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Lawmaker estimates amendment would cost $60 million

Posted: February 26, 2013 - 11:01pm

JUNEAU (AP) — A Democratic state lawmaker estimates that a proposed constitutional amendment changing how education is funded could cost the state $60 million a year.

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, raised that estimate during a news conference Tuesday. Her estimate was calculated by multiplying the Department of Education’s estimate of children who attend private or religious schools by the funding formula used for students who attend public schools.

HJR1, by Rep. Wes Keller, proposes to amend Alaska’s Constitution to allow the state to appropriate public funds to private or religious educational institutions. Critics argue that it could siphon off funds from a public school system that is already seeking additional funds.

Keller, D-Wasilla, says an amendment gives Alaskans a choice on whether public funds should be given to private schools. He has argued that the proposed amendment carries no fiscal impact because it does not set up a specific voucher system.

“The sponsor denies that there is a fiscal impact from his bill, and he wants us to pass it out of committee to simply let the people vote,” Drummond said during the news conference. “He’s leaving it up to the public to guess what the impacts would be.”

Keller disagreed with Drummond’s statement.

“To say that HJR 1 will have a huge fiscal impact is either based on confusion or malicious intent, hopefully not the latter,” a statement from Keller’s office said. “HJR 1 does not authorize, indeed cannot authorize vouchers or any other educational choice program. Education programs and the associated funding come from Alaska statute ... not the Constitution.”

Drummond responded, in an email to The Associated Press: “Confusion comes from a lack of information. My only intent is to make sure Alaskans get the facts and information they need about the impacts of these changes to our constitution before they have to vote on them. We should not take it lightly to amend the constitution.”

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