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Education

Alaska public schools will continue to receive state funding amid lawsuit, judge orders

State funding for Alaska public schools will continue uninterrupted despite a recent lawsuit, a superior court judge ordered Wednesday.

Schools should receive their first monthly payments within the next week, according to assistant attorney general Maria Bahr.

Meanwhile, the dispute continues between the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy over whether legislators can legally fund schools for multiple years. The courts are expected to resolve the fight. The Legislature on Tuesday sued Dunleavy over the school funding issue.

The issue stems from 2018 when legislators approved two years of education funding, for school years 2018-19 and 2019-20. They said at the time that they wanted to provide schools with some stability. For 2019-20, they agreed to fund schools at the same level as the prior year, with an additional $30 million, one-time grant. Then-Gov. Bill Walker approved the budget.

But Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his administration say the Legislature’s funding appropriation for 2019-20 is unconstitutional and violates the annual budgeting process mandated by the state constitution.

Since the funding isn’t legal, schools aren’t funded in the current fiscal year, the administration says. On Monday, the state didn’t issue its first round of funding checks to schools. That triggered the lawsuit.

Legislators say the funding for 2019-20 is legal. The governor, by withholding the money, is failing to follow a constitutional appropriation by the Legislature, they say.

Attorneys for Dunleavy and the Legislature filed a joint motion in court Tuesday asking the judge to order school funding to continue amid the lawsuit. Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally signed the order Wednesday.

The monthly payments will not include the one-time $30 million. Whether that funding is paid will depend on the final court ruling in the case, Bahr said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally.

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