With just a month before school starts, families who have children enrolled in some charter correspondence programs and private schools were shocked to learn that the Anchorage School District is clawing back their financial allotment for students.
Alaska’s Correspondence School Allotment Program allows eligible families to be reimbursed up to $4,500 per student enrolled in classes at the private school of their choice.
In the past, a student could be enrolled at Family Partnership Charter School, and dual enrolled at a private school, such as Montessori. Families would be able to use their “funding follows the child” allotments to pay for some of the costs of educating their children outside the Anchorage School District’s standard system.
Then, earlier this year the Anchorage School Board stripped Family Partnership Charter School of its charter, even though it is the most well-attended charter school in the state and has the highest educational outcomes of any school in the district, owing to its unique structure. The vote was 6-1, with Board Member Dave Donley the only one opposing the takeover of Family Partnership.
At the time, Jharrett Bryantt, the superintendent of the Anchorage School District said that parents would not see much change, even as the charter school was consumed by the district and would lose its independence.
The school board also made promises to the parents attending meetings that the funds dedicated for Family Partnership Charter School would stay with the school, and not be swept into the district’s other fund pools, even as it came under the district’s supervision and command structure.
The superintendent said it was time to earn the trust of the families whose children were enrolled through the Family Partnership Charter School.
“It is time to pivot our focus to supporting the Family Partnership communities, and earn the trust of all families to choose the wonderful opportunities that Family Partnership offers. It’s time for us to begin the healing process, and that won’t happen overnight,” Superintendent Bryantt said in a public meeting in April that was attended by many concerned parents.
But according to a new memo from the district, that was then.
Now, the school district is saying that if a student is dual enrolled at a place like Family Partnership, Frontier Charter School, or AK Choice Charter School, and full time at a private school, they will receive no allotment.
For some faith-based schools, the curriculum that involves faith is separated out, while in others, the faith-based portions are infused throughout the curriculum. But parents in those programs were always allowed to bank their allotment (public money from local, state, and federal taxes) and use it for either extra-curricular enrichment such as hockey, or for a high school program where the classes involving faith are separated from other classes. Parents with children at Grace Christian were banking the funds so that as their students moved into high school, they would have those funds to pay for classes.
This is a “funding follows the child” approach that made Family Partnership unique in its excellent education outcomes.
But it’s not just religious-based schools. The parents cannot use any of their allotment for any full-time private school education, according to the district.
On June 25, the principal of Family Partnership wrote to parents, saying:
“I am writing to inform you of a recent clarification regarding the use of homeschool allotments for private school classes. Please see the attached memo for clarification. In short, full-time private school students are ‘not permitted to use their allotment to pay any portion of the private tuition or to supplement the student’s private school education.’ This means that full-time private school students will not be provided with an allotment. Part-time private school students may use ‘half or less’ of their allotment for non-sectarian private school courses. Thank you for understanding.”
The attack on private education by the Anchorage School District comes at a time when private school enrollment is going up, and the enrollment in traditional Anchorage public schools is dropping. Parents have voted with their feet to remove children from low-performing school environments that are controlled by the National Education Association and are pushing gender ideology, and critical race theory on their children.
The new memo from Director of Charter Schools Dr. Jason Hlasny to all the correspondence schools in the district explains the district’s interpretation of the Alaska Constitution. Under the district’s interpretation, the parents of the correspondence school students can continue to “buy” courses from private schools, but cannot be enrolled more than half time.
“The purpose of this memo is to clarify district and administrative procedure consistent with the Alaska Constitution, Alaska Statute, and the July 2022 Deputy Attorney General guidance as it relates to the appropriate implementation and use of student allotments and private school education.
“Under Alaska law, correspondence schools receive funding through the local school district in which they reside. In turn, correspondence schools usually allocate an allotment of funds for each student, which the student can spend for certain materials to fulfill a student’s individual learning plan.
“The Alaska Constitution provides: ‘No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.’ The Alaska Legislature has provided that student allotments for correspondence students may not be used for sectarian services or materials. Alaska law requires each school district to ensure that allotment monies are not used in a manner that violates Alaska law.
“The following are uses of allotments not permitted by the Anchorage School District:
- “Student is enrolled as a full-time student at a private school and the student’s allotment is not permitted to be used to pay any portion of the private tuition or to supplement the student’s private school education.
- “More than half of a correspondence student’s allotment is not permitted to be used to pay for private school tuition, materials, and fees for non-sectarian classes.
“Any portion of the allotment is not permitted to be used to pay for sectarian courses or materials.
“The following are uses of allotments permitted by the Anchorage School District:
- “Student is enrolled in a public correspondence school and half or less of the student’s allotment is permitted to be used to pay for part-time enrollment to take nonsectarian courses at a private school.
- “Student is enrolled in a public correspondence school and the student’s allotment is permitted to be used to pay for extracurricular activities such as swimming lessons, attendance at music or drama performances, or participation in athletic competitions.”
The Alaska Policy Forum will hold a webinar on Monday to help people learn about some of the options Anchorage families have outside of the district. Register here to join the webinar.