AK Supreme Court pic

The State of Alaska was granted a brief stay – until June 30 – in the ongoing fight to maintain its correspondence and homeschool educational allotment program, which nearly 23,000 students utilize.

The Superior Court’s stay of its April 12 opinion, which gutted the program, allows the allotments to continue uninterrupted until the end of the current fiscal year. The State is now asking the Supreme Court to further extend that stay through the entire appeal process, which was initiated on May 3.

“A longer stay would give the most certainty to the tens of thousands of students, families, and educational vendors involved in the correspondence program while we wait for a final determination. This is too important a matter for Alaska and Alaskan students for short cuts or rush to judgments without even hearing a final decision from our highest court,” Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor said in a prepared statement. “Although I appreciate a stay of any length, we need certainty until the Alaska Supreme Court gives everyone guidance on this issue, and the Legislature and Governor have an opportunity to react to that guidance, if necessary.”

Taylor advised the legislature to keep the current laws, which Zeman struck down, on the books “because the Alaska Supreme Court could uphold them, requiring no changes to our program.”

Alaska has had a correspondence school program since before statehood. It has been an important public education option for all Alaskans – and a critical tool for many Alaskans living in remote areas. In 2014, the Alaska Legislature amended the correspondence school statutes to allow families to use funds to pay for tutors, classes and other instructional and material goods offered by private and religious institutions and organizations.

Opponents of the allotment program, financially backed by the National Education Association, brought suit alleging that Alaska laws allowing payment of educational materials and services provided by private or religious institutions using public funds, is unconstitutional. On April 12, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman agreed with the NEA by striking down the correspondence program statutes in their entirety.

In issuing his opinion, however, Judge Zeman did not claim that some parts of those laws are unconstitutional and that others are valid – or that some kinds of spending under the allotment statutes are permitted but other types of spending are not. Instead, he issued an order simply declaring the entire correspondence program statutes were unconstitutional – exactly what the NEA had asked the judge to do.

In issuing the temporary stay, Judge Zeman suggested that a correspondence school program is still permissible, but left many questions unanswered about what that program might look like and what types of spending would be deemed appropriate or inappropriate.

In response to the ruling and stay, Attorney General Taylor stated that Zeman’s decision has “caused a lot of consternation and concern for Alaskan families.”

“There has also been confusion about what the decision says and means and what is the best way forward to ensure that public correspondence school education remains an opportunity for Alaska families – an opportunity that has existed and been supported by public funding since territorial days,” he said. “I want to make several things clear for Alaskans. First, the Alaska Supreme Court should make the ultimate decision about whether laws passed by the Legislature (like the correspondence program statutes) conform with the requirements of the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Supreme Court has not ruled on this case. Instead, we are only at step one of this process with one lower court having looked at the case.”

Additionally, Taylor noted that it was important that the Alaska Supreme Court review the lower court opinion in an expedited fashion to get a final determination as quickly as possible.

Taylor advised the legislature to keep the current laws, which Zeman struck down, on the books “because the Alaska Supreme Court could uphold them, requiring no changes to our program.” He said any “potential solution should be tailored to the interim only and cause the least disruption to existing programs, while recognizing the judge’s decision. This is why a stay remains the best option for stability.”

The State Legislature is currently considering a bill – supported by the state – that would allow the allotment program to continue. That bill passed out of the House Education Committee on May 3 and is currently in the House Finance Committee. Read more about that bill here.

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Alaska Supreme Court asked to extend stay on lower court’s ruling that guts homeschool allotments

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.

1 Comment

  • DaveMaxwell says:

    Whatever results that further our destructive patterns you can count on!