Michael Tavoliero: Education and public utility


The Alaska State Council on Education and Early Development submitted its annual report to the Alaska Legislature in February.

The report contained three shared commitments:

  • Increase student success
  • Cultivate safety and well-being
  • Support responsible and reflective learners.

According to the report to the Alaska Legislature, “every two years, the U.S. Department of Education, through the National Evaluation of Educational Progress (NAEP), tests large samples of 4th and 8th graders in every state (plus the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools) in reading and math.

“The NAEP state and country results are presented as average scores on a scale of 000 to 500. The scale scores fall into four categories of achievement as defined by NAEP: advanced, proficient, basic, and inferior. at the basic. Thus, NAEP also reports the percentage of students who fall into these achievement categories.

“NAEP’s definition of competency is rigorous. At NAEP, basic refers to a partial mastery of the subject. Competent refers to competence in difficult material, including knowledge, application, and analytical skills. Advanced is superior performance.

“In the top-scoring state, 49 percent of its students are proficient or advanced in 4th-grade reading;

“In the top-scoring state, 52 percent of its students are proficient or advanced in 8th-grade reading;

“In the top-scoring state, 54 percent of its students are proficient or advanced in 4th-grade math; and

“In the top-scoring state, 47 percent of its students are proficient or advanced in 8th grade math.

“NAEP summarizes a state’s results by the number of states (plus DC and DOD schools) it scored lower than, statistically identical toand higher than.

“In 4th grade math, Alaska scored lower than 46 states, statistically the same as 4 states, and higher than 1 state.

“In 8th grade math, Alaska scored lower than 37 states, statistically the same as 11 states, and higher than 3 states.

“In 4th grade reading, Alaska scored less than 50 states and statistically the same as a state.

“In 8th grade reading, Alaska scored lower than 47 states and statistically the same as 4 states.”

In the mid-1950s, delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention addressed the issue of education in the state constitution. The focus of the delegates was exciting. They wanted to build a model state. Their desirability was not blinded by the lack of precedent. They had 48 constitutions from other states to use as examples. Their response to the most important aspect of healthy societal growth, good public order, honest government, and a literate population was simple.

Alaska’s Constitutional education policy is contained in one sentence of Article VII, Section 1, Public Education:

“The legislator establishes and maintains by a general law a system of public schools open to all the children of the State and may provide for other public educational establishments.

Then they added two more sentences to Article VII, Section 1. These two sentences prohibited the use of public funds for any religious or private educational institution.

“The schools and institutions thus created shall be free from sectarian control. No sum of money shall be taken from public funds for the direct benefit of a religious educational institution or other private educational institution. »

And, then, they went further with Article IX, Section 6: “No imposts shall be levied, nor appropriation of public moneys, nor public property transferred, and public credit shall not be used, except for public purposes. .”

With the ratification of the Alaska constitution, these chapters effectively solidified government education without performance results or competition.

Has Alaskan government education limited its achievements to the latest pre-Covid finding from the U.S. Department of Education, through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)?

Regarding Article VII, Section 1, Public Education, of the Alaska Draft Constitution, R. Roland Armstrong, delegate from Juneau, said in 1955: “The Convention will note that in Section 1, the committee kept a broad concept and tried to keep our schools free from constitutional roadblocks.

Yet the constitutional roadblock to competitive education has been firmly established with the addition of these “Blaine Amendments.”

What is the Blaine Amendment?

In Espinoza et al. v. Montana Department of Revenue et al., June 30, 2020, Justice Roberts, in his majority decision, said, “The Blaine Amendment is ‘born out of bigotry’ and ‘was born at a time of widespread hostility to the Church Catholic and Catholics in general. ‘; many of his state counterparts have a similar “shameful pedigree”.

Judge Sam Alito, in his concurring opinion, said, “…the failure of the Blaine Amendment to the United States Constitution. Named after Speaker of the House James Blaine, the congressman who introduced it in 1875, the amendment was motivated by strong prejudice against immigrants, especially Catholic immigrants. Indeed, the amendment would have “ban[red] any help” to Catholic schools and other “sectarian” schools. As noted in a publication by the United States Civil Rights Commission, a prominent supporter of this ban was the Ku Klux Klan.

“The Blaine Amendment was narrowly defeated, passing the House, but falling short of the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to return the amendment to the States. See 4 Cong. Rec. 5191–5192 (1876) (vote in the room); identifier., to 5595 (28 yes, 16 no in the Senate). Subsequently, most states have adopted provisions like Montana’s to achieve the same goal at the state level, often as a condition of entry into the Union. Thirty-eight states still have these “little Blaine amendments” today.

Although in 1876 the addition of the Blaine Amendment to the United States Constitution failed, it became a state constitutional prerequisite for these thirty-eight states to enter the Union. The Blaine Amendment was not discussed in the minutes of the Alaska Constitutional Convention. The records cite other state constitutions containing this provision. The delegates agreed that this language was necessary for the constitution of Alaska.

It is questioned whether the sections of the Alaska constitution containing these “little Blaine amendments” are unconstitutional due to the Espinoza decision. Today, neither the Governor, nor the Attorney General, nor the Alaska State Legislature addressed this issue. Given the status of education in Alaska, at a minimum, shouldn’t a public conversation be warranted?

Note that although the Alaska Constitution has a section in Article IX on “public utility”, the Alaska Constitutional Delegates did not define “public utility”.

The greatest “public purpose” of any society is to devote all its resources to the better education of its offspring. My opinion, do you share it?

Limits to the development of a broad definition of “public purpose” by the Alaska court system have included subsidized loans for students, private businesses, residential property buyers, bill subsidies utilities and permanent fund “dividends” (cash payments to all residents). “Public utility” takes up a lot of tent space, but as the US Supreme Court has deferred to legislative judgment on these boundaries, so has the Alaska Supreme Court.

For example, in DeArmond v. Alaska State Development Corporation, 376 P.2d 717, 1962 decision, the Alaska Supreme Court stated, “…the term ‘public purpose’ represents a concept which cannot be precisely defined. We think it would be a disservice to future generations if this tribunal

try to define it. It is a concept that will change as changing conditions create changing public needs. . . . Where the legislator has concluded that a public purpose will be served by the expenditure or transfer of public funds or the use of public credit, the court will not reverse the legislator’s conclusion unless it is clear that this conclusion is arbitrary and without any reasonable basis in fact.

Under the banner of economic development by eminent domain, in Kelo vs. City of New London, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in his majority opinion, concluded that although the Court did not define public purpose, he did. “Where is the line between the use of ‘public’ and ‘private’ property? We give considerable deference to the decisions of legislatures about government activities that will benefit the public.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent in that same case, predicted that “Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial purpose ensures that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities.

To paraphrase the conclusion of Justice Thomas’ thinking about education, these communities are not only systematically less likely to see their children achieve the highest and best levels of academic performance and achievement, but are also the least powerful politically. to achieve this.

If “public utility” cannot be defined by the courts, then whose is it?

Michael Tavoliero is a real estate agent in Eagle River, is active in the Alaska Republican Party, and chaired Eaglexit. Part II of this series will be published shortly.

Michael Tavoliero: Decades later, education reform in Alaska has come to nothing

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