ANCHORAGE - Students in statewide correspondence programs can no longer use state money for activities like family travel or family passes to sports and recreation facilities.
Those are among new rules adopted Friday by the state Board of Education to curb spending that had been criticized as unethical and irresponsible.
Correspondence schools act as a home base to students who may attend classes in other districts, attend private school, or attend home school.
Alaska's 12 statewide correspondence programs, enrolling about 7,400 students, get money from the state based on enrollment. Some of that money goes to districts' general funds. Some - usually between $1,000 and $2,000 per year - went to students.
Some of the correspondence programs have strict rules on how the money can be spent. Others have much looser rules that allowed students to be reimbursed for things that some considered hobbies or activities - everything from airline tickets to private music lessons to season passes to ski resorts and water parks.
Critics also charged that many students using most or all of their allotments on recreational activities take all their real classes through private schools.
Education Commissioner Roger Sampson said the new regulations will put a stop to that and will make sure the majority of students' allotments go toward academics.
"The priority is clearly on core academics," Sampson said. "And yet, (the new rules) don't minimize the fact that there's other areas that are important. But it clearly requires a majority of (spending) to be in core areas. It will stop the issues we've dealt with in the past."
Citizens last fall started e-mailing the state, some school districts and politicians, criticizing correspondence school spending practices at a time when most of Alaska's school districts are struggling with budget deficits.
After meeting with correspondence school officials, Sampson in March introduced new regulations that would clamp down on questionable spending.
The new rules, adopted at the board's meeting Friday in Fairbanks, clearly lay out allowable and impermissible spending.
Now prohibited: expenditures for family travel, except for district-sponsored events such as field trips, and annual family passes to sports and recreation facilities. A student can still use allotment money to pay for his or her own lesson expenses from a family pass or membership. Reimbursement can be for class instruction time only, and not for time when a student is working out, practicing or playing, said Harry Gamble, an education department spokesman.
Also out: Clothing, uniforms, equipment for physical education, pets and animals, furniture, parking fees, entertainment, or anything else the school administrator deems "excessive."
The rules also say private lessons are allowable, as long as they are provided by a certified teacher. The lesson also must fit into the student's individual learning plan, which must be created by a certified teacher, a parent of the child and, if appropriate, the student.
Money spent on art, music and physical education cannot exceed 15 percent of the amount per pupil the state gives the school. The regulation also sets tighter limits on full-time private school students by requiring that at least 50 percent of students' correspondence courses be in core subject areas, such as reading, writing and math.
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