In the aftermath of a court ruling that struck down the entirety of Alaska’s popular state-funded correspondence and homeschool programs, Alaska’s education commissioner said students enrolled in these programs will be able to finish out the year uninterrupted.

The April 12 ruling by Alaska Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman has sent shockwaves through Alaska as thousands of families grapple with the fact that state-funded homeschool and correspondence programs are now in limbo.

According to Judge Zeman’s opinion, Alaska’s practice of reimbursing parents for expenses accrued for lessons, classes and instruction at private and religious institutions is a violation of the Alaska Constitution, which states, “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

With nearly 25,000 students now taking part in the state correspondence programs across Alaska, Zeman’s ruling has become a major concern for lawmakers

During the course of the case, advocates defending the allotment program argued that the public funds do not provide “direct benefit for private schools in violation of the Alaska Constitution,” because the funds only ever reach a private institution if parents decide to use the funds to purchase instruction or classes at those organizations. Essentially, the argument is that the allotments are permissible because they benefit “individuals, not institutions.”

Zeman disagreed, stating that regardless of how many hands it passed through and regardless of whether the stated intention of such spending was to further the public purpose of education, state funds can still wind up at private institutions.

With nearly 25,000 students now taking part in the state correspondence programs across Alaska, Zeman’s ruling has become a major concern for lawmakers, some of whom are vowing to fix the situation even if it means holding a special session in Juneau during an election year.

State Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) said she is willing to press legislators to address the ruling in the weeks and months ahead.

In a Facebook live stream on April 15, Hughes noted that the ruling flies in the face of fact that Alaska provides public funds for students to attend all sorts of other private and religious institutions, including Head Start early education, scholarships that can be used at private and faith-based colleges, and private vocational training centers.

On April 15, State Education Commissioner Deena Bishop issued a letter to school superintendents to address myriad concerns as the current school year winds down.

“I understand there may be many questions and concerns about the recent Alaska Superior Court order addressing correspondence study programs,” she wrote. “I am reaching out to provide some clarification on that order, explain some actions the State will be taking on this issue right away and review potential impacts on school districts with correspondence study programs.”

As far as the immediate impact on school districts, Bishop emphasized that Zeman’s opinion is “not a final judgement,” and it “does not have any immediate impact to school districts with correspondence study programs.”

At issue is the fact that Judge Zeman’s ruling nullifies a 2014 law that established a student allotment program through which a parent or guardian of a student in a correspondence study program may be provided with an annual allotment to “purchase nonsectarian services and materials from a public, private, or religious organization” so long as the services and materials are required under the individual learning plan and the textbooks, services, and other curriculum material are approved by the school district, aligned with state standards, and meet other specific requirements.

Bishop’s letter notes that the court ruling focused on the ability to use allotments to purchase materials and services from a private or religious organization and whether that violated the State Constitution.

Bishop said she is “very concerned” about how the ruling will impact the tens of thousands of students currently enrolled in the correspondence programs, which are exploding with students, even while traditional public schools are losing thousands of students each year.

“Correspondence programs are a critical part of public education in our state, and we intend to take every action possible to protect this public-school option for all correspondence students currently enrolled in the state,” Bishop wrote. “The Alaska Department of Law will be taking several actions including further filings with the Superior Court as appropriate to seek to avoid unnecessary disruption of the correspondence program.”

“This disruption, coupled with the fact that we and many Alaskans believe this ruling is flawed, leads us to ask for a stay and quick resolution with our Supreme Court,” Gov. Dunleavy said.

Bishop noted that the Department of Law is also seeking a full review of Judge Zeman’s ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court.

“Further, our department will be coordinating with our partners in state government – and local school districts – to avoid unnecessary disruption of the correspondence school program while the Alaska Supreme Court considers the important issues in this case,” Bishop explained. “As you know, this decision was only issued late Friday afternoon and thus there will be a lot of further analysis of the decision and appropriate steps to be taken.”

As far as the immediate impact on school districts, Bishop emphasized that Zeman’s opinion is “not a final judgement,” and it “does not have any immediate impact to school districts with correspondence study programs.”

“As noted above, the Department of Law will be filing appropriate applications with the Superior Court and, if necessary, the Alaska Supreme Court to hopefully keep the status quo in place with no change in the correspondence study program until the Alaska Supreme Court has had a full opportunity to review this case,” Bishop advised school district leaders. “Therefore, your school district may continue to administer its correspondence study program, including paying outstanding invoices and other administrative duties at the present.”

Bishop ended her letter by acknowledging that the difficulties created by Zeman’s ruling are far from resolved.

“[I]t is possible the Superior Court order could become effective before the Alaska Supreme Court fully reviews the case. If that should occur, we will inform you right away,” Bishop wrote. “You may also want to consult with your local school district counsel. Given the importance of this matter, I anticipate sending out frequent updates to you but of course please feel free to contact me with any questions.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who originally sponsored the 2014 law that made the current allotment program possible, said his administration is still “trying to understand” the implication of Zeman’s ruling.

In a Facebook message posted shorting after the decision he said calling Zeman’s ruling “disruptive would be an understatement.”

“This disruption, coupled with the fact that we and many Alaskans believe this ruling is flawed, leads us to ask for a stay and quick resolution with our Supreme Court,” Dunleavy added.

