Commissioner Mike Hanley of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development is seeking to remove a regulation that prohibits the use of political spending from education funds. He claims the removal of this regulation is to make it consistent with APOC and state law. However, the removal of this regulation ignores a very contentious chapter in Alaska's history.
Alaskans are strongly encouraged to write letters to block the repeal of this regulation. You may do this by scrolling down to the comment form here or by writing an email to email@example.com The subject line should say "Retain 4 AAC 06.135."
Regulation 4 AAC 06.135 states:
“ A SCHOOL DISTRICT MAY NOT APPROPRIATE OR SPEND SCHOOL DISTRICT MONEY FOR THE PURPOSE OF INFLUENCING THE RESULT OF A PUBLIC VOTE ON AN ELECTION, REFERENDUM, INITIATIVE, RECALL, OR OTHER ELECTION INVOLVING CANDIDATES OR HOLDERS OF PUBLIC OFFICE."If 4 AAC 06.135 is repealed, you can count on school district budgets being used for political purposes of every sort throughout the state. This regulation protects your state education dollars from being spent on political activities and provides the basis for redressing political expenditures through administrative law.
To understand the matter and why it is important, let's take a moment to look at the events that led up to this regulation. It will also demonstrate that there are vast differences between the Alaska Department of Education in 1991 under Governor Hickel and the Alaska Department of Education in 2015 under Governor Walker.
Background To the Regulation
While the State School Board Minutes from the adoption of this regulation are not online, the facts surround the regulation are ensconced in Ferguson and MOA v. Citizens for Representative Governance et al (9/16/94), 880 P 2d 1058. Now, Ferguson & MOA is really about what is a public interest litigant, which is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, the facts behind this regulation are laid out sufficiently well to understand why the regulation is there. This provision in administrative code, 4 AAC 06.135, are due to the same circumstances that lead to Ferguson & MOA. There were significant political expenditures from the Base Student Allocation, or BSA, granted to Anchorage schools, related to the recall discussed in Ferguson & MOA.
In the 1990s, there was a great degree of contention among the public and certain members of the Anchorage School Board. There was an effort in 1991 to recall members of the Anchorage School Board. Yes For Recall (YFR) was a group formed to coordinate the recall efforts of Anchorage School Board Members Walter Featherly, Carol Stolpe, Cabot Christianson and Dorothy Cox. Petitions were circulated and well over 18,000 signatures were collected on each candidate and submitted to the municipality. The municipal clerk originally rejected a vast majority of the petitions, and also claimed that the group had failed to notify the municipality of its efforts. YFR filed a sued Anchorage and won. The election was set for December 15.
In the meantime, the Anchorage city council decided that YFR was a public interest group and picked up the cost of YFR's litigation against the Municipal Clerk.
Not to be outdone, the school board members being recalled also formed a group called Citizens Representative Governance (CFRG)--it was headed by Nick Begich and Sheelah Slade. CFRG attempted to get an injunction to stop the election and failed. The election was held and they lost.
Then CFRG attempted to challenge the signatures on the original petitions for the recall, only to find out that the municipality had quit counting signatures when there was a sufficient number to hold the election. There were well over 3,000 signatures that had not been counted in the original petition for the election because there was already enough signatures. CFRG realized the math was against them, and decided to go after the "delicate issue of litigation costs." Ferguson & MOA is really about the resolution of these legal costs based on what constituted a public interest group.
The 1991 Alaska Department of Education's Interest
By the time Ferguson & MOA was decided, 4 AAC 06.135 was already in place.
The Alaska Department of Education in 1991 wanted to prevent the drain on school finances from future recalls. In an effort to protect public monies, and perhaps for other political reasons, then Deputy Commissioner of Education Steve Hole sought a legal opinion from then Marjorie L. Odland, Assistant Attorney General. Because of the lack of clarity on the issue, the Alaska Attorney General's worked with Deputy Commissioner Steve Hole to write 4 AAC 06.135. It was placed into administrative code thereafter by the Alaska Board of Education. The memo regarding this regulation is below.
The 2015 Alaska Department of Education Interest
The answer given to many activists who have been writing to block this repeal is puzzling. People who have been writing are being told that this regulation conflicts with statute. However, the Alaska Constitution and the statute were in place at the time the regulation was made, so it is indeed a puzzling answer. It seems that the current board members are not aware of the history behind the regulation.
The proposal to repeal this component of administrative code by Commissioner Hanley is highly suspect. Why would the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development want to repeal this regulation? Do they want to spend education dollars on political candidates?
The past behavior of the current commissioner is highly instructive. A few years back, the Alaska Department of Education repealed regulations and lobbied for the repeal of legislation of normed referenced tests. Within a year, they were moving toward experimental computerized adaptive tests. When they repealed the exit exam, they replaced it with the SAT, ACT, and Workkeys requirements.
Why do they want to repeal this regulation? The answer is clear-- they want to spend public dollars promoting their agenda.
For example, does the Commissioner want to run recalls against local school board members who disagree with his views on the standards, testing, accountability, the color of the sky, and anything else that is a threat to his power?
Does the Commissioner want to finance, with public education funds, candidates for the legislature that will be more accommodating to his opinions?
Does the Commissioner want to spend education dollars promoting Common Core?
Why does Commissioner Hanley want to remove the restriction of spending public education dollars for political purposes?
Please write to block the repeal of this regulation. David Nees has also written a blog on the matter here. Alaskans Against Common Core facebook page has more on this repeal.