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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

"I think the majority of correspondence programs use those allotments well and constitutionally for things that are not religious or private institutions," said Ruffridge. He added there were "some concerning components" that "probably should be addressed."

"If you're using your homeschool allotment to pay for private tuition, that's not the intent of that allotment money," he said.

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, said that addressing the uncertainty created by the court ruling would be "a top priority" for the House Majority. Fewer than five weeks remain in the current legislative session.

The Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative group formerly directed by Bethany Marcum — who previously worked as Dunleavy's legislative aide — has published a list of correspondence programs that can be used to get tuition reimbursement at private schools. In 2022, the list included seven correspondence programs that collectively partnered with 11 private schools.

This year, the list numbers 10 correspondence programs. The Raven Homeschool program can be used to get $2,700 in tuition covered at "all private schools," according to the webpage. The Anchorage Family Partnership school can be used to get up to $4,500 reimbursed at eight listed private schools.

Marcum, who is now state director of Americans for Prosperity Alaska, said in an interview Monday that she was disappointed by the court decision. She hoped that the Legislature would consider a constitutional amendment that clarifies the prohibition on "direct benefits" to private and religious educational institutions. She also wanted clarity around the meaning of "private educational institution" as it appears in the constitution, and pointed to instances where private education institutions were getting public funds prior to the 2014 law change.

Anchorage School District spokesman Corey Young declined to respond to questions on the amount of district funds that have been used to subsidize private school tuition. Under the state statute that was struck down by the judge, the district was required to record all expenditures of state funds by correspondence students within the district, and audit those expenses regularly.

In a note to families of the roughly 2,000 correspondence students in Anchorage, the district wrote it "will work to make sure there is no disruption to students' educational needs."


Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat who also enrolled his children in correspondence programs, said that before the 2014 change in law that incorporated the now-unconstitutional statutes, correspondence programs still provided students an annual allotment that could be used for things like a laptop or curriculum, but there was greater oversight from the district, and many more limitations on the kinds of permissible expenses.

"There were limits. And the 2014 law struck down — forbid — the limits," said Kiehl. However, he said the court decision did not spell the end of correspondence programs, even without new legislative action.

"Worst case scenario, they could go back to the way it was done before the 2014 law," said Kiehl. That would mean correspondence students could carry on purchasing curriculum from approved vendors, as long as they fall within the confines of the constitutional prohibition on the use of public funds at private or religious institutions.

Kiehl said that a legislative fix to correspondence school funding could also be packaged with other education-related priorities, including an increase for public education overall. Last month, Dunleavy vetoed an education funding package that included a $175 million funding boost for public schools, and lawmakers failed by one vote to override the veto.

Members of the House minority said Monday that the court decision should refocus lawmakers — whose attention has been on the budget and other issues — on education.

"In the wake of Friday's decision and the many crises that continue to face our schools, the legislature must quickly act to provide adequate funding for our schools, reinstate a fair and competitive retirement for our educators, and provide certainty for students in correspondence programs," said Minority Leader Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent.


(c)2024 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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