Department of Law reviewing Supreme Court ruling on state funding of faith-based schools

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The Alaska Department of Law is reviewing Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin for any impact on Alaska law.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Court held that a Maine law violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by permitting public funds to be spent for tuition assistance at private nonsectarian schools, but not at private religious schools.

As the court has leaned more conservative, it has begun to side with parents and religious institutions that have challenged “Blaine Amendment” state policies prohibiting them from receiving education-related funds that were available for government schools.

The court’s three leftist justices dissented from the majority. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the decision “upended constitutional doctrine” and she has a “growing concern for where this Court will lead us next.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling explained that states “need not subsidize private education,” but if they choose to do so, they cannot categorically exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of religious exercise.

“The question on Alaskans’ minds is what does this mean for our own state constitution’s prohibition on spending public funds on a private education?” said Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills. “Initially, what we know is that the specific facts of this case are not directly on point for Alaska. The case involved discriminating against religious schools compared to other private schools. Our constitution distinguishes between a private and a public education. However, the details matter, and we will need to fully review and evaluate the opinion to determine what, if any, impact it has,” Mills said.

Alaska does not have a private school tuition program directly analogous to the Maine law at issue in Carson. Article VII, section 1 of Alaska’s Constitution provides that public funds shall not be used “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” 

“We know that Alaska’s public correspondence school program has been in the news recently, but that is a separate issue from the broader potential impacts of this Supreme Court case, which is focused on the religious versus non-religious distinction,” Mills clarified. “The department is still reviewing the administration of Alaska’s correspondence school program under state law and will separately be looking at the broader questions raised by this case,” she said.

Alaska, by statute, provides that “a correspondence study program may provide an annual student allotment to a parent or guardian” and that this allotment may be used “to purchase nonsectarian services and materials from a public, private, or religious organization” provided certain criteria are met.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps now the various homeschool supporting programs in Alaska will “butt out” of a family’s decision to use a fath based curriculum for the education of its children.

  2. Doesn’t matter. We have had the ability to use public funds on religious schools since Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue, 2020. State of Alaska (Dunleavy) decided he didn’t want to touch it, either did the unions or democrats, all of whom are pretending it doesn’t exist. While that prohibition is still ensconced in the AK Constitution, it is overridden by the two SCOTUS opinions. I expect this one will get ignored also. Cheers –

    • You are incorrect. The actual attorneys in the Espinoza case say that this did not open up any avenues for Alaska: ‘https://ij.org/report/a-guide-to-designing-educational-choice-programs/?state=US-AK

  3. The greatest distinction in the Alaska Constitution is, “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” Note the word, “DIRECT”. This is a weak Blaine Amendment in that it does NOT prohibit “INDIRECT” funding of any religious or other private educational institution. If the AK courts decided that even indirect funding were unconstitutional per this Article, then a parent/guardian would not even be able to use their PFDs to fund an non-government K12 education. Furthermore, the Alaska Performance Scholarship program, that provides scholarships for Alaskan HS graduates to attend college, could not be used to pay for attending a private university. And that is also happening.

    Solution: Let the money follow the student to the best education fit for them. Who could be against that?

  4. Charter schools in Anchorage are essentially private schools run under the guise of being part of the Anchorage school district. They are a scam on the Anchorage taxpayer.

  5. I’d rather our state constitution ban funding of PUBLIC schools, and fund only PRIVATE schools. Our education system would be in far better shape if it did.

  6. Alaska state government is based on all resources and control are by the unions, and for the unions. The public education is pathetic overall , with the crowning dysfunctional underachievement showcased as world class failure in rural education. Our youth is kneecapped immediately. Socialist theory has been a proven failure for generations, and yet we continue down this path indefinitely.

  7. I see a US constitutional challenge headed our direction; as our state constitution’s “educational religion” statement is in direct conflict with the US 1st amendment. As our dissenting US justice has claimed that there is an eroding effect on the ‘Separation of Church and State’; as in Roe v Wade it is finally determined that there is no such thing as a ‘right to Abortion’. Similarly, there is no such thing as ‘Separation of Church and State’. I personally believe that our US 1st amendment, regarding this separation issue, could be better summed as ‘ Separation of State from Church’!

  8. The secular war on faith is in full swing. Unless Muslim then the left loves you-right up until they don’t.

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