David Boyle: Education industry tries an end run around the courts

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By DAVID BOYLE

The Alaska education industry is trying to avoid changing the Alaska Constitution that would give parents more choices for their children.

It also wants to avoid the court system deciding the issue of whether parents have the right to choose the best education fit for their children. That’s because the education industry may lose in the courts.

On April 12, Alaska Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman basically shut down Alaska’s correspondence school program.  He ruled as unconstitutional the allotments which parents use to purchase educational services and materials from various vendors (AS 14.03.310). 

Judge Zeman also ruled the individual learning plans (ILP) were unconstitutional (AS 14.03.300).  

The correspondence school program provides more opportunities for parents to select the best education for their children. All correspondence schools are administered by the school districts. These school districts give a financial allotment to parents and parents select educational services/materials from both private and religious vendors.

The religious vendors can only provide non-sectarian services/materials to the parents. For example, a parent could buy a Latin course from Holy Rosary Academy. But that parent could not purchase a Bible or Catholic catechism course using their state allotment money.

The statute is very clear—only nonsectarian services/materials may be purchased.

Here is the specific wording: “A parent or guardian may purchase nonsectarian services and materials from a public, private, or religious organization with a student allotment provided…”.

The statute also says these materials and services “are approved by the school district.” The responsibility for ensuring that only nonsectarian purchases are made is on the school districts.

The school districts have the final say regarding whether a course is nonsectarian or not. They also have the final say if a course or material should be funded.

The school districts “own” the failure if they do not follow the law.

So, why did the National Education-Alaska file the lawsuit?

The NEA-AK and the education industry see hundreds of students leaving the brick-and-mortar schools and enrolling in these correspondence schools.  That means less money and fewer NEA-AK union members are needed. 

That is why the NEA-AK filed the lawsuit in the first place, using several individuals as the plaintiffs. One of the plaintiffs was the campaign manager for Anchorage School Board member Kelly Lessens.

Without allotments and ILPs, parents were left hanging. The Anchorage School District suspended paying the allotments to correspondence parents. But the ASD was still purchasing services/materials from private vendors, which Judge Zeman ruled unconstitutional.

The education industry is trying an end run to a constitutional amendment by telling the State Board of Education to issue an “emergency regulation”.   They don’t want the people to vote on a constitutional amendment.  Because they may well lose.

But the education industry may run into a brick wall because the Alaska Administrative Procedures Act controls the issuance of “emergency regulations”.

Alaska statute AS 44.62.250 defines the conditions of an emergency regulation. It states, ”a regulation or order of repeal may be adopted as an emergency regulation or order of repeal if a state agency makes a written finding, including a statement of the facts that constitute the emergency, that the adoption of the regulation or order of repeal is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety, or general welfare.”

The correspondence program issue does not meet the definition of “public peace, health, safety, or general welfare.

Emergency regulations are meant for natural disasters, national emergencies, and pandemics.

The Anchorage School District is taking the lead on this effort to demand that the State Board of Education & Early Development issue an emergency regulation.

The Anchorage Board of Education passed a resolution, Memo 151, at its April 23 meeting.  It concludes that “The Anchorage School Board urges the State Board of Education and Early Development to meet as soon as possible and exercise the authority conferred on it by the Alaska Legislature to promulgate regulations that provide for constitutional correspondence study programs for the 2024-2025 school year and beyond.”

The important part of the resolution is the district wants the State to issue this “emergency regulation” forever.  And thus, take it out of the courts to resolve.

Senators Bill Wielechowski and Loki Tobin also support this “emergency regulation” change to avoid the court system in an April 17 Facebook conversation.

The Alaska Senate is depending on Sen. Tobin, chair of the Senate Education Committee, to take the lead.

Interestingly, both Senators Tobin and Wielechowski have the lowest performing schools in the district.  Why would they not want their district parents to choose the best education for their children? Don’t they want children in their districts to be able to read? To be able to achieve their maximum potential?

The education industry is aware that it might lose in the Alaska Supreme Court.  And it will surely lose if/when the question goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.  That’s because the SCOTUS has already decided this issue in its Espinoza v. Montana ruling.

The NEA-AK and its education industry supporters fear a constitutional amendment because they will lose in the court of public opinion.

Let parents choose. Let the people vote on a constitutional amendment.

The Alaska House is holding hearings on HJR028 in the House Judiciary Committee. This bill would amend the Alaska Constitution to provide more opportunities for Alaska’s children.

You can have a say.  Will parents win or will the education industry win?

12 COMMENTS

    • Dunleavy and his unique interpretation of the law was found to be in violation of the Alaska Constitution, how many times will he lose before realizing he is wrong? How much money has he cost the SOA if lawsuits and settlements?

  1. Public school is child abuse.

    Considering the standards of our “judicial system”, they stand a good chance of winning.

  2. It’s funny how this wasn’t an issue before 2014 when Dunleavy tried and failed to change the Alaska Constitution, he then did an end run around the Constitution, now that he has had his hand slapped by the courts it’s the NEA-Alaska that is the enemy and trying to do an end run. If you want a private education pay for it privately. No one is violating any parent’s rights to educate their children how they want, they just aren’t interested in paying for it.

    • What’s funny is how this wasn’t an issue before leftist activist judge Adolph Zeman made the absurd ruling on 4/12. I’m not interested in paying for anyone’s children’s education, but over 90 percent of my property taxes in two boroughs are taken from me and spent by the school districts; almost entirely by the public schools and the NEA! Also, I’m sure that you’d agree that if parents pay for a private education, fund it entirely by themselves, the state should have absolutely NO say whatsoever
      in what their kids are taught, or how. They would only need to pass the state academic tests. Right?

  3. That shows parents that it’s all about the money and the kids don’t matter.
    School districts should offer different ways to teach kids as everybody learns differently.
    For once make it about openness and give kids and parents choices.

  4. This monopoly must be crushed once and for all. Once choice is enshrined in the Alaska constitution, the quicker the NEA-AK will start losing it’s stranglehold on education – and our kids – in Alaska.

  5. The Montana case shows that if parents can make a ‘choice’ in schooling, its discrimination if they can’t get their choice. The Superior court judge should keep up.

  6. There was a time when public schools met the educational needs of society. That time has passed. Parents must now have different choices to educate their children if they want them ready for the coming decades. Public schools all over the country have steadily lost focus on teaching the skills needed. Meanwhile charter schools and home schooling have really improved and many are now in some ways superior to many government schools. So parents have better choices and should be given the opportunity to use them. Definitely the state constitution needs to be amended. Public schools are not the same as when the state constitution was written. NEA-AK should not be the dictator it wishes to become.

    • Well said, well said. However, charter schools are a branch of public school bureaucracy. They are populated primarily with children of school bureaucrats and their elitist supporters.

  7. Sheila, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The public schools of Alaska educated myself and my peers just fine in the 1980s in Alaska. That time has definitely come and gone.

    I pay and pay and pay. For the failing government schools through my prop taxes and for the private schools that make up the difference. Thank you Mr Zeman for overstepping your bounds and pissing off a lot of wide awake parents.

    I think this is the defining moment for choice and educational independence for Alaska. Let’s all put aside our differences and unite to show Judge Zeman (is his first name really Adolf!??) that we are tired of the NEA running roughshod over
    merit and accomplishment and crapping on parents who invest in home and correspondence schools.

    We are paying attention Judge Zeman. And thank you Governor Dunleavy for introducing educational choice to Alaska. The government forces you to pay for things. Why can’t we have a say in where our dollars go? Parents care more than Ms Ballamy and her NEA comrades.

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