New law tells state board to follow court ruling on correspondence student spending

Families who use Alaska’s homeschool program will soon have clarity on how they may spend their annual allotments of state money.

Lawmakers directed the Alaska Board of Education to write temporary regulations for the state’s correspondence school program that comply with the state’s constitution. The law, passed on the last day of the legislative session May 15, also requires that the education department begin monitoring allotment spending for the first time in a decade.

House and Senate members approved the bill unanimously.

The move comes after a Superior Court judge ruled in April that two components of the laws governing the state’s correspondence program are unconstitutional, which left the families of more than 22,000 students unsure of how to pay for curriculum, tutoring and other services.

The allotments of state money, distributed by school district correspondence programs, range from a couple thousand to as much as $4,500 per student for the school year.

The state has appealed the decision; the Supreme Court scheduled the hearing for June 25.

Lon Garrison, director of Alaska Association of School Boards, said the advocacy group supports the new law. “It is simple and similar to what existed prior to 2014,” he said by text on May 15. That was the year that then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy pushed through a change in state law to allow families to spend homeschool allotments on materials from private and religious institutions — the provisions that the judge ruled violated the constitutional prohibition against spending state money on private education.

The judge did not toss out state spending on correspondence programs, or the school-year allotments that such programs distribute to parents of homeschoolers, who use the money for books, courses, sports and other activities. The judge rejected only the use of public funds to pay for private and religious programs.

“I think it’s a good fix,” House Education Committee Co-Chair Rep. Justin Ruffridge, of Soldotna, said of the direction to the education department to write new rules to comply with the court ruling.

The governor and the education department signaled support for the bill.

Its language was rolled into a widely supported bill to require opioid-overdose-reversing drugs in schools in a late-session amendment.

Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Löki Tobin said she supports the change “cautiously,” with the recognition that lawmakers have more work to do to make the programs viable after the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the appeal.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.

 

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