Alaska attorney general recused himself from legal review of using public funds for private education
By Lisa Phu
As the Alaska Department of Law looks into the legality of using public funds for private education through the state’s correspondence school, or homeschool, allotment program, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor has recused himself.
Taylor’s wife, Jodi Taylor, is a major proponent of the concept and wrote publicly in mid-May about her plan to seek up to $8,000 in reimbursement from public funding for their two kids attending an Anchorage private school. Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills said that prompted a discussion between her and Attorney General Taylor on May 20.
“His wife submitted an op-ed on the issue of correspondence school allotments and, in that, it became clear that there was an intent to seek this reimbursement of correspondence school allotments for her children, which means also the attorney general’s children. And so, for that reason, the attorney general felt like it was best to recuse himself,” Mills said on the phone Monday.
Taylor recused himself on May 21 from all matters involving correspondence school allotments and delegated the review to Mills. That became public on Monday in a press release from the Department of Law. Taylor said in the release, “I want to ensure that there is no perception of bias in relation to the objective advice provided by the Department of Law on this issue of correspondence school allotments used to fund courses or tuition at a private school.”
Mills cited the Department of Law’s attorney-client relationship with the Department of Education and Early Development in saying that she wasn’t able to give any more details of the review, nor a timeline of when an opinion could come out. She said it would be up to the Department of Education to provide any clarification to school districts.
Meanwhile, correspondence schools in Alaska are already allowing families to be reimbursed for secular private school classes. Mat-Su Central, a homeschool program within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, has been doing it for three years and bases its legality on its interpretation of state law. According to Alaska Statute 14.03.310, families may purchase nonsectarian services and materials from a public, private, or religious organization with a correspondence student allotment.
Yet, Article VII, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution says, “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”
“When you look at these issues, you always have to look at both the Alaska Constitution and the education clause, as well as the statutes, and how those fit together,” Mills said.