Alaska Attorney General’s Office Clarifies Use of Public Funds for Private Education

Using public correspondence school funding stipends to pay for most or all of a student’s tuition at a private school is “almost certainly unconstitutional,” according to a notice released Monday by the Attorney General’s Office. Alaska.

Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills’ opinion considers likely constitutional the use of stipends for “discreet services or materials,” such as tutoring or an extracurricular activity.

There will be situations that fall into a “grey area,” and the state Department of Education and school districts should seek legal counsel when such cases arise, the notice states.

Attorney General Treg Taylor recused himself in May. His wife, Jodi Taylor, had written about school choice and awards in a May 16 Alaska political forum post website.

Mills said questions about the program arose last year, as well as when Jodi Taylor’s opinion piece came out and around a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. She said it was important to issue a formal opinion on the whole program.

Mills said she believed the framers of the state constitution were concerned with “the replacement of a public education with a private education.” … This is different than supporting or supplementing a public education with the use of some private school resources.

The state constitution states that no money “shall be paid out of public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

According to the opinion, correspondence schools are publicly funded and subject to regulatory oversight by the state. The state education department or school districts must provide students by correspondence with individual learning plans. A 2014 state law allows districts to provide an annual allowance to parents of students in a correspondence program for educational expenses, the opinion states.

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