Dunleavy lays out efforts to preserve ability to spend public funds at private and religious schools

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

Published in Religious News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In the wake of a court decision that struck down key statutes governing Alaska's public homeschooling programs, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Wednesday that he would not immediately seek to advance new statutes or regulations ensuring the programs can continue.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman ruled last week that the statutes, which allowed families to purchase education services from private or religious organizations, violated the Alaska Constitution, which states that "no money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution."

Lawmakers, educators and parents reacted with alarm to the Friday decision, which appeared at first glance to strike down Alaska's correspondence programs in their entirety. The programs have been used in Alaska for decades.

The Anchorage School District paused processing any pending or yet-to-be submitted reimbursement requests after the court decision, according to a statement sent Wednesday to the families of correspondence students. The district is asking the judge to pause the implementation of the decision, which would allow allotment payments to resume for the remainder of the school year.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat and attorney who has taken a lead on education issues in the Legislature this session as part of the Senate bipartisan majority, said Tuesday that the ruling's implications were far more limited than he initially thought. He said his opinions have been supported by recent conversations with the Legislature's attorneys.

To make the programs legal, the state would have to better track the use of the allotments that families receive — which vary from $2,700 to $4,500 per student — and ensure money is not going directly to religious and private schools, Wielechowski said.


Dunleavy, a Republican who has long supported using state dollars for private and religious schools, said Wednesday that he did not share Wielechowski's interpretation of the decision.

The Dunleavy administration planned to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, and did not plan to draft regulations or propose legislation that would enable correspondence programs to carry on while cutting out spending at private and religious schools, Dunleavy said in an hour-long news conference in Anchorage.

Correspondence allotments have increasingly been used to pay for tuition at Alaska private schools, though the extent of the practice is not fully known. The conservative Alaska Policy Forum has since 2022 maintained a growing list of correspondence schools that allow for their allotments to be used toward private schools, including religious ones.

Attorney General Treg Taylor, a Republican appointed by Dunleavy in 2021, said at the Wednesday news conference that the ruling was so sweeping that — unless the state Supreme Court finds otherwise — it could make it illegal for public schools to spend any money on private vendors more generally, including private textbook companies.


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


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