Holding signs saying “Kids! Not Cuts” and “Vouchers Hurt Public Schools,” about 200 people packed the Alaska Capitol steps for a “Save our Schools” rally yesterday afternoon.
The crowd included parents, students, teachers and community members, as well as a handful of state lawmakers.
Juneau Douglas High School Senior Tori Talley talked about growing up in a low income, single parent home, before being adopted in the sixth grade. Through it all, she said, school was one of the few places she felt safe. She said teachers bought her school supplies, and school meal programs and counseling services kept her on track to graduate later this year.
“All the teachers knew exactly what my situation was,” Talley said. “And they always would stop me in the middle of class and they’d sit with me and talk to me if I needed it. And they were still there for me. So I’ve always had an extremely supportive, caring and motivational support group.”
Talley drew loud cheers when she said she plans to go to college to study psychology.
Other speakers argued for an increase in state spending on education, and against a proposed amendment to Alaska’s constitution that would allow public funds to be spent on private and religious schools.
The amendment needs two-thirds support from the Alaska Legislature before it can appear on the ballot. Governor Sean Parnell and Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would put the issue to voters.
With two months left in the legislative session, Anchorage Senator Berta Gardner, a Democrat, said opponents feel confident the amendment won’t make it through.
“We believe that they don’t have the votes to move that forward,” said Gardner to loud cheers. But, she continued: “They haven’t started knocking heads together, twisting arms, making threats, all kinds of things, and we have to keep the pressure up. We’re ahead of the game. The public is absolutely with us. And we will not back down.”
Amendment supporters say it’s needed to provide parents and students more school choice.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond and the Great Alaska Schools coalition organized the rally.
Due to a lengthy floor session, many House members missed the event. Nearly all of the state senators in attendance were Democrats. The only Republican there was Soldotna Senator Peter Micciche, who’s considered a key vote on the proposed constitutional amendment.