Point of View: To support home-schooling, we must support all of public education

Last month’s ruling by a superior court judge marked a significant turning point in the future of Alaska’s education system. The ruling determined that existing state statutes and policies allowing correspondence students to use public dollars on services from private and religious schools are unconstitutional. I have spoken with many parents who depend on this funding for their children’s education and are deeply concerned about what this ruling means for their families and their children.

As a public school educator and a parent who has first-hand experience with home-schooling, I support Alaska’s correspondence program. Not only do parents have a right to decide what education best suits their child, but some children have different learning styles that require at-home schooling.

This ruling does not dismantle parents’ ability to home-school or their access to support for the state’s correspondence program. Instead, it specifically struck down allotments given to parents to spend on education costs, which many parents have been using to send their kids to private schools and purchase services from religious institutions. The existing statutes created a loophole to bypass the intent of Alaska’s Constitution and create a school voucher system that has eroded the quality of our public education system by funneling money away from our public schools for more than a decade. And it’s not an insignificant amount of money.

The Alaska Constitution mirrors the intent of the United States Constitution by prioritizing the separation of church and state and upholding religious freedom. It clearly prohibits the expenditure of public money “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” Despite this clear stance, several legislators, including Rep. Sarah Vance, rushed to propose a constitutional amendment to allow for school vouchers. I firmly believe this is the wrong approach.

Evidence consistently demonstrates that voucher programs divert resources from public schools to private and religious institutions — institutions that are not accountable to taxpayers. As a teacher in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for 10 years, I can tell you that our schools can’t handle even more cuts. In fact, it was this funding loophole that was created a decade ago along with flat funding and inflation that has taken Alaska’s schools from being the best in the nation, to where we are now.

Instead of killing constitutional protections for public education, the Legislature should immediately begin crafting correspondence statutes that align with constitutional principles while championing the interests of Alaska’s families and students engaged in home-school programs. And, of course, it’s critical that legislators include funding to increase the BSA. We cannot continue flat funding education and expecting better outcomes.

Alana Greear is an elementary teacher at Kachemak-Selo School and an Independent running for House District 6.