Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education correspondence programs, members of the state Legislature have proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to go to private and religious schools.

House Joint Resolution 28 is scheduled for hearings Wednesday and Friday next week in the House Judiciary Committee.

If approved by two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate and voters this fall, HJR 28 would remove the part of Article VII, Section 1, that says, “no money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

That clause was specifically flagged by Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman when he struck down a law dealing with payments to the parents of children in the state’s correspondence programs.

Some parents had been using the money to pay for tuition at private schools, and Zeman concluded that the law had been deliberately written to allow the practice, making it unconstitutional.

HJR 28 also proposes to change Article IX, Section 6, which prohibits spending public money except for public purposes. The proposed amendment would add a clause saying that the section doesn’t prevent payments “for the direct educational benefit of students as provided by law.”

In a statement accompanying the release of the draft amendment, Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer and chair of the judiciary committee, said that “by allowing public funds to benefit all Alaskans seeking educational opportunities, this amendment promotes fairness and empowers choice in education.”

Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River and a member of the judiciary committee, said that a public vote — required of any constitutional amendment — would empower voters and “ensures that all Alaskans have a voice in shaping the future of education in Alaska.”

While large numbers of state legislators and Gov. Mike Dunleavy have expressed alarm about the legal decision on correspondence programs, many have said they intend to postpone action until after the Alaska Supreme Court addresses the topic.

Talking to reporters on Tuesday, several members of the supermajority caucus in charge of the Alaska Senate said they would be unlikely to support a constitutional amendment eliminating the prohibition on public funds for private schools.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Traditional Memorial Day ceremonies offer new ways to ‘never forget’ those who served

New installations at memorial sites, fresh words of reminder shared by hundreds gathering in Juneau.

Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
‘Forever a Falcon’: Thunder Mountain High School celebrates final graduating class

147 seniors get soaring sendoff during 16th annual commencement full of heightened emotions.

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé enter the gymnasium for their commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
JDHS graduates celebrate journey from virtual ‘pajama class’ freshmen to virtuous camaraderie

Resolve in overcoming struggles a lifelong lesson for future, seniors told at commencement ceremony.

Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alternatives are vast for Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduating class

31 students take center stage during ceremony revisiting their paths at the school and what’s next.

The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)
Stranded Beerfest travelers scramble to rebook after LeConte ferry breakdown

Loss of 225-passenger ferry leaves many Juneau-bound revelers looking for other ways home.

A photo taken from the terminal roof shows the extent of the first phase of paving to accommodate large aircraft. (Mike Greene / City and Borough of Juneau)
Large-scale repaving project plants itself at Juneau International Airport

Work may take two to three years, schedule seeks to limit impact on operations.

Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
More service, visitor information helping Capital Transit to keep up with extra cruise passenger traffic

Remedies made after residents unable to board full buses last year seem to be working, officials say

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 23, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read