Attorney General Treg Taylor announced on Monday that he has recused himself from the ongoing legal review of whether public funds can be spent by families on private education and private schools because his wife, Jodi Taylor, wrote a guide on how to do just that.
The announcement follows reporting by the Alaska Beacon on the Department of Law’s review of the issue and the involvement of Jodi Taylor, the board chair of the conservative Alaska Policy Forum, in advocating for ways to use public funds given to homeschool families on private school classes.
The announcement says Taylor recused himself from the issue and delegated review to Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills on May 21. The recusal wasn’t published until Monday, June 6.
“In light of a potential conflict of interest, I recused myself from all matters involving correspondence school allotments. 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,” said Attorney General Taylor. “At the Department of Law, we have always taken our obligations in representing the State and upholding the ethics laws very seriously,” said Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills. “Just as we do in any situation, we will do our best to represent the State and provide good, solid legal advice to our client agencies.”
The core issue here is whether the practice violates the Alaska Constitution’s prohibition on state funds going to private schools. The Alaska Constitution specifically says, “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” State law, however, allows parents to purchase “nonsectarian services and materials” from private and religious groups with homeschool allotments that run from about $4,000 to $6,000 depending on the student.
According to reporting by the Alaska Beacon, the Mat-Su School District offers reimbursements for classes taken at 12 private schools. In Anchorage, the Family Partnership Charter School, a charter school that’s part of the Anchorage School District, is also looking at allowing families to use their allotments on private school classes later this year.
One guardian told the Beacon that they’ve entered the lottery for their child to attend the Family Partnership Charter School specifically to access the $4,000 allotment and use it to cover tuition to attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a private school. The said she learned of it from the blog post by Jodi Taylor that described her plan to do exactly that.
“Next year, I will request that FPCS (Family Partnership Charter School) use funds in our correspondence study program annual student allotment to reimburse our family up to $4,000 for each of our children,” she wrote. “Although annual tuition at SEAS (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton) is $6,000 for each of my children, because SEAS is an approved FPCS vendor, I will only personally have to pay the remaining balance of $2,000 per child, which I can pay in monthly installments of $222.22 for nine months or $166.67 per month over the full calendar year or all at once.”
Jodi Taylor and other advocates, including Gov. Mike Dunleavy who pushed for a constitutional amendment to enact school vouchers, who’ve pushed to funnel public funds to private and religious schools argue that school choice is important and that private schools are a better fit for their children.
Critics argue the practice is banned by the Alaska Constitution for good reason. They argue that it undermines public schools by diverting public funds to private organizations, widening the divide between families who can pay the additional cost of private schools and those who cannot.