Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Wednesday on the floor of the Alaska House. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Wednesday on the floor of the Alaska House. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska lawmakers unite to stabilize homeschool program in wake of court ruling

Families who use Alaska’s homeschool program will soon have clarity on how they may spend their allotments of state education money.

Lawmakers directed Alaska’s Board of Education and Early Development to write temporary regulations for the state’s correspondence school program that comply with the state’s constitution on Wednesday night. The law also requires that the education department begin to monitor allotment spending for the first time in a decade. It was approved unanimously by both the House and Senate.

The move comes after a Superior Court ruling found two components of the laws that govern the state’s correspondence program to be unconstitutional in April, which left the families of more than 22,000 students unsure of how to pay for curriculum, tutoring and physical education. The state has appealed the decision; the Supreme Court scheduled the hearing for June 25.

Lon Garrison, director of Alaska Association of School Boards, said the advocacy group supports the new law. “It is simple and similar to what existed prior to 2014,” he said by text on Wednesday. He referred to the year then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy changed state law to allow families to spend homeschool allotments on materials from private and religious institutions — the pieces of statute a judge found to violate constitutional prohibitions against spending state money on private education.

House Education Committee Co-Chair Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, initially proposed the language in House Bill 400 and said his office worked into the wee hours of the morning to get approval between the bodies without drama and contention. “I think it’s a good fix,” Ruffridge said after the Senate approved it. “I think it’ll be important to come back next time around and continue to take up the question,” he added.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the education department signaled support for the bill.

Its language was rolled into a widely supported bill to require opioid-overdose-reversing drugs in schools in a late-session amendment.

Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Löki Tobin said she supports the change “cautiously” with the recognition that lawmakers have more work to do to make the programs viable after a Supreme Court decision.

The law does not include some changes proposed in the Senate’s proposal.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, told lawmakers that unspent homeschool allotment money would rollover to the next year and that students would not be required to take standardized tests. Those items generated pushback from families that use the program.

“I would hope that homeschool students would like to show off and showcase what they know and how much they know,” he said. State data shows less than 20% of correspondence school students choose to take standardized tests, which has led to questions about how well the programs work.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, underlined two popular effects of the fix that led to the compromise: “It is important to have stability and the removal of the disruption and anxiety for the families. But I also selfishly appreciate the fact that this will avoid a special session.”

• Claire Stremple is a reporter based in Juneau who got her start in public radio at KHNS in Haines, and then on the health and environment beat at KTOO in Juneau. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government. Alaska Beacon reporter James Brooks contributed reporting to this story.

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 June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

Glory Hall Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk points out some of the features of the homeless shelter’s new location a few days before it opens in July of 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
Mariya Lovishchuk stepping down after 15 years as executive director of the Glory Hall

Leader who oversaw big changes in Juneau’s homeless programs hopes to continue similar work.

Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people gather in Juneau for the opening of Celebration on June 5. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Federal judge considers lawsuit that could decide Alaska tribes’ ability to put land into trust

Arguments took place in early May, and Judge Sharon Gleason has taken the case under advisement.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, June 17, 2024

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

Workers stand next to the Father Brown’s Cross after they reinstalled it at an overlook site on Mount Roberts on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Hugo Miramontes)
Father Brown’s Cross is resurrected on Mount Roberts after winter collapse

Five workers put landmark back into place; possibility of new cross next year being discussed.

KINY’s “prize patrol” vehicle is parked outside the Local First Media Group Inc.’s building on Wednesday morning. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau radio station KINY is using AI to generate news stories — how well does it get the scoop?

As trust and economics of news industry continue long decline, use and concerns of AI are growing.

An empty classroom at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé on July 20, 2022. (Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska faces consequences as federal education funding equity dispute continues

State officials offered feds a $300,000 compromise instead of $17 million adjustment.

Most Read