Dunleavy administration being sued for withholding $20M in education funding

Governor Mike Dunleavy speaks with a constituent ahead of a presentation at a policy forum in Anchorage. Dunleavy has introduced legislation that would cancel a $20 million appropriation for public schools made by the Legislature last year. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes – Alaska Public Media, Anchorage)

An education advocacy group sued Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration Wednesday over his refusal to release $20 million that the Alaska Legislature budgeted for public schools last year.

The complaint from the Coalition for Education Equity, a nonprofit, argues that Dunleavy has to follow the law and release the money appropriated by lawmakers, rather than “impound” it. It was filed against Dunleavy and state Education Commissioner Michael Johnson.

School districts expected to get the money several months ago, according to Andy DeGraw, chief operating officer at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. A spokesman for Dunleavy, Matt Shuckerow, said Tuesday that the administration will release the cash only if lawmakers fail to take up a proposal from the governor to cancel the $20 million appropriation. Shuckerow says the administration isn’t commenting on pending litigation.

“Rather than disperse the funds that are appropriated by the Legislature and are the law of this land, the governor is sitting on the funds and refusing to disperse them,” said Matthew Singer, an attorney representing CEE.

Singer said even though the governor is ultimately leaving the fate of the funds in the hands of the Legislature, he’s setting a bad precedent.

“Imagine what would happen in our state if the governor engaged in this sort of practice all the time,” Singer said. “What if the annual budget for the state troopers was appropriated by the Legislature, and then the governor said ‘I don’t wanna spend that money. I’m just going to sit on these funds and see if next year, the Legislature changes its mind and repeals this appropriation.’”

The Legislature must finish its annual session by mid-May, according to a 121-day limit set in the Constitution.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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