ANCHORAGE - A state senator is pushing a proposal that would allow families that home school to use state allotments to buy religious textbooks and other materials, as long as they include solid academics.
Students that are home-schooled and enrolled in Alaska correspondence programs get state money to help pay for their supplies but can't spend it on religious materials. Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, would like to change that.
About 9,000 Alaska students are home-schooled through statewide correspondence programs that provide academic and state financial support. They can use religious materials to learn, but they can't only use religious materials. They also can't use any state money to buy those supplies.
The laws pertaining to Alaska correspondence schools have to balance separation of church and state while also respecting "the parents' right to religious freedom in their home," said Scott Nordstrand, deputy attorney general for Alaska.
This freedom lets home-schooling parents do some things public school teachers can't - such as discuss and advocate for certain religions. But the law also says home schoolers in state programs must use textbooks and other materials from lists approved by local school boards, which don't approve books with religious connections.
Dyson wants to know if there's a way around that. He said there are materials out there with religious roots that also are academically sound and, in some cases, preferred by parents.
"If the material meets academic standards, then it ought not to be disqualified just on the basis that it has some religious connotations," Dyson said.
So he asked the state attorney general a few questions - among them, are Alaska officials absolutely sure the current law stops families from using only religious stuff to teach their kids?
Nordstrand discussed the issue at a state Board of Education meeting last week. While the current system definitely doesn't let families draw purely from religious texts, there might be a way to change that, he said.
It probably would require legislative action, Nordstrand said. Districts would also need to review material to make sure it's educationally acceptable, and test home-school students more often to make sure they're learning.
State board members said they would think over the matter and revisit it at a later meeting.