Guidance provided to school districts on public school funding and private school uses

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 9:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a question of what is and is not allowed for educational funding the state attorney general’s office is now providing legal guidance to school districts about the use of public funding for private schools.

Alaska Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills released an opinion from the Department of Law on whether publicly funded schools can pay for services from private schools. The purpose is to simply provide guidance on types of spending that are constitutional, unconstitutional, and what may fall into a gray area.

The 19-page opinion letter states that public money can be used for certain materials and services from a private school when it supports a public education. This may include items that pertain to the needs of an individual student, like books, private tutoring, or tech support. But, the Alaska constitution will not allow public funds to pay for things such as tuition for full-time enrollment.

Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court came out with a decision on an educational program involving payment to a religious school vs a non-religious school (2022′s Carson ex rel. O.C. v. Makin and 2020′s Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue). There had been questions that the Supreme Court’s decision may have changed examination by the Department of Law in Alaska, which they said is not the case.

“The Alaska constitution distinguishes between private and public schools and because we’re not focused on different types of private institutions, but rather just public and private and it doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, that line of cases from the U.S. Supreme Court, after reviewing them carefully we found they did not really apply in the unique Alaska context we have here,” Mills said.

Mills wants this opinion to provide useful guidance to school districts as they figure out how to carry out the school allotment program and provide a public education to Alaska’s children.

“The next question or issue you face is a balancing act. So the balancing act is determining whether any particular expenditure of public funds is really intended to supplant a public education or incentivize a private education over a public education with the backing of public dollars,” Mills said.

To prevent any potential for bias Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor removed himself from the opinion.

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