The Alaska Senate and House of Representatives voted Tuesday to allow the Legislative Council to sue to force Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to distribute school funding in July.
Lawmakers say they hope a lawsuit won’t be needed. Lawyers for the Legislature and administration differ on whether a law passed last year provided funding for next school year.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, said legislators want to avoid using education funding as a political football.
“We think education in Alaska deserves to rise to the top and shouldn’t be subject to the whims of the budgeting process and the Legislature,” Edgmon said.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said the Legislature’s lawyers could ask the courts to release funding to school districts while the lawsuit is resolved.
“It is critical that we prevent those pink slips from going out,” she said. “Stable and predictable: That’s what our industries ask for. It seems reasonable to assure that to our education system as well.”
Dunleavy, a Republican, said the Legislature should pass the bulk of the school funding in the budget. He said it could then sue over $30 million in additional money included in last year’s law.
“We would like to get this issue worked out, so that we know what we can do moving forward,” he said. “If in fact this move is constitutional, let’s let the courts decide this. However, we believe it’s not.”
Dunleavy has said he wouldn’t veto education funding if the Legislature passed it. But lawmakers and the administration both have said resolving the disagreement is important to define the separation of powers between the governor and the Legislature.
The Legislative Council handles the Legislature’s business outside of the session. It would have to meet to approve a lawsuit before the Legislature’s lawyers could sue. The first payments to school districts are normally sent in mid-July.