Begich: Public dollars are for public education

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich spoke to Alaska legislators Monday. Senate President Charlie Huggins is left. House Speaker Mike Chenault is on the right. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich spoke to Alaska legislators Monday. Senate President Charlie Huggins is left. House Speaker Mike Chenault is on the right. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Alaska’s junior U.S. Senator leaves no doubt on his opinion about a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the use of state funds for private or religious schools.

“I believe strongly we should never amend the Alaska Constitution as a fix for education,” Sen. Mark Begich told Alaska lawmakers Monday.

Public dollars are for public education. Period.”

The Democrat was delivering his sixth speech to a joint session of the state House and Senate. His comments about HJR1 and SJR9 drew noisy applause from the gallery, but only a handful of lawmakers were observed clapping. If the legislature approves either resolution, the education funding question would be put to voters in a statewide election.

“There already is plenty of school choice in our public system, from home schools to charters to alternative programs. I was a product of one of them,” Begich said.  The former Anchorage mayor attended Stellar Secondary School, an Anchorage School District alternative school with grades 7 t0 12.

Begich also said he’s not happy with Alaska public school funding over recent years. The Base Student Allocation, the amount of money school districts receive per student enrolled, has remained the same for the last three years, with no adjustment for inflation. Legislation is pending to increase the BSA.

It’s like you’ve built a fire in the woodstove, but refused to add enough wood. Now some are complaining the stove doesn’t work and we need a brand-new heating system,” Begich said. “I know, some of you will say there’s been enough wood for the fire. That the state education budget has actually increased. The question is: Has it kept enough pace to allow school districts to keep up, to actually do their jobs?”

The Senator’s remarks about education were only part of his nearly 26-minute speech, followed by lawmakers’ questions. Other issues ranged from federal deficit reductions to possibly basing F-35 squadrons at both Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.  Begich also thanked the legislature for supporting research and development of unmanned aerial vehicles at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Alaska was recently named one of six sites in the U.S. to test UAVs.

Begich is chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said two of the Coast Guard’s new high speed cutters will be based in Ketchikan, and one in Juneau.
 
Watch the full address courtesy of Gavel Alaska:

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