As the Alaska Department of Law considers the legality of using state funds to pay for private education costs, Attorney General Treg Taylor has recused himself from reviewing all matters involving the use of homeschool allotments for this purpose.
Taylor’s wife, Jodi Taylor, is an advocate of utilizing homeschool allotments to fund private tutoring and instruction, and she published a May 20 article articulating this idea in the Watchman and at Alaska Policy Forum where she serves as board chair.
A June 6 statement from the Department of Law noted that the attorney general recused himself on May 21 of the legal review regarding homeschool allotment use. This is now being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills.
“I want to ensure that there is no perception of bias in relation to the objective advice provided by the Department of Law on this issue of correspondence school allotments used to fund courses or tuition at a private school,” Taylor said.
An Alaska law passed in 2014 allows parents of a public correspondence study program student to use the child’s state funded education allotment to pay for nonsectarian instruction at private schools or other education venues. The idea is that this type of instruction is akin to paying a private tutor to assist a student.
There are 34 Alaska homeschool programs that reimburse parents for the cost of educating their child. Parents develop an educational curriculum and then the state covers the cost of approved vendors, activities and materials.
Thanks to the 2014 law, many private schools are included in the list of allowable educational vendors for parents to choose from among.
Parents first enroll their child in a public homeschool program, pay for educational costs out of pocket and then get reimbursed for allowable expenses via the student allotment.
With Alaska’s public schools ranking among the very lowest in the nation, an increasing number of parents are opting for private and homeschool education, or a combination thereof.
These allotments can pay for the services provided by private school teachers whose instruction does not cover explicitly religious subjects. Topics such as math, science, English, history, art, foreign language and others are allowable expenses.
As noted in Jill Taylor’s May 20 column in the Watchman, students enrolled in these programs generate significant savings for taxpayers.
“Alaska has 127,594 public school students attending school in the 2021–22 school year. According to data from the National Education Association, the state spent $20,553 per student in 2019-2020, yet correspondence homeschool students currently receive only the state BSA, or $5,930 each, depending on the district (the BSA is only part of the cost per student),” Jill Taylor stated. “If 10% of Alaska’s students moved over to correspondence school programs, traditional public schools would have about 13,000 fewer students to educate. That would save the state tens of millions of dollars annually in variable costs of educating kids in traditional schools. It would also significantly increase dollars-per-student available in those schools.”
This educational choice model, however, is not without opponents.
The National Education Association chapter in Alaska (NEA – Alaska), the largest teacher union in the state, is adamantly opposed to using state funds to pay for private school classes, regardless of whether they are for non-religious courses.
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NEA-Alaska President Tom Klaameyer recently told the Alaska Beacon that he thinks the Alaska Constitution prohibits using public funds for private school instruction.
In reality the Alaska Constitution prohibits using “public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” It does not specifically address the question of whether or not the state can reimburse parents for educational opportunities that their child may access through private instructors as part of a correspondence allotment program.
With Alaska’s public schools failing to teach basic reading, writing and math, an increasing number of parents are opting for private and homeschool education, or a combination thereof. The Department of Law’s current review of allowable correspondence program expenses could impact tens of thousands of families across the state.