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Alaska House Judiciary sponsors constitutional amendment on public funding going to private schools

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the House floor at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau on April 26, 2024.
Eric Stone
Alaska Public Media
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the House floor at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau on April 26, 2024.

After an Alaska Superior Court decision threw out the state’s correspondence school funding program, the state House Judiciary Committee proposed a constitutional amendment that would keep it in place.

Last month, an Alaska Superior Court judge struck down two laws related to the state’s homeschool program that serves about 22,000 students. The state has long reimbursed parents for money put toward homeschool expenses, which can include religious or private school courses. The judge said that violated the state’s constitution, which prohibits spending public money on religious or private education.

On April 18, the state’s House Judiciary Committee proposed House Joint Resolution 28, a constitutional amendment that would allow public funds to go toward private and religious educational institutions.

The amendment makes two changes to the state’s constitution. First, it would remove the language that prevents public funds from going toward private and religious educational institutions.

Second, in the section that requires public funds and taxes to serve a public purpose, the amendment would let public funds go toward private institutions, if the law allows it for the direct educational benefit of students.

Rep. Sarah Vance, a Homer Republican, is a co-sponsor of the amendment. She said this change would keep schooling options open for students.

“What I'm trying to do is, is further the education of students and make sure that all options, charter schools, brick and mortar, and correspondence schools have the options they need to provide the best education for Alaskan students,” she said.

Similar constitutional amendments proposed by the House and Senate in 2013 failed in the legislature.

The allotment program as it is now came from legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy a decade ago.

Vance homeschools all of her children and receives funds through the correspondence program. The oldest of her four children also went through the program and has already graduated. She says she worked with Connections Homeschool — the local school district’s homeschool program — to create learning plans for her children. She puts the allotment funds toward various classes and supplies from approved vendors with the school district, including performing arts classes at a private institution.

“If there were certain books that would go along with the courses, those could be paid for. Individual courses themselves would be paid for. And also, the music and dance with a private institution was paid for through that allotment,” she said.

Vance said she also pays for faith-based curricula for her younger children out of her own pocket.

Vance said generally speaking, she supports public funds going to private and religious educational institutions. She’s also concerned that many programs homeschooled students currently access will be cut off if the ruling is upheld.

“That means that, that taking an art class at the art shop gallery would be prohibited, or a dance class that isn't directly on the school campus, because it's a private institution, that would be prohibited,” she said, “and I don't think that's the will of Alaskans.”

The amendment will continue to be heard in the Judiciary Committee before making its way through the legislature. If approved by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, it will go on the ballot for voters to decide on during the following general election.

The legislature is also considering a bill sponsored by Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat. That bill would remove the unconstitutional aspects of the correspondence program and reinstate a system similar to what existed before 2014.

Local News Kenai Peninsula NewsRepresentative Sarah VanceAlaska State LegislatureEducation Funding
Jamie Diep is a reporter/host for KBBI from Portland, Oregon. They joined KBBI right after getting a degree in music and Anthropology from the University of Oregon. They’ve built a strong passion for public radio through their work with OPB in Portland and the Here I Stand Project in Taipei, Taiwan.Jamie covers everything related to Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, and they’re particularly interested in education and environmental reporting. You can reach them at to send story ideas.
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