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Despite court ruling, Alaska correspondence kids to finish out year while case is appealed

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.


  • Coliseum in the Snow says:

    Interesting arguments on both sides. Shelley Hughes certainly makes a good point regarding ACPE funds.

  • Sarah says:

    I don’t understand the thought process here. Correspondence programs are a branch of public school districts, therefore are public school funds. They are highly regulated. They do not allow any form of religious curriculum. I do not see how these funds are in conflict with Alaska’s constitution. All this does is hurt low income families that needed extra help through correspondence and supplies. I feel this is a bold move to force those families to be pushed back into the public school sphere which may not have been a good environment for that particular child. Correspondence helped not just with supplies but with Tudors, and curriculum that helped kids that learned differently. This is drastically going to change the educational landscape of Alaska if this should be allowed to go through. I grew up in this wonderful state. I’d consider thinking of leaving for more friendly homeschooling/correspondence states. Alaska has been on par for one of the greater homeschooling states… hopefully this doesn’t end.

    -Sarah C.

    • Byron Cromwell says:

      Here in Indiana, there is some kind of offer to help parents take state money for private Christian School tuition. Smart churches do not take the money. I attended Anchorage Christian School (78-80) and graduated Alaska Centralized Correspondence Study school distract (’88), receiving my diploma while serving as a page appointed by Rick Halford. The brick-and-mortar (union) school districts, starting with Anchorage School Distract, hated CCS. 80% of CCS enrollment statewide lived in Anchorage, roughly 650 of us in the years ’86-’88. Multiply that by 10k in annual appropriations per student per year, and you can see why I got ostracized and impugned by staff chaperones at school government conventions and the like. From ballot boxes to government schools, the left hates competition.

  • Kevin says:

    I always enjoyed a good gangster movie, especially the money laundering schemes.

    To launder money the crooks need to know money is not ethically or legally theirs, PLACE the money in a legitimate entity, then LAYER the money dispersing accountability, then INTEGRATE into the crooks system as legitimate money.

    Apparently our religious schools discovered how to launder ALASKA STATE REVENUE, to negate the law of the STATE.

    Reguire students to enroll in a State Sanctioned Correspondence school (PLACEMENT)

    Send $3000 to the parents for (LAYERING) or disbursement of accountability.

    Then have the parents turn over the $3000 for tuition (INTEGRATION)

    So State Revenue is clean from prying eyes of the regulators of Constitutional Intent.

    Brilliant the religious schools really are MARLON BRANDO in the Godfather.

    • Nolan says:

      You are dead-wrong about this allegation. There might have been a handful of abuses, but most of the parents that I know in these programs are honest players. If you care about the facts in the slighest, take your post down. If you don’t (as I suspect), keep your post online so that the rest of the discerning world knows how much of a fool you are.

  • Friend of Humanity says:

    A parent who does homeschooling was telling me that there is a state trying to push the bill that if kids are homeschooled, there can be no weapons (guns, rifles, etc.) in the home. Sounds like someone is trying to push this bill to follow along with the public school rule of no weapons on school grounds. If this is true, the evil is coming at this from all angles to make sure that they get your kids to indoctrinate and make into sex slaves.

    • V says:

      This is simply incorrect.
      Perhaps your friend does not know their rights, which my homeschooled children all happen to know because they’ve been educated at home, where their parents have ensured they know about the founding fathers, what freedoms our ancestors fought for and so on.
      You are part of the problem when you bring up a topic full of gossip and nonsense with nothing to back it up. A sign of maturity is being able to discern truth from lie, being observant and aware, whilst also being able to filter out the noise.
      I have one child who is much captivated by gunsmithing, the engineering, the history, and the physics of such. He also happens to be in a shooting league with other siblings. All supported by our homeschool allotment. Because his interests are well-focused, and honorably supported, and responsibly encouraged, he has the wonderful right to pursue that interest in the comfort of our home- which happens to be within the United States of America.

      • Friend of Humanity says:

        Hmmm. Well, maybe you could help me look. I did say something that someone else told me and I don’t have any information to back it up. I had no doubt that this could be a viable story in a blue state, such as California, where anything anti-human goes. My apologies for just repeating something without finding the story – help me find the story.

      • Friend of Humanity says:

        Editor, could you post my response to V. I don’t think that there is anything in it that is offensive – humbling, but not offensive?

    • Nolan says:

      There’s no way Alaskans would allow something that invasive. Even the liberals have guns up here, and that would be a direct violation against the Alaska State Constitution, which is even more specific about the right to keep and bear arms than the US Consitution is.

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    Please, get your children out of these evil woke sickening schools now.
    While you can still teach your kids right from wrong. Like boys are boys and girls are girls.

    • Nolan says:

      That depends on the school. Some are better than others. If we are going to pick an enemy, pick the teachers’ unions. They are the ones who brought this lawsuit. The Anchorage School District was running one of the best correspondence school programs (Family Partnership) with the largest allottments and most liberal reimbursement policies until this got shut down, and they were not fond of the ruling at all. Besides, having grown up as a Christian in the 90s, I saw first-hand what happens when good people decide to withdraw from the public sphere because it’s “so evil.” Things go from bad to worse very quickly. Instead, good people need to put their feet down and say that they are not going anywhere and that they do have a say-so in how their tax money is being spent!