Rep. Justin Ruffridge, a Soldotna Republican who co-chairs the House Education Committee, speaks during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, a Soldotna Republican who co-chairs the House Education Committee, speaks during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Supporting correspondence programs

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

By now, many of you have heard or read about the Superior Court decision brought by Judge Zeman last week. In his decision, the judge ruled the foundational statutes of correspondence (homeschool) programs in the state were unconstitutional. This is a significant issue that must be addressed.

I want to share the ways in which my office, legislators, and departments are working on a solution. First, both parties in the lawsuit have asked for a pause in any changes to the correspondence program while appeals are filed. A pause will allow students to finish this school year and give time for solutions to be adopted. It seems reasonable that any solution must be adopted via the legislative process.

At first glance, I believe there are two options: a statutory change or a constitutional amendment. Our correspondence programs are a priority to many here in the Capitol, myself included. As Co-Chair of the House Education Committee, my staff and I have been working on bill language to address the concerns raised in the court decision while protecting the right of Alaskan parents to educate their children at home through a public correspondence program and receive an allotment to accomplish that goal.

Correspondence schools have existed in Alaska since the 1930s. With their longstanding history and over 23,000 students currently enrolled, correspondence schools have more than proved they are a vital and essential component of our education system. Right now, correspondence study programs and families face uncertainty as they navigate the aftermath of the ruling and its implications for their educational options.

The truth is that the majority of Alaskan families enrolled in correspondence programs do so within the bounds of the constitution and statute, and I will endeavor to make that abundantly clear throughout the rest of the session.

Finally, our correspondence programs are not the only aspect of Alaskan education facing challenges. Our local school board adopted a “worst-case scenario” budget for the upcoming school year just this week. I believe we should not leave Juneau without solutions for our state’s education outlook.

Certainly, the failure of SB140 took some of the momentum away from the legislative process, but we have time to develop another plan. Our teachers, parents, and, above all, our students deserve our best efforts with a month left in the session. Please reach out to my office for concerns or questions at rep.justin.ruffridge@akleg.gov or 907-465-2693.

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