriers to education for all children, in a systemic segregation. Advocates for this personal project of Ms Sloan have lined themselves up behind a pied piper to what long-term consequence to our society?

        Retiring after decades as a schoolteacher, I recall my father’s frustrated comments about being paid to babysit (civilize) children as expected by their parents. So, now, parents abdicate their responsibility to childhood education by throwing money at private schools?

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