Commentary

Wilson on Heart Month, school voucher bill

Hello and welcome to week three of Peggy’s Corner of the House. This has been a busy week, with four of my bills being heard. Bills don’t always pass out of committee on the first hearing. Sometimes there are questions or details that need to be worked out. This week, three of my bills were held over in committee until next week.
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House Concurrent Resolution 20, which will designate February as American Heart Month in Alaska, did successfully pass the House of Representatives on Friday – unanimously. It is now on its way to the Senate. To kick off American Heart Month, and help draw attention to this devastating disease, I joined a number of legislators and staff in wearing red on February 1.

One of the bills that is generating a lot of public interest in the Education committee is House Bill 145, sponsored by Representative Wes Keller. HB145 is a school voucher bill that would allow state money to go to private schools, giving parents a choice. This is a strong movement across the nation right now, for many people feel that the public schools have failed. I’m concerned though, that it may be unconstitutional in Alaska to give state money to faith-based institutions. We’re waiting for a decision from the Attorney General’s office on this. I’m also concerned about what might happen to our public schools as 70% of the money for each student would follow them to the private school. Another problem is the fact that students in our smaller communities don’t really have a choice of schools, even if the funds were available.

I filed an amendment requiring that private schools that participate in the parental choice scholarship program need to be open to the public; with no discrimination. It states that if the number of applications exceeds the physical capacity of the institution, students shall be accepted by random drawing. In other words, the private school can’t pick and choose which students they’ll accept. The amendment did not pass, but may be brought up again when the bill goes to the Finance committee. Several other amendments were added, resulting in a bill that was significantly different from what Representative Keller originally introduced. I feel that it’s actually a better bill now, but still needs more work in Finance.

The three weeks of discussion on HB 145 were a good example of your legislature at work – debating all the ramifications and unintended consequences of possible passage of each bill.

The Finance Committee is the committee that is responsible for the state’s Operating Budget; which they are working on now. This is a daunting task; so the whole budget is broken down by state agencies, and a finance subcommittee looks at each department’s budget. I am on the finance subcommittees for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Education and Early Development. We are looking at each department’s mission and their core responsibilities to see if they do indeed achieve their goals. If not, where to shift gears. Do we delete a program or add more funds to make it better. We drill into their operating costs, with a goal of helping the state’s programs operate as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Peggy’s Corner of the House is a weekly commentary provided by Peggy Wilson, representative for House District 2 in the state legislature.

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