ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Reimbursements made to parents for education-related expenses for students in Alaska correspondence schools are unconstitutional, a state court judge has ruled, adding a new twist to a debate over education that lawmakers say may not be quickly resolved.

The decision Friday by Superior Court Judge Adolf Zeman came in a case filed last year that challenged a state law that allowed correspondence student allotments to be used to “purchase nonsectarian services and materials from a public, private, or religious organization.”

Under state law, over the past decade, families with kids in correspondence schools have been allowed to receive thousands of dollars a year in reimbursements, paid with public money, for education-related expenses, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The provisions that were ruled unconstitutional came from a bill that became law in 2014 from former Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who is now governor. The Republican also had introduced a companion constitutional amendment that would have removed limits on the use of public funds for religious or private education institutions but that went nowhere.

The Alaska Constitution say public funds can’t be paid “for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.” Zeman ruled that the laws allowing for correspondence school allotments “were drafted with the express purpose of allowing purchases of private educational services with the public correspondence student allotments.”

Alaska has roughly 20,000 students in correspondence programs, which allow children to be homeschooled under the authority of local school districts. The state had argued the allotments “are capable of a range of possible applications” that do not violate the constitution.

The Department of Law is evaluating its options following the decision, Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills said. “This is a public school program for public school children. This could result in taking away important public education opportunities from Alaskan families,” she said.

Some lawmakers said there is a need now to provide clarity around correspondence programs but questioned whether the Legislature had time to act before the current session ends in mid-May.

If the state appeals, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said lawmakers may be limited in what they can do, noting the Legislature “does not typically get involved when there is ongoing litigation.” The state also could seek a stay of the decision pending any appeal.

Scott Kendall, an attorney for the parents and teachers who brought the case, said some private schools had been instructing families on using correspondence allotments to cover tuition costs.

“The problem was, there was such a broad abuse of the system that this was essentially acting as a shadow voucher program,” he said.

Dunleavy and lawmakers have been at odds over education, a dispute that has spilled over from last year and overshadowed much of the current session. Dunleavy last month vetoed a package overwhelmingly passed by lawmakers that included a $175 million increase in aid to K-12 schools, saying it lacked provisions he favored, related to teacher bonuses and charter schools, that lawmakers failed to rally around. Lawmakers fell short of overriding the veto, and the Republican-led House has been working on a new package.