The public schools enroll 131,000 students: 49% White, 24% Alaskan Native, 7% Latino, and 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, with 43% living in poverty and 11% learning English. The State spends $18,217 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State, and may provide for other public educational institutions. Schools and institutions so established shall be free from sectarian control. No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” Alaska Const. art. VII, § 1.
In 1975, in Hootch v. Alaska, plaintiffs argued that the State must establish local schools in small isolated communities, instead of requiring students to travel to live at boarding schools. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the State’s reality of small communities situated across vast expanses made such a request unworkable, at least at that time.
In 1997, in Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District v. State, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, holding that school districts and local taxpayers are not guaranteed equal tax rates or equal State portions of education revenues.
In 1999, in Kasayulie v. State, a State trial court held that education is a fundamental right and found that the State system for funding school facilities was racially discriminatory against Alaska Natives, in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act. The court also found that the funding system violated the equal protection and education clauses of the State constitution because the funding distributed was close to zero. In response, the Legislature allocated facilities funds to rural districts, and, in 2011, the parties settled the case after the Legislature established a system for funding rural school facilities.
In 2004, plaintiffs in Moore v. State challenged the constitutional adequacy of education in rural and remote Alaskan communities, where English is a second language and the extreme climate leads to teacher turnover and high costs. In 2007, the trial court ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered the State to issue high school diplomas to students who had not passed the exit exam because the State had not provided those students with an adequate opportunity to learn the content of the exam. In 2010, the trial court found the State’s remedial efforts inadequate. The parties approved a settlement in 2012, including funds for rural kindergarten and pre-literacy programs, teacher retention grants, and additional instruction for juniors and seniors who failed the State’s high school graduation exam. Neither party appealed this case to the Alaska Supreme Court.