Correspondence schools scolded for reimbursements

Ski lessons, horseback riding among requests for reimbursement head of education says must stop

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Education Commissioner Roger Sampson is cracking down on Alaska correspondence schools that reimburse families for questionable activities, including trips to a water park, ski lessons and horseback riding instruction.

Sampson, in a memo to superintendents, said ongoing spending practices by some programs have "resulted in a very negative image for Alaska education." Some statewide correspondence schools are largely enrolling full-time private school students and reimbursing them for nonacademic items and activities.

"What we're trying to do is put a lid on some of the inappropriate expenditures," said Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the Department of Education and Early Development.

New regulations for correspondence schools are scheduled for introduction at the State Board of Education meeting in mid-March. The proposed rules are expected to better define appropriate expenses that families can be reimbursed for. They're also expected to lay out rules affecting the enrollment of private school students in correspondence programs.

An estimated 9,000 Alaska students are enrolled in 31 such programs.

The flexible programs appeal to families who want to home school their children with some financial help from the state. The programs also have been a boon for cash-strapped districts. The districts earn money from the state based on student enrollment, and correspondence schools are inexpensive to operate.

Families get reimbursed for money spent on their children's education - usually between $1,000 and $2,000 a year. Each program has its own rules for allowable expenses, and what's considered appropriate varies widely among the schools.

To date, most complaints have focused on two programs: Denali's PEAK, an acronym for Personalized Education for Alaskan Kids, and Craig's PACE, which stands for Personal Alternative Choices in Education.

The programs, designed to serve as a support base for home school students, enroll mostly children who live in Alaska's larger cities and attend private schools. No laws or regulations prevent full-time private school children from using correspondence programs to fund activities such as music or hockey lessons, travel expenses or summer camp.

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