In a move that could inspire many more homeschooling families to drop out of the already rapidly shrinking Anchorage School District, school officials have decided to clamp down on families that utilize homeschool allotment funds to send their children to private schools.
On July 25, the director of Anchorage’s public charter schools, Jason Hlasny, sent a memo to the principals of the district’s correspondence programs – Family Partnership, Frontier Charter and AKChoice – notifying them that families are not permitted to use homeschool allotments to pay for private school enrollment.
Hlasny’s memo claims that using the funds in this manner violates the Alaska Constitution, which prohibits using public funds for the “direct benefit” of any religious or private educational institution.
He notes that district correspondence schools receive funding through the local school district. A portion of this money is then allocated to each student, which parents can spend on certain materials and instructional services for the education of their child.
“Alaska law requires each school district to ensure that allotment monies are not used in a manner that violates Alaska law,” Hlasny states.
Hlasny’s memo notes that the district will no longer allow families to use their correspondence funds in the following ways:
— When a child is enrolled as a full-time student at a private school, families cannot use educational allotments to pay for any portion of private school tuition or to supplement a student’s private school education.
— If a student is enrolled part-time at a private school, families can no longer use more than half of a student’s correspondence allotment to pay for private school tuition, materials or fees, even if these are for non-religious classes or subjects.
— Finally, no portion of the allotment can be used to pay for religious courses or materials.
The Anchorage School District’s new restrictions appear to contradict a 2022 opinion from the Alaska Department of Law.
The funds may be used in the following manner, Hlasny said.
— If a student is enrolled in a public correspondence school, then half or less of the child’s allotment can be used to pay for part-time enrollment for non-religious courses at a private school.
— If a student is enrolled in a public correspondence school, allotments can be used to pay for extracurricular activities such as swimming lessons, attendance at music or drama performances, or participation in athletic competitions.
The changes will likely affect hundreds of children who were previously allowed to use their homeschool allotments to seek educational opportunities at private schools across Anchorage.
A number of families have already begun to leave the Anchorage School District to enroll in alternative statewide homeschool programs that still permit families to use correspondence allotments to pay for private schooling.
The Anchorage School District’s new restrictions appear to contradict a 2022 opinion from the Alaska Department of Law, which affirmed that parents could use correspondence allotments from public homeschool programs to pay for services provided by private or religious schools. While parents cannot use these funds to pay for “tuition” directly, they can use the funds for classes and instructional materials provided by private schools.
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Unlike the Anchorage School District, the Department of Law did not suggest that full-time private school students, who were duel enrolled in a correspondence program, were somehow unable to use their allotments to pay for individual classes or materials at a private school.
Over the past three years, home and private education has surged across Alaska, driven by Covid closures, controversial curriculum and concern over poor academic achievement in standard public schools. It’s unclear how the Anchorage School District’s new mandates will impact their overall enrollment in district-run correspondence programs.
— To contact Anchorage Superintendent of Schools Jharrett Bryantt call (907) 742-4312 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— For information about various correspondence school programs available to families across Alaska, click here.