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School Choice Changes Debated in Alaska

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Along with a slew of other states, lawmakers in Alaska have begun debating policy changes that could pave the way for a voucher program there as well as an expansion of charter schools.

After Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, in his State of the State speech last month called for introducing vouchers and revamping the state's charter law to allow charters to grow in number, legislators have made progress toward those goals.

The state's Republican-controlled Senate has already passed an amendment to the Alaska state constitution that would open the door to creating a voucher program, and the House education committee narrowly passed the measure as well. (The state's House is also Republican-controlled.) In order to become law, the amendment will need to gain the support of two-thirds of the legislature, then win the support of a majority of voters on the ballot this November.

The resolution strikes the line "no money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution" from the state's constitution, reports the Juneau Empire. 

A new charter law has also been proposed in the state, reports the Alaska Dispatch. The proposed law would define an appeals process for charter school proposals that are denied and clarify funding mechanisms for students with special needs, transportation, and career and technical education.

Currently, there are 27 charter schools in Alaska. The state's law is ranked 40th out of 43 laws in terms of strength and adherence to the organization's model charter school law, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a Washington-based pro-charter research and advocacy group. 

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