Alaska Legislature sues governor over validity of school funding law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, left, and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson discuss the governor’s proposed budget in January. On Tuesday, Clarkson’s office joined with lawyers for the Legislature in asking a judge to continue state payments to schools until a lawsuit over a school funding law passed last year is resolved. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Alaska Legislature sued Gov. Mike Dunleavy over school funding on Tuesday, a day after the administration didn’t send out the monthly state aid to school districts.

The Legislature and administration filed a joint motion asking a judge to order that the state continue to send the monthly checks for public schools and student transportation either until the case is resolved or until next June, whichever comes first.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes is the vice chair of the Legislative Council, which unanimously voted to approve the lawsuit last month. She said she’s glad both sides asked a judge to keep the payments going.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Stutes said. “This money is owed to those schools. They created budgets based on this. And to withhold it … I have a hard time understanding it.”

The dispute is over a law enacted last year and signed by former Gov. Bill Walker. The law sought to provide school funding for both last school year and the coming year. It also provided additional funding of $20 million last school year and $30 million in the coming year.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has written an opinion asserting that the law isn’t constitutional. He said the law doesn’t follow the annual budget process required by the state constitution. And he said that it violates a constitutional prohibition on dedicating funds. The Legislature maintains that it had the authority to appropriate money over multiple years, and it chose not to change the appropriation this year.

Assistant Attorney General Maria Bahr said Clarkson believes the Legislature must pass new school funding. But if a judge agrees to the order, that won’t affect school districts in the coming school year.

“Attorney General Clarkson has agreed to seek an expedited briefing schedule to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible,” Bahr said. “And he hopes the court agrees to consider this case quickly so we can come to a resolution on this important constitutional issue.”

The $30 million in additional funding is not included in the joint motion. While previous administrations paid out additional school funding by February of school years, Dunleavy asked the Legislature to reverse the $20 million in funding. The administration later paid out the money in June.

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