Alaska schools will share the $6.35 million in per-student education funding this year that Gov. Bill Walker meant to veto in June when he slashed more than $1 billion in state spending.
The Alaska Division of Legislative Finance — the Legislature's fiscal arm — quickly said the veto had no effect, arguing that Walker made a technical error that rendered it void: He simply eliminated a funding source in the budget bill but failed to cross out pertinent parts of the accompanying text on another page.
Pat Pitney, state budget director, said Friday that the state would acquiesce to Legislative Finance's analysis and would release the $6.35 million in an effort to avoid a lawsuit and any confusion.
"We could have taken it to the court and tested it. The intent was very, very clear. There were many documents that accompanied the vetoes," Pitney said. She said the state concluded that it ultimately did not want to waste time or money on a legal battle.
Pitney said the state received no indication that the Legislature would sue, but many other interested parties could have taken up a court challenge. David Teal, legislative finance director, said it was smart for the state to restore school funding.
"I understand the desire to cut; it's just that unfortunately they did it incorrectly — slightly incorrectly," he said. "I think they were probably wise to back away from a veto, because any school district or any parent could have sued and then you're just wasting money."
Even though the $6.35 million is a relatively small slice of the roughly $1.2 billion that the state directed at per-student funding, Teal said he expected the news would please many school districts.
Anchorage School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler said she awoke to an email that said the district would receive nearly $2 million more in school funding. She said the board would have to discuss what to do with that money but she hoped it would pay for academic improvements to increase student achievement.
Pitney said there were no issues with any of Walker's other vetoes. School districts will still face the elimination of $6.4 million from student transportation, $4.7 million in one-time funding and more than $40 million for construction projects.
Instead of paying for the $6.35 million for per-student funding out of the school trust fund — which was vetoed — Pitney said the state would use general funds and savings.