JUNEAU — A new letter to state schools superintendents from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development confirms that a lawsuit expected to be filed by the Alaska Legislature will not interrupt funding to K-12 schools.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his administration say the Legislature’s action is illegal and thus K-12 education is not funded past July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year. Lawmakers say it is legal, and the governor’s action fails to follow a constitutional appropriation by the Legislature.
In a May 28 press conference, the governor said he would be open to a “friendly lawsuit” that settles the disagreement, and in mid-June, the joint House-Senate Legislative Council told the Legislature’s lawyers to prepare for such a lawsuit to be filed in July.
Many Alaska school districts had been bracing for a delay in the release of school funding. Already, public school districts face yearly uncertainty over how much state funding lawmakers will agree to send them. The specter of a lawsuit filed about a month before the start of classes added even more unpredictability as to when funding would be released, according to some superintendents.
The state typically pays school districts on a per-student basis, with money sent each month from the treasury to districts according to a formula.
Under the procedure envisioned by both the state and lawmakers, the Department of Education will fail to pay the first round of K-12 funding on July 15, as the Legislature believes is required. The Legislature will then file a lawsuit, and a court will issue an order requiring the state to provide funding while the lawsuit progresses.
Monday’s letter to superintendents indicates the July payment “will be delayed for 7-10 days, depending on the Legislature’s timeline for filing a lawsuit,” but if the procedure is followed, subsequent payments will not be delayed.
If the Legislature’s lawsuit is not filed on or soon after July 15, “the July payment will be delayed,” the letter warns.