A group of Alaskan families are preparing to defend the state’s correspondence school program against a lawsuit aimed at banning the use of state-approve allotments for non-religious educational services or expenses at private or religious schools.
Filed on Jan. 24 in Alaska Superior Court, the NEA-Alaska funded lawsuit challenges Alaska’s practice of giving families broad freedoms in how to utilize correspondence funds in the education of their child.
Filed by plaintiffs Edward Alexander, Josh Andrews, Shelby Beck Andrews, and Carey
Carpenter, the suit names Heidi Teshner in her official capacity as the Acting Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education.
Currently, families with students enrolled in an approved state correspondence program can use their child’s annual allotment to homeschool and/or pay for private instruction, including non-religious classes or services provided by a private school. These allotment are roughly between $2,000 and $4,000 annually, depending on the program.
Many parents choose this option as a way to avoid struggling public schools, and ensure their children receive a quality education.
On Jan. 25, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nationally recognized legal group focused on defending educational freedoms, filed to intervene in the lawsuit, and help represent several Alaska families in upholding their educational freedoms.
“I am defending this program so that every Alaska family has access to the best education possible for their children.”– Andrea Moceri, Anchorage
“Alaska’s correspondence study program has produced massive educational benefits for Alaska’s children,” said IJ Attorney David Hodges. “We’re prepared to defend the rights of all Alaska families to get the educational services that best fit their unique needs.”
Advocates of the freedom to utilize correspondence allotments for private instruction point to unique challenges Alaska children face in obtaining a quality education, including limited resources and isolated communities.
To address these challenges, Alaska formed correspondence programs.
In 1997, the law was expanded to give parents more options in designing their children’s course of study by allowing them to receive reimbursements for certain educational expenses. In 2014, then Sen. Mike Dunleavy successfully promoted a bill that further broadened these freedoms to allow parents to be reimbursed for sending their students to nonpublic schools.
Andrea Moceri is one of several parents who are now working with the Institute for Justice to defend these freedoms. Moceri’s son attends Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage. Two other Anchorage families working with the law group have children enrolled at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School.
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“The Alaska correspondence school program helped me find the school that works best for my son,” Moceri told IJ. “I am defending this program so that every Alaska family has access to the best education possible for their children.”
IJ is the leader in defending school choice programs throughout the country. In 2020, IJ won a case before the United States Supreme Court which held that a state does not need to subsidize private education, but that once it chooses to do so it cannot discriminate against a school solely because it is religious. Two years later, IJ won another landmark case before the nation’s highest court, which established that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from its tuition program violated the Constitution. Earlier this year, IJ intervened in a New Hampshire case to defend the popular Education Freedom Account Program, which allows families to use public funds on various educational expenses.