Alaska high court ruling ensures certainty during upcoming
school year for thousands of families using unique ed choice
program

Alaska high court ruling ensures certainty during upcoming school year for thousands of families using unique ed choice program

The news: About 23,000 families who rely on a unique Alaska’s education unique correspondence program that dates to before statehood will not have to scramble to find other educational options after the state supreme court rejected parts of a lawsuit against the state backed by the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate. 

The ruling: The state’s high court announced its decision upholding the correspondence program, which gives families funding allotments they can use to access a variety of educational options, one day after hearing oral arguments. A lower court stay on the ruling had been due to expire on June 30, threatening to uproot students who rely on the program. The justices said a full order would soon follow.  

 What opponents say: A group of parents and teachers sued the state over the law establishing the allotment program, which gives participating families the ability to direct up to $4,500 of their child’s public education allocation to pay for approved goods and services. The plaintiffs argued that it amounted to a shadow voucher program that undermines the public school system by directing money elsewhere, including private and religious schools. 

 What the high court said: In an eight-page summary opinion, justices sided with the state’s hired lawyer who argued that the Superior Court incorrectly struck down the entire state statute governing the program as unconstitutional. Justices said the law could be preserved because “there are many constitutionally permissible uses” of the state allotment funds, which homeschool families may spend on various approved uses from public and private providers. The high court also directed the lower court to consider correspondence families’ arguments that the U.S. Constitution required the state to let them use the money on private school tuition.  

The plaintiffs in the case argued that the laws were unconstitutional because they allowed public money to be spent on private school tuition. The lower court judge agreed that the laws violated the state constitutional ban on spending public money “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”  

Catch up quick: The correspondence program began in 1939 to ensure that children in remote regions had access to education. Schools would send assignments by mail or float planes to students, who completed and returned them. Laws were updated in 2014 to create allotments that functioned as education savings accounts. The program operated without controversy until 2022 when the wife of state Attorney General Treg Taylor wrote a blog post with step-by-step instructions on using the funds to pay for private school tuition.  

What the high court left out: Justices didn’t decide the constitutionality of using allotment funds for private tuition. However, they did tell the plaintiffs that they picked the wrong defendant because the school districts, not the state Department of Education, are charged with approving vendors to be paid from the allotment program. The high court sent the case back to the lower court to decide that point.  

And the winners are: Besides the families who faced being left in the lurch as the new school year approached, Gov. Mike Dunleavy also claimed victory. An education choice champion, the former state senator sponsored legislation that created the allotment program. This is a huge win for public education and a huge win for families,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “The Court got it right on this one. We were confident that the statutes were always constitutional. We thank the Alaska Supreme Court for their prompt decision in favor of the state.” 

What they’re saying: Friday’s ruling is a win for the rights of parents to pick the education that best fits their children’s unique needs, but the fight is likely not over yet,” said Kirby Thomas West, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which intervened to represent families and defend the program. “The many parents who use the program for non-tuition purposes can now rest assured that their use of the program is secure, but we are going to keep fighting to ensure the same happens for parents like our clients who use the program towards tuition costs.”  

Dunleavy called the decision “a huge win” for public education and families. “The Court got it right on this one. We were confident that the statutes were always constitutional. We thank the Alaska Supreme Court for their prompt decision in favor of the state.” 

The fight isn’t over: The plaintiff’s attorney said he thinks his clients will ultimately prevail. 

“There’s zero indication from the court that they remotely think spending correspondence funds at a private school is allowable,” attorney Scott Kendall told Alaska Public Media. “While this will cause some delay in the ultimate outcome, we remain very, very confident that that will be the outcome.” 



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