Monday, May 15, 2006

Driving the wedge

By the fact that Mike Doogan is running in House District 25, it will be an election that will get news.

The candidate that winds up running against Mike, is going to have to drive a wedge between voters that may go to Mike. And I say may go to Mike as in Independents and Democrats.

Education is an issue that Mike is weak on, and his endorsement of Eric Croft's position on reducing class sizes to 15 will come under fire. Why?

Ethan Berkowitz on education.

First, we need to adhere to the studies that show there is an optimal class-size – usually not more than 21 – and that exceeding it compromises the quality of education.

Ethan's position is correct, but it is debatable on if the data is correct. But what is important is Ethan's use of the word "optimal" and the number 21.

Here you have a Democratic Gubernatorial candidate who is leading in the Democratic Polls who is not in-line with a Democratic House candidate on what they think is the optimal class size.

Here is where the wedge gets driven.

To achieve what Doogan and Croft propose would be costly and unrealistic in the Anchorage School District. You would have to construct new schools to reduce the class sizes and when you consider the popuation of Anchorage is growing older and student enrollment is declining, it would be foolish to build them.

Ethan's view on the optimal class size of 21 is more realistic. The question is how do you get there? Special Education Vouchers and Charter Schools.

For those who don't know how I stand on education issues, I have supported vouchers as far back as 1998 when I first ran against Senator Donely. I advocated the use of vouchers because back then, I said they could be used to decrease class sizes without having a negative impact on the public education system.

And for those who don't know, I have advocated the education system in Edmonton which uses a voucher system in an effective manner to keep school contruction costs down and class sizes down. Edmonton has proven my beliefs to be correct.

Unfortunately, Alaska has in its constitution an education clause that keeps the state money from being used to fund private education. Two years ago, I had given up on trying to push the voucher idea when it came to general education. I have not given up on special education vouchers however.

In Florida this year, a very important court decision was handed down by the Florida Supreme Court. It struck down the law on vouchers in that state. What is important is the court did not rule on money that is going to special education because it is a federal law and federal law trumps state law.

What is also important is, the dissenting Justice while disagreeing with the majority, did cite to Alaska's constitution in clarification of when state funds could not be used to fund private education.

Here in Alaska, that ruling would have strength and any attempt to implement a voucher system for general education in Alaska, under the current constitution would be foolish.

As I said in a debate on KAKM against Charity Kadow and Representative Brian Porter, the Alaska Constitution would have to be ammended in order for the vouchers system to be implemented. And back then, I advocated to implement the system.

But pragmatism has its place. And as such, compromise must take place.

Fully fund education where no local property taxes are used to pay for education. That way, some parents can send their kids to private school by relieving them from their property tax burden.

Decentralize the school system to become more efficient, increase charter/voc-ed schools and offer vouchers for special education so that the private sector can take some of the burden off of the public school system by decreasing the number of classrooms being used.

That is the wedge that can be driven between Democrats and it can be done in an effective manner to get votes.

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