January 24, 2002

Alaska Charter School "Benefits" May Have Strings Attached

Proposed new regulations in Alaska are proving the arguments that government strings are always attached to governmental benefits, and that home schooling families who accept government money may face significant new restrictions on their home school programs.

Because of questionable expenditures of state money by some virtual home schools (known in Alaska as "public school correspondence home schools"), the Alaska Department of Education is considering new rules to restrict the funding.

Several Alaska school districts have initiated programs allowing home schoolers to enroll in public correspondence programs and receive some state funding. The best known is Galena School District's Interior Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA) program.

Parents who enroll their children in IDEA are subject to certain restrictions and requirements not imposed on those conducting home education under Alaska's excellent law. For example, students in grades 4 or 7 must take the California Achievement Test 5 administered by a certified teacher who is approved by the school district. In addition, IDEA requires 3rd, 6th, and 8th graders to take the Alaska Benchmark Examinations in reading, writing, and math, although state law does not require this of home schoolers yet. Students must also pass the High School Graduation Qualifying Examination in order to receive a high school diploma. Further evaluation of these students requires parents to report the progress of each child to Galena School District every semester.

No Alaska virtual home school may use public funds to purchase curriculum materials for teaching core subjects if the materials are distinctively religious in content. However, many families were originally told that they could do this, and there have been persistent reports that state money is being used to purchase religious textbooks.

Therefore, the Alaska Department of Education has proposed significant restrictions on the virtual home schools. Some of the new regulations deal with this funding issue, while others impose substantial oversight provisions.

The new regulations would ensure the following results:

  • Clarify that no religious curriculum can be bought with state funds or taught by the program teachers (e.g., IDEA staff);

  • The students would be monitored by a certified teacher at least once a month;

  • Grades would be determined by the certified teacher, not the parent;

  • Statewide assessment tests would be required for all students enrolled in the virtual school;

  • Home schoolers would have to ensure that their curriculum is aligned to state standards; and

  • Home schooling families would be required to allow a certified teacher to review all curriculum materials for each student before the family could be reimbursed for them.

The irony is that Alaska currently has the best home school law in the nation. For those students who do not enroll in these virtual home schools, there are no teaching qualifications for parents, no regulation at any level of government, no notice to anyone of the parents' decision to conduct the home education, no registration with the state, no reporting to anyone of any information about the home education program, no testing of the children, no required subjects, and no evaluation of the program by anyone.

Home School Legal Defense Association encourages our member families in Alaska to take advantage of the tremendous freedom they now have to teach their children at home without any government oversight or interference inherent in government funding of education. If Alaska's home schooling families continue to accept government money by enrolling in public correspondence schools, we believe that regulations affecting all home schools are just around the corner.

Click here to view the proposed regulations:

Click here to read more about virtual home schools: