Alaska Supreme Court to hear homeschool arguments on June 27

JUNEAU — The Alaska Supreme Court has signaled that it could issue a final ruling next month on a trial court decision that prohibited the use of public homeschool funds at private and religious schools.

In April, Judge Adolf Zeman struck down as unconstitutional two state statutes that have been used to reimburse private school tuition with publicly-funded homeschool allotments. But the extent of that practice is not fully known.

The plaintiffs in the case — several parents and teachers — requested that Zeman’s decision be paused until June 30, allowing those students to complete the school year with minimal interruptions. The state of Alaska, meanwhile, had asked for a stay until the state supreme court issued its own decision, which could take months.

The court denied the state’s request for an indefinite stay, but did not explain its reasoning. Oral arguments have been scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on June 27, and will be broadcast on KTOO. The stay is set to end on June 30.

The court on Friday did not explicitly state whether it would issue a judgment before June 30. Scott Kendall, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the court’s schedule leaves that open as a possibility.

In expedited cases, the state supreme court will often rush out a one-page ruling, before issuing a lengthy opinion that explains its reasoning months later.

“We are ready, willing and able to comply with the court’s very expedited schedule,” said Patty Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law, on Monday through a prepared statement. “Our goal is to provide as much certainty as quickly as possible, and so long as the Court brings that clarity before June 30, we will avoid the massive harm to our public homeschool families.”


The state is set to be represented by Elbert Lin, a former West Virginia solicitor general, as its lead counsel. Lin, who clerked for conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has been working behind the scenes on the case since its inception, Sullivan said.

“We believe that (his) extensive experience has been and will continue to be beneficial to the State, though we do not think this case has to reach the U.S. Supreme Court if the Alaska Supreme Court agrees, as we have argued from the outset, that this matter should be dismissed under well-established principles of Alaska state law,” she said.

Kendall said he didn’t understand why the state had decided to hire Lin, when the Department of Law has dozens of “outstanding” attorneys on its payroll.

The state’s contract with Lin was not immediately available, and would be part of a public records request, Sullivan said on Monday.

In its May 6 emergency stay request, state attorneys said that Zeman’s decision had created “irreparable harm” for around 23,000 Alaska homeschool students. The state suggested the court’s decision was so broad that it struck down all correspondence programs, and could prevent run-of-the-mill spending by school districts at private vendors for items such as pencils and computers.

Zeman’s final judgment said the court’s decision only affects the two 2014 statutes that expanded correspondence programs and were supported by then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy. The Dunleavy administration “mischaracterizes and misreads” the court’s decision, Zeman said on May 2.

“This court did not find that correspondence study programs were unconstitutional,” he said, adding that “correspondence programs continue to exist after this court’s order.”

In an attempt to address the uncertainty for homeschool students, the Legislature passed House Bill 202 on the final day of the legislative session. The measure instructs the state Board of Education to write temporary regulations that would expire next year, leaving open the possibility for the now-unconstitutional statutes to be reinstated if a higher court overturns Zeman’s ruling.

The 2014 statutes explicitly prohibited the state board from imposing any restrictions on how homeschool allotments are used. Some legislators wanted new regulations to be written with stricter guardrails on how annual allotments of up to $4,500 per student can be spent. But they were overruled.

The state Board of Education is set to meet in Kotzebue June 4-6 for its next quarterly meeting. The board’s agenda has not been made public yet. Board Chair James Fields did not respond to a request for comment on Monday from the Daily News about the board’s plans.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at