How would a $20M cut affect public schools statewide?

Kodiak High School. (Photo by Kayla Desroches / KMXT)

On Wednesday, Governor Mike Dunleavy released a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes major state budget cuts.

But last month, among other budget requests, Dunleavy proposed a $20 million cut to funding for public schools. If approved, that will impact this year’s funding.

The proposal would need the go-ahead from the legislature before becoming a reality. But school administrators like Superintendent Stewart McDonald from the North Slope Borough School District are concerned about the possibility.

“At this late date, to take that money away is going to be very, very difficult and make it really hard on the districts,” McDonald told KTOO.

Last month, state budget director Donna Arduin told lawmakers that districts shouldn’t have spent money in anticipation of getting state funding.

KTOO’s Zoe Grueskin has been looking at what districts around the state have planned for the money, and how administrators are responding to the news that it could disappear.

Greuskin worked with KTOO and Alaska Public Media’s Andrew Kitchenman, KNOM’s Katie Kazmierski, KUCB’s Laura Kraegel and KHNS’s Claire Stremple in her reporting.

Interview Highlights: 

Why this is unusual: “This was passed and approved by the legislature last May. It’s not part of the regular funding formula. It was supposed to be a one-time funding of $20 million… that is part of the current state budget. School districts have not received those funds yet. But, they’ve been expecting to receive them about this time of year. So this is already part of their plans for the current year. This is not looking ahead to the future.”

A surprise: “This money was absolutely expected. When the legislature approved this one-time funding last year, it became just part of the normal calculus for how the schools made their budgets for this current school year.”

Plans for the funding: “Most districts planned to just put that money into their general fund. So, just the total pool of money they have and work from there. So it’s been a part of all of the funding decisions they’ve made throughout the school year.”

“Some districts had specific plans for it. For instance, construction or maintenance projects. Some school districts, with this funding in mind, made the decision to retain teachers, or hire teachers or tutors. And, because they are bound by contracts to keep those people on for the full year and to pay their full salary, they will be in a very tight position if the funding does not arrive.”

Impact on districts: “Most of the school districts I spoke to, if this funding does not arrive, they’ll be okay for this year. They have enough in their general fund that they can dip into their reserves and cover any cost that they’re already committed to. That’s not the case for every district.”

“This will be harder for small districts than large school districts.”