- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Feb. 21, 2014

Juneau Empire: Concealed carry bill misses the mark

A bill that would allow concealed carry on University of Alaska campuses needs marksman-like precision to be successful; the way it’s proposed now - more like a hail of bullets - will cause problems in the long term.

SB176, introduced by Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, via a legislative intern, skirts around Second Amendment rights by going after University of Alaska policies as a whole. The bill would forbid the University of Alaska Board of Regents from enacting policies that don’t run parallel to state laws.

The question is: How many policies besides concealed carry aren’t considered parallel to state law?

If SB176 were to be passed as-is, there’s no telling how dark and deep that “rabbit hole” may go. Anyone who disagrees with a campus policy could challenge its merit based on what state law says. In short, we feel the UA system would be hindered in its ability to craft policies in the best interests of students and in the pursuit of higher learning. What if marijuana is legalized in the state? Would students then be allowed to smoke inside residence halls? Universities may not be able to enforce visiting hours, curfews, segregated living between males and females, and more.

Nothing should take away individuals’ right to protect themselves and we feel all students should feel safe on campus. We support concealed carry on campus, but if university policy infringes on students’ Second Amendment rights, the issue should be addressed head-on, focussing solely on that item. If university students feel unsafe, they should be granted their constitutional right to bear arms. But, that can be done without permanently tying the hands of university leaders through legislation.

SB176 needs to stick to the issue at hand. Students want the University of Alaska to acknowledge their right to carry firearms, and that can be accomplished without stripping the UA Board of Regents of its authority.

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Feb. 20, 2014

Juneau Empire: Empire Editorial: Education reform shouldn’t be rushed

Gov. Sean Parnell wants to see widespread education reform by the end of the legislative session in April. Setting goals is good, but what’s even better is setting achievable ones.

Education reform can happen in 90 days, but will the reforms be properly vetted, researched and implemented in that time?

Something as far-reaching as overhauling our public education system shouldn’t be rushed.

What voucher model will Alaska follow, and what effect will that have on Alaska’s public schools? What happens if a private school underperforms after receiving state funds? Will it still receive state funding without any way for the state to ensure results? And if a community turns down a new charter school, will the education commissioner be able to override that decision?

These questions and many more are unanswered, and there’s only two months left in the 28th Legislature. Waiting until the 29th Legislature is the right choice.

Lawmakers need time to analyze how vouchers have been implemented in other states. If education reform was the only bill on the table, perhaps there would be enough time to find the best fit for Alaska’s unique needs.

Individual items like doing away with the high school exit exam and increasing base funding are doable this year. Vouchers are not. We’re not saying vouchers are a good idea or a bad one, but whatever the state’s direction, it needs to be thought out so the program doesn’t turn out like the Affordable Care Act website.

According to a 2013 Washington Post article, Lower 48 students have used vouchers for unaccredited schools. States have been left with little to no oversight of what students learn and whether their teachers are qualified.

If the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster decided to start a private school in the back of a bowling alley, the state may not have a choice but to give the school tens of thousands of dollars - or more - in vouchers. Without understanding the pitfalls other states have fallen into, Alaska will be more likely to repeat the mistakes of others instead of learning from them. On the other hand, some states have found success using vouchers, which allowed students from low-income families to attend schools they otherwise would never have had the opportunity to enroll in.

More importantly, is the education reform touted in HB278 and SB139 the change Alaska needs? A survey paid for by the National Education Association-Alaska reveals a different problem. According to educators surveyed, factors outside school walls are what’s keeping students from learning and graduating on time. Drugs, drinking, abuse and poor home environments are to blame for poor performance, teachers say. These issues are ones that vouchers and funding increases aren’t likely to fix. Tossing money at the problem is hacking at the branches instead of going after the root.

Alaska’s education system needs to evolve as times change, but such a widespread overhaul in so little time could provoke more problems than solutions if it isn’t done right the first time.

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