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Gov. Dunleavy may issue ‘educational dividends’ to combat court ruling that guts state homeschool programs



Gov. Mike Dunleavy is prepared to fight for the ability of Alaskan parents to access a publicly-funded homeschool education for their children, including the ability to purchase courses and instruction from private and religious institutions and organizations.

In a fiery April 17 press conference, the governor laid out several options that his administration is prepared to pursue if the Alaska Supreme Court upholds a recent lower court decision which has effectively ruled that the state’s current homeschool, and correspondence programs are unconstitutional.

The April 12 decision by Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman has sent shockwaves through Alaska’s homeschool and private educational communities at a time when home education and private enrollment are soaring.

According to Zeman’s opinion, Alaska’s practice of reimbursing parents for expenses accrued for lessons, classes and instruction at private and religious institutions is a violation of the Alaska Constitution, which states, “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

Attorney General Treg Taylor noted that the decision is both deeply flawed and far reaching, as it also suggests that it would be unlawful for school districts to partner with any private “organization.”

“If we find ourselves in a bind, and of the statutes are thrown out and you have 24,000 kids in limbo we are going to come up with as many possibilities as we can to assist them with education, at least through the coming year, and one of those options is an educational dividend,” Dunleavy explained.

He said that by adding “private organizations” to the prohibited benefactors of public funds, Judge Zeman has implicated a whole host of vendors and private contractors that have worked with public schools for decades. This would include companies that provide art classes, music instruction, food services, textbook companies and many other goods and services.

“It is extremely broad in what it encompasses and the legal arguments that were used in this decision, they now could be used against any spending a school district does outside the public entity,” Taylor maintained.

Taylor said the state is hoping for a quick decision by the Alaska Supreme Court, and they have not ruled out an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

Gov. Dunleavy blasted the National Education Association teachers’ union for filing the case in the first place, saying it was likely motivated by a desire to stem the tide of tens of thousands of children who are leaving traditional neighborhoods public schools for other options, like homeschooling and private educational offerings.

“Part of the reason it’s happening now is that we have gone from a few thousand kids in homeschool programs to 24,000 and growing,” he said. “In the end is it the State of Alaska – the people of Alaska – are they going to determine what our educational system looks like? Or is it going to be NEA or the school boards’ association? So really this is a fight about control. There’s no doubt about it. It will be masked as a religious direct benefit question, but in the end it’s really about who is going to control the educational programs for the state of Alaska and its kids.”

Dunleavy said he is waiting to see how the Supreme Court will rule, but if it upholds the current opinion, he is prepared to push for a constitutional amendment, or to issue educational dividends for the coming school year so parents can continue securing homeschooling and private educational offerings for their kids.

He also floated the idea of dispersing what he called “K-14 scholarships,” which parents could use to help pay for a wide range of educational options, including those offered at private or religious schools.

Just as the state does not ask residents whether they use their Permanent Fund Dividends to pay for religious goods or services, he said an educational dividend would not inquire about the expenditures either.

“Unless it’s just a discussion on money, there is really no desire by some, including those that filed suit on this homeschool program to really care about how kids are educated,” he said. “It’s really about money.”

“If we find ourselves in a bind, and of the statutes are thrown out and you have 24,000 kids in limbo we are going to come up with as many possibilities as we can to assist them with education, at least through the coming year, and one of those options is an educational dividend,” Dunleavy explained.

He then dismissed the notion that 24,000 correspondence students would somehow magically reappear in brick-and mortar government schools.

“That’s not going to happen,” he said, noting that families have left these traditional schools for myriad reasons.

Dunleavy also challenged the notion that public education has to be a closed loop where all money comes from and goes to government-provided goods and services. That is simply not possible, he said, citing the countless private contractors, vendors and businesses that partner with government in facilitating public education.

He also addressed the misnomer that parents who use their public allotments to secure educational opportunities for their kids are somehow no longer engaged in a public education.

Dunleavy explained that parents have long worked with public homeschool programs to purchase approved classes that may not be available in a traditional public-school setting. He listed Latin classes, wielding programs and others as examples.

He said there is no such thing as a simple public only education. It relies on private contractors, vendors and businesses.

Towards the end of the press conference, Dunleavy surmised what the real purpose of the lawsuit against correspondence programs was really all about.

“The real purpose of this case is control,” he said. “There is a worry that neighborhood schools are going to lose market share.”

He then blasted the plaintiffs in the case for only caring about money, rather than providing quality educational options for Alaska students.

“Unless it’s just a discussion on money, there is really no desire by some, including those that filed suit on this homeschool program to really care about how kids are educated,” he said. “It’s really about money.”

Click here to support Alaska Watchman reporting.



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