Alaska legislators’ education bills include one to give state funds to some students in homeschool and private school

Rep. Kenai Gilham at Soldotna City Hall last April. (Sabina Pu / KDLL)

Last week, state lawmakers released a number of bills aimed at public education curricula, including several from Republican Soldier Representative Ron Gilham.

Gilham said the focus of his legislative session is he makes education.

“When I went down [to Juneau] last year, a lot of attention was focused on dividends, the budget and a number of other things, ”he said. “During the winter, I researched our education system a lot. And we needed to change something. “

Gilham said that in general parents should be more involved in the education of their children.

The so-called Parental Rights Movement became popular in education during the pandemic, as parents demand a greater contribution to what their students learn in schools and how measures are taken to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

One of Gilham’s bills requires schools to publish lists of textbooks and course plans on their websites. It’s not like the bills being proposed in Ohio and Michigan.

Some teachers in those areas said they were worried it would lead to censorship. Gilham said he sees the bill as a way to ensure transparency.

“And when they try to stop you from seeing what it is, it tells me you’re trying to hide something,” he said. “Maybe they weren’t, but that’s in my head.”

The Kenai Peninsula School District is already publishing some of its study materials online.

Another bill provides for government funding for students studying at home or in private schools. Students, among other criteria, will be eligible for a scholarship of $ 5,930 per year if they have a disability, study at a “low-performing school” or a military parent.

Gilham said the idea for the bill he picked up at a summit he attended last November in Florida, hosted by ExcelInEd, an organization set up by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Gilham said he also attended last year’s state Conservative lawmakers ’summit in Texas, sponsored by an organization called WallBuilders. The WallBuilders website says the group is committed to “preserving the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation that has been severely attacked and undermined in recent years.”

Another Gilham bill prohibits teachers from making students feel guilty or inherently “racist, sexist, or oppressive” based on their own identity. It’s similar to a bill proposed in Florida.

Gilham said he was also thinking about critical racial theory, or CRT, an academic foundation that has become a cry in conservative circles to combat supposedly progressive ideology in schools.

Kenai County and many others have stated that they do not teach critical race theory in their classes.

County spokeswoman Pegge Erkenef said counties are considering new education bills when they are submitted to see if they meet the district’s legislative priorities. She said that in the coming days the district will consider the proposed bills.

Tom Klaimayer heads the branch of the National Association of Education in Alaska. He said in an email that he did not consider Gilham’s accounts productive.

“The education reform package proposed by the Gilham representative will not meet the pressing needs I hear from Alaska teachers or the students they serve,” he said. “NEA-Alaska is committed to working with all parties to improve educational achievement and student learning. Unfortunately, this package of bills does not look like a productive, practical or strategic investment in our public education system. “

Gilham said he would also submit a bill to introduce a “character development program” that would emphasize values ​​such as patriotism, responsibility, and racial and religious tolerance. He said the program would teach high school students employment and civic skills, among other things.

Gilham is not the only Alaskan lawmaker to have passed bills on public education this week.

David Eastman, a Republican from Basil, wants the state education department to create a social research program on “victims of communism,” including training former communist leaders such as Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering bills that, among other things, provide for the creation of a Read by 9 program for students. Another piece of legislation would increase the amount of money schools receive for each student, and that figure has not changed over the past few years.

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