Alaska Supreme Court sides with state, allows correspondence school laws to stand

The Boney Courthouse in Anchorage on June 27, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that threw the future of homeschooling in Alaska into question. 

In an eight-page summary opinion, Alaska’s highest court unanimously sided with the state Friday in a case that challenged laws around cash payments to homeschool families, known as allotments.

“This is a huge win for public education and a huge win for families,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement emailed to reporters. “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.”

A superior court judge ruled in April that because some families were allowed to spend their allotments on private school classes, the laws violated a constitutional prohibition on using state funds at private schools.

But the Alaska Supreme Court disagreed, saying plaintiffs in the case had failed to show that a 2014 law reforming the state’s correspondence school system violated the state Constitution. The court said that because there are a range of permissible uses for allotment funds, the parents who sued to throw out the law had not met the high bar necessary to challenge a statute.

“I think it’s really great news,” Institute for Justice attorney Kirby Thomas West, who represented a group of families who use their correspondence school allotments on private school classes, said in a phone interview. “This ruling means that the program is preserved, and families, the 22,000 families who are relying on it, can continue to do so for the coming school year.” 

But, at the same time, the court declined to say whether the use of allotments at private schools is constitutional. 

The court said that because school districts approve vendors to be paid with allotment funds, the state was the wrong party to sue. The justices remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings on that point.

Attorney Scott Kendall, representing a group of public school parents who challenged the correspondence school statutes, said he wasn’t surprised the court had denied the challenge on procedural grounds, given justices’ questioning on Thursday. But he said he’s optimistic.

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

A full decision will follow at a later date, the court said. The ruling comes just days before the lower court ruling was set to take effect and just a day after the case was argued in Anchorage.

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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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