Divided Alaska House calls for stay of homeschool decision until mid-2025

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, speaks on April 24, 2024 in support of a measure calling for a stay of a court decision that ruled key elements of the state’s homeschool system unconstitutional. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House of Representatives is weighing in on a court decision that threatens key elements of the state’s homeschool system. 

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman ruled earlier this month a law authorizing cash payments to homeschool parents that can be spent on private or religious schooling violates the state Constitution. The judge called on lawmakers to draft a legislative fix.

The two-page “sense of the House” approved by a 20-18 vote Wednesday directs the Legislature’s lawyers to file a brief supporting a stay of the judge’s ruling through the end of June 2025. Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, who sponsored the measure, said it’s an effort to give lawmakers some breathing room.

“This is simply asking the court for that time,” Johnson said. “It says, please give us time to inform those … 22,000 students and 261 teachers, to come up with some resolution so we don’t pull the rug out from under those people.”

The plaintiffs have also requested that the decision be put on hold, but only until the end of this June. 

Members of the House’s predominantly Democratic and independent minority caucus spoke out against a longer stay. Rep. Rebecca Himschoot, I-Sitka, cited a memo from the Legislature’s lawyers saying the state Board of Education is able to issue regulations that preserve the homeschool system while complying with the court decision.

“I would submit to this body that we have recourse right now to stabilize the system. We do not need another year,” she said. “A stay until the end of this fiscal year would help a whole lot, but we can take action right now — not us, the Legislature, but bodies within this state have the power to actually resolve this issue right now for the coming school year.”

Minority members argue a longer stay would allow unconstitutional spending to continue unabated.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent who caucuses with the Republican-led majority, voted against the measure, saying he doesn’t want the Legislature to delay a fix.

“I don’t want to see this go towards the end of next session. I want to deal with this issue in a prudent manner in a prudent period of time,” Edgmon said.

Parties in the lawsuit are due to submit briefs on a stay by Friday. A ruling on whether the judge’s decision should be put on hold is expected the week of April 29.

Eric Stone covers state government, tracking the Alaska Legislature, state policy and its impact on all Alaskans. Reach him at estone@alaskapublic.org.

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