Dunleavy administration changes course again on school funding

In what may be an attempt to save face after foolishly threatening a statewide school shutdown, the Dunleavy administration now says that schools will be funded in July, as long as a lawsuit is filed by the Legislature over the education budget approved a year ago.

There is little doubt that the courts would have ordered the state to pay for schools for the fiscal year that begins next week based on the law approved in 2018 by the Legislature and governor.

In April, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson warned that there would be no money for schools come July because he had decided that the 2018 law was unconstitutional.

“As it stands now, it is the Department of Law’s view that the Legislature has not yet allocated money for the state to fund education in the forthcoming year,” Clarkson wrote in a column in the Anchorage Daily News in May.

“If education is not funded this year, it’s on the Legislature, not the governor,” Clarkson said.

This is the same political/legal expert who says Gov. Mike Dunleavy could get the Alaska State Troopers to force legislators to meet in Wasilla.

As for Clarkson’s advice on education, the Dunleavy administration has now backed away from the claim that “the Legislature has not yet allocated money” for education.

The new letter from Education Commissioner Michael Johnson refers to the “unusual funding of education” approved by the Legislature a year ago and says it will suffice while the courts deal with Clarkson’s claims.

This is the latest reversal in a long series by Dunleavy.

As a candidate he promised no cuts to school funding. In February, he promised the largest education cuts in state history—more than $320 million—which would mean big increases in class sizes and widespread layoffs. He offered false statistics to back up his claim.

“We're doing this because the state is out of money and we need to balance our budget," temporary budget director Donna Arduin told legislators on Dunleavy’s behalf.

Then he promised not to cut education spending at all if the Legislature surrendered on the legal question about the 2018 law.

“Although we initially proposed reductions in education, we have said to legislative leadership ‘put the funding in, make sure there’s funding in the budget and we will not veto that funding in any form or fashion.’ We will let that funding go through, so we can have that conversation going into next year on what reforms we want to look at in education,” Dunleavy said.

Dermot Cole7 Comments