Dunleavy talks about plans for the upcoming school year, announces early PFD payout

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference about COVID-19 on May 11, 2020. (Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state will pay Permanent Fund dividend checks starting July 1, three months ahead of schedule. 

The announcement came just hours after the Alaska Legislature approved the spending of more than a billion dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid. 

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“We’re in extraordinary times,” Dunleavy said. “We need to make sure that people in Alaska have cash in their hands to help with this economy. I can’t think of a better time to do it than now.”

Dunleavy made the announcement at the end of a Wednesday’s news briefing, which primarily focused on education and plans for reopening the state’s schools in the fall. 

Related: ‘We’re open’: Alaska businesses can operate at full capacity on Friday, Dunleavy says

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen presented a framework for creating a fall plan for onsite education. He said each of the system’s campuses will be able to adapt the framework to local conditions. 

Johnsen said the framework is more conservative than other institutions in the state because campuses are at a high risk for transmission of the coronavirus due to things like group housing, mass gatherings in lecture halls, extensive travel by students and teachers, and a younger population that is more likely to be asymptomatic. 

Johnsen said summer classes are currently underway and the university system is preparing for the fall semester.  

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Education Commissioner Michael Johnson also presented a framework for developing a plan for the state’s K-12 schools. It includes a list of considerations and scenarios schools should think about when planning for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Johnson said the framework can be customized to each district’s needs. 

When asked how the state will ensure an equitable education across districts, Johnson said the flexibility of the framework will be key. 

“The best way to make sure that we have equitable educational services is to plan for it and that’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening right now,” he said.   

Related: Governor said federal relief would make up for an education veto. School officials say that’s not the case.

Johnson said there is not a set deadline yet for when districts must submit plans for the fall. But, he said, should a district request a waiver to change its school calendar, there must be a plan in place before the waiver can be granted. 

“What we want to make sure is that regardless of the situation next year, that teachers are teaching and students are learning,” Johnson said. “We want to pandemic-proof our school year.”