Alaska Supreme Court overturns lower court’s anti-school choice ruling 

The Alaska Supreme Court has reinstated a school choice program initially deemed unconstitutional by a lower court. 

Alaska’s Correspondence School Allotment Program (CSAP) encompasses…

The Alaska Supreme Court has reinstated a school choice program initially deemed unconstitutional by a lower court. 

Alaska’s Correspondence School Allotment Program (CSAP) encompasses public charter schools, homeschools, private schools and hybrid options. 

Eligible families receive up to $4,500 to pay for educational services, giving parents “the ability to highly customize their child’s education based on their individual learning style and required needs.” 

In April, a Superior Court judge declared CSAP “facially unconstitutional” because it enabled public funds to be spent on private services. 

Article VII Section 1 of the Alaska State Constitution reads, “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” 

But in its summary order released Friday, the state’s Supreme Court said the April ruling was overbroad “because there are many constitutionally permissible uses of allotment funds.” 

Such uses might include “martial arts classes at a private gym [or] pottery lessons at an artist’s studio” which – though private businesses – are not strictly “private educational institution[s].”  

Gov. Mike Dunleavy celebrated the reversal and continued operation of the CSAP.  

“This is a huge win for public education and a huge win for families,” Dunleavy said on social media. “We were confident that the statutes were always constitutional.  

“This gives certainty to thousands of parents, nearly 23,000 students, and thousands of vendors for 29 school districts who help support education.”  

Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor also praised the decision.  

“To strike down the entire statutory scheme on the allegations of one type of unconstitutional spending does not comport with the laws of statutory and constitutional interpretation,” Taylor said. “This is a win for the rule of law as well as Alaskan families.”  

However, the Supreme Court leaves unanswered the larger question of whether Article VII Section 1 is itself a violation of the U.S. Constitution and whether CSAP funds should therefore be able to be used for private educational institutions.  

Article VII Section 1 is one of 37 state Blaine Amendments, remnants of a 19th century movement to stifle private Catholic schools by denying them public funds.  

But Blaine Amendments have faced numerous legal challenges from school choice advocates nationwide who say they violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments by discriminating against religious private schools. 

And three recent cases in the U.S. Supreme Court – Trinity v. Comer, Espinoza v. Montana and Carson v. Makin – have all ruled against various state Blaine Amendments, leaving others on shaky ground.