The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is already rife with drama, doubts and misgivings amongst the politicians and power brokers of Washington. Amidst scandals and rising concerns of Kavanaugh’s fitness for office, those of us watching from Alaska are waiting for some real leadership from our Alaska senators. Now a new threat from Kavanaugh has surfaced, endangering every Alaskan child’s right and access to education. If Judge Kavanaugh dons a black robe and joins the Supreme Court, the doors of our children’s schools could close forever.
You might be thinking to yourself that now I’m the one being dramatic. However, Kavanaugh’s proven views on school vouchers pose a unique threat to the rural Alaskan school system. A school voucher is a government-funded voucher redeemable for tuition fees at a school other than the public school that a student could attend free. Here are some facts: Kavanaugh has made multiple statements about his belief in the constitutionality of school vouchers. During his confirmation hearings in 2004, he acknowledged he had been a co-chair of the Federalist Society’s School Choice Practice Group. He has worked as a lawyer in Florida to defend school voucher programs that were ultimately struck down as unconstitutional. On the Supreme Court, though, he could finally be the fifth vote to open the floodgates to school vouchers across America.
Why are school vouchers wrong for Alaska? Senator Lisa Murkowski knows and explained it herself. She stood up to her own party last year to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the U.S. Secretary of Education in part because of DeVos’ support of vouchers, pointing out that in rural communities across Alaska there is literally no alternative to the one community public school.
Sen. Murkowski said then, “Betsy DeVos must show us that she truly understands the children of Alaska and across America, both urban and rural, who are not able to access an alternative choice in education as in so many of my communities. She must show us that she will work to help the struggling public schools that strive to educate children whose parents are unable to drive them across town to get to a better school. That she will not ignore the homeless students whose main worry is finding somewhere safe to sleep and for whom their public school is truly a refuge. That she will fight for the children whose parents do not know how to navigate these educational options.”
Those same children and those who care for them are looking to Washington for real leadership today. If the Supreme Court were to strike down the protections against school vouchers that exist in the Alaska Constitution and state constitutions across the country, public education dollars would start to flow out of our rural communities and into larger cities and towns where parents could take advantage of voucher programs. This means massive defunding of rural community schools across the state of Alaska. Instead, rural parents might be offered homeschool or correspondence programs–for a price. And for those parents who work and don’t have time to teach their children at home? Would those families be forced to move? Would our children be sent to a for-profit boarding school in a hub community?
We are not so far removed from the legacy of Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools to forget that the right of a public education for our children in rural Alaska is one for which our parents and grandparents fought for dearly. It wasn’t so long ago that our children were shipped off to schools where they were beaten for speaking their Alaska Native languages and our cultures were systematically attacked. We have fought for progress and justice since then. In the 1990s, the
Kasayulie case ruled that the state’s school construction practices were racially discriminatory and that our children have a right to have a public school built in their home communities. Later, the Moore case determined that our rural schools were–and in many cases, still are–underfunded. We are a long way from having educational equity in rural Alaska, but, for now, we are still on the path heading in the right direction. With one decision, with one new Justice confirmation, the Supreme Court could change everything.
Judge Kavanaugh is making no effort to hide his views supporting school vouchers. He has repeatedly made is ignorance about Alaska and our ways of life known. He will never be an advocate for Native and rural rights in Alaska. Throughout the Washington chaos, one thing has always been clear: Kavanaugh is the wrong Supreme Court pick for rural Alaska children. It is up to our representatives in Washington to reflect the best interests of their constituents at home in Alaska, especially our state’s children, and it is time that they made the right choice. Kavanaugh’s nomination would unravel years of work by Alaska Native parents to make sure that every child in Alaska, no matter how far away from Anchorage or Washington, DC they might live, has the same rights as any other, and the same opportunity to walk through the doors of a public school and secure for themselves a better future.