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Not so fast: Dunleavy appeals to Alaska Supreme Court, requests stay of Alaska judge’s ruling against correspondence, homeschool funding

PETITION LAUNCHED AND A HEARING ON HOUSE BILLS 400 SET FOR MONDAY

The Alaska Department of Law will petition the Alaska Supreme Court to extend the effective date of a Supreme Court judge’s ruling against the state in a case that could cause irreparable harm to tens of thousands of Alaska students and parents.

Judge Adolf Zeman said in his April ruling that the state cannot pay for correspondence classes for Alaska students because it is unconstitutional.

He later granted a stay of his own ruling at the request of the National Education Association, which had filed the lawsuit in the first place, before the NEA realized the political firestorm that would result from withdrawing funding from as many as 24,000 Alaska students and their tens of thousands of parents.

But Zeman’s stay was stingy because it only means students and families can finish the school year under current law, which allows families to receive reimbursement for their children’s education in a non-brick and mortar environment. Zeman’s stay on his own ban lasts until June 30.

“A longer stay would provide the most certainty for the tens of thousands of students, families and education providers involved in the correspondence program as we await a final decision. This is too important a case for Alaska and Alaskan students to rush to judgment or rush to judgment without even hearing a final decision from our highest court,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “While I appreciate a delay of any length, we need certainty until the Alaska Supreme Court provides guidance to all on this matter, and the Legislature and Governor have an opportunity to respond to that guidance, if necessary .”

If reimbursing homeschooling and correspondence courses is unconstitutional, as Zeman says, his stay allows this “unconstitutional act” to continue for several weeks. This raises the question of whether he is violating the Alaska Constitution.

PETITION STARTED

A group in Anchorage has created an online petition calling on lawmakers to take immediate action to advance an amendment that would clarify Alaska’s Constitution so that judges like Zeman can’t misinterpret it.

The petition is available via this link.

ANKERAGE SCHOOL ANSWER

This past week, Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt sent out a statement regarding reimbursements through the district, which will continue through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“ASD is ready to begin issuing payments for past and current refund requests and vendor payments next week,” Bryantt wrote. “We recognize the ongoing concerns that families have had about the temporary pause in reimbursements for purchases made using Correspondence School Allocations. We are here to support you in obtaining your reimbursements for this school year.”

He noted that the Anchorage School Board is advocating that the State Board of Education and Early Development meet as soon as possible “to adopt rules providing for constitutional correspondence study programs for the 2024-2025 school year and beyond.”

HOUSE HEARING MONDAY

The Alaska House Education Committee will hold a hearing Monday on House Bill 400, which addresses aspects of the state law that the judge found unconstitutional.

“HB 400 provides direction for the Board of Education to develop and implement regulations that are consistent with the state constitution. Assignments and Individualized Learning Plans (ILP) will continue because they have demonstrated that they are vital to the continued operation of correspondence programs,” the sponsorship statement said. Documents and hearing information can be found at this link.

BACKGROUND

Alaska has had a correspondence school program since before statehood. In fact, correspondence education in Alaska dates back at least as far as 1918. It has been an important option for public education, and for some Alaskans it has been the only choice for those living in logging camps, mining camps, or other remote communities. .

In 2014, the Alaska Legislature amended the correspondence school statutes to codify existing regulations, among other changes.

“Importantly, the Supreme Court justice did not rule that some parts of those laws are unconstitutional and that others are valid – or that some types of expenditures are allowed under the appropriations statutes but other types of expenditures are not. Instead, he issued an order simply declaring the correspondence program statutes unconstitutional in their entirety. This is exactly what the NEA asked the judge to do,” the Justice Department wrote.

Attorney General Taylor issued the following statement in response to the recent claims and confusion surrounding this ongoing lawsuit and the granted stay:

“This decision has caused much uproar and concern among Alaska families. There has also been confusion about what the decision says and means and what the best way is to ensure that public correspondence education remains an opportunity for Alaska families – an opportunity that has existed since territorial days and is supported by state funding. I want to make a few things clear to the people of Alaska.

“First, the Alaska Supreme Court should make the final decision on whether laws passed by the Legislature (such as the correspondence program statutes) comply with the requirements of the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Supreme Court has not ruled in this case. Instead, we are only at step one of this process, where one lower court has reviewed the case.

“Second, to ensure that the Alaska Supreme Court will review this important issue for Alaska families, the Department of Law today filed an expedited appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court to obtain a final decision as soon as possible.

“Third, the recent clarification by the Supreme Court opens the possibility of an interim solution. I would caution against enacting anything permanent, but rather leave the current statutes as they are (because the Alaska Supreme Court could uphold them, without requiring any changes to our program). Any possible solution must be tailored solely to the interim and cause minimal disruption to existing programs while recognizing the judge’s decision. That is why a stay remains the best option for stability.”

Read the profession here.