Alaska lawmakers seek constitutional amendment on correspondence school funding

A state judge has struck down a law that allowed families to receive funding for correspondence courses
Grade school class, stock photo

The Alaska House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings next week on a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment regarding school correspondence funding.

An Anchorage Superior Court judge struck down a law that allowed families to receive funding for correspondence courses. The bill was sponsored by Gov. Mike Dunleavy when he was serving as a senator 11 years ago.

The plaintiffs questioned whether the money is permissible for homeschooling or private school spending.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Adolf V. Zeman said in his ruling that adding parameters as to how the money could be spent is not possible.

"As a result, this court finds that there is no workable way to construe the statutes to allow only constitutional spending and AS 14.03.300-.301 must be struck down as unconstitutional in their entirety," the judge said in the decision. "If the legislature believes these expenditures are necessary - then it is up to them to craft constitutional legislation to serve that purpose - that is not this Court's role.

The bill has left thousands of homeschool families in limbo as some use the money to pay for instructional materials.

House Joint Resolution 28 would remove language cited in the court ruling as unconstitutional, according to Rep. Sara Vance, R-Homer, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River, vice chair of the committee.

The bill says, "No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution."

Two-thirds of the Legislature must approve the measure before it can go to the voters, who can approve it by a simple majority.

“This ballot proposal empowers voters to decide on the use of public funds for education," Allard said.

Hearings on the resolution are scheduled for April 24 and April 26.

Attorney General Treg Taylor said the state is appealing the ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court.

"If you read this decision, and it's a short decision, it is extremely broad in what it encompasses," Taylor said at a news conference earlier this week. "The legal arguments that were used in this decision could be used against any spending a school district does outside of the public entity."