As Keith Hamilton prepares for the August 29 start of Alaska Christian College's (ACC) next academic year, the president is waiting to see whether his school will lose a grant that represents 36 percent of its annual budget.
Founded five years ago by the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, the tiny college on the Kenai Peninsula faces a legal challenge to the constitutionality of nearly $1.2 million in federal grants it has received the past two years.
Hamilton argues that the Soldotna school helps disadvantaged students make the transition to four-year universities. "The majority of our students come with severe baggage or issues," he said. "We offer them their own heart and the ability to move on."
Thirty-four of ACC's 37 students last year were Native Americans.
In late April, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit against the U.S. Department of Education, which has been providing the grants. The foundation says tax money to ACC gives the appearance of government support for the college's Christian curriculum.
While FFRF can't do anything about the $400,000 awarded last year and the $350,000 given to an adjacent counseling center, foundation co-president Dan Barker hopes to void the latest $435,000 grant and similar aid in the future.
About 19 percent of Alaska's approximately 640,000 people are identified as Native American, the highest percentage in the nation. An estimated 25 percent of them live in poverty.
Barker said, "Our lawsuit is questioning whether this problem should be addressed primarily through sectarian means."
The school used its first grant for five faculty salaries ($250,000), scholarships ($75,000), and recruitment ($75,000).
The state's three-member congressional ...1
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