The verdict on homeschooling is on hold – but the judge will only make a decision until the end of June

Pedestrians pass the Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage on August 31, 2022. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

A ruling that declared two laws important to Alaska's home school system unconstitutional is being put on hold – but only until the end of June.

It's the latest development in the groundbreaking case. One of the laws in question describes a system of cash payments to families of home-schooled students known as “allotments.” The other allows for “individual learning plans” that home-schooled children use to guide their education. Under the system, parents enroll their children in a public distance learning school that issues diplomas, approves providers and monitors students' progress.

However, the judge found that parents were funding private and religious schools with allotments, which was a violation of the state constitution.

Shortly after the ruling, both the state and the plaintiffs asked the judge to put the order on hold. The state asked to stay the ruling pending an appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court; The plaintiffs, four parents of Alaska public school students, requested a stay only until June 30.

The judge's decision to deny the state's request for a longer stay of judgment also clarifies important aspects of the case. On the one hand, the ruling makes it clear that correspondence programs in themselves are not unconstitutional.

“Correspondence programs (homeschooling) existed before the passage of AS 14.03.300-.310, and correspondence programs continue to exist after this court’s decision,” writes Judge Adolf Zeman.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said most recently on Wednesday that the court ruling not only declared Alaska's distance learning system unconstitutional, but also placed all sorts of routine education expenses on private companies – from bus fares to books to cafeteria operations at regular neighborhood schools. questioned.

But this interpretation “mischaracterizes and misinterprets the April 12 court order,” Zeman writes.

“The only statutes at issue in this case concern the correspondence assignment program; “Therefore, this Court’s order declaring these laws unconstitutional applies only to these laws – AS 14.03.300-.310,” Zeman’s ruling continued.

In his final ruling in the case, Zeman prohibits “future expenditures of public funds for the direct benefit of private educational institutions” and leaves the state free to continue most education spending, said Scott Kendall, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.

“[Zeman] “made it very clear that even though the statutes that were passed were more comprehensive because it was a whole system, the key legal factor here is that you can't spend money for the direct benefit of private schools,” Kendall said in a telephone interview . “That clears the stage for a regulatory solution or a legislative solution.”

Dunleavy suggested Wednesday that neither regulations nor new laws could solve the problem. Neither Dunleavy's press office nor the legal department immediately responded to a request for comment.

The state or parents who supported the state's position could petition the Alaska Supreme Court for a stay. However, it is unclear whether such a stay would be granted.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said the ruling adds urgency as lawmakers try to push through a legislative solution that would add new rules for the use of quotas.

If the legislature does not adopt new rules for allotments and individual learning plans or the Ministry of Education and Early Development refuses to issue new regulations, they will cease to exist, Wielechowski said.

“Without a framework, guidelines, regulations or laws that address these two provisions, this will lead to mass confusion. It will create uncertainty and instability for parents who homeschool their children,” he said. “I think we definitely need to say goodbye to something.”

Eric Stone covers state government and follows Alaska law, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at [email protected].

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