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Alaska parents and legislators scramble for answers after judge rules homeschool allotments are unconstitutional

Iris Samuels and Sean Maguire, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska on

Published in News & Features

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Thousands of Alaska students face uncertainty about their education after a court decision issued late Friday upended the state's long-standing correspondence schools.

Correspondence programs — which allow Alaska students to be homeschooled under the supervision of public school teachers and using public funds — have been a part of Alaska's education system for decades.

But Anchorage Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman ruled Friday that key statutes governing the correspondence programs violate a constitutional prohibition on the use of public funds for private or religious institutions.

Zeman, who was appointed to the bench in 2020 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, struck down as unconstitutional two statutes that were originally proposed by Dunleavy when he was a state senator in 2013.

Enacted a decade ago, the statutes allowed parents to receive thousands of dollars per year and use that funding for their children's education with few limitations, including paying private and religious vendors. Increasingly, the money — up to $4,500 per student — has been used directly to cover tuition at private schools.

Zeman struck down those statues in their entirety, leaving lawmakers, school administrators, parents and students to wonder: what is the future of Alaska's correspondence programs?


In a social media post on Saturday, Dunleavy said Zeman's ruling could mean "much if not all the correspondence homeschool education that we do in Alaska may be unconstitutional." He said his administration planned to request a stay — meaning a temporary pause in the implementation of the decision — and file an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. However, the Department of Law did not indicate that the court filings had been submitted on Monday, nor supply a copy of them.

"To say this would be disruptive would be an understatement. This disruption, coupled with the fact that we and many Alaskans believe this ruling is flawed, leads us to ask for a stay and quick resolution with our Supreme Court," Dunleavy wrote.

The ruling came in a case filed by Alaska parents and teachers, and funded by NEA-Alaska, the largest teacher union in the state. On Monday, the plaintiffs asked the court to stay the effects of the judge's order until the end of June, giving students time to finish the school year as planned and giving lawmakers time to consider whether to implement new legislation that would allow correspondence programs to continue operating in some capacity.

Tom Klaameyer, president of NEA-Alaska, said Monday that the union supported the short-term stay, adding he was "surprised at how broad the ruling was" but pleased by the court striking down what he called "a backdoor voucher program."


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