Dunleavy didn't tell truth about school funds in staged video with son of state executives

Earlier this summer, Gov. Mike Dunleavy sat down for a videotaped conversation with an earnest young man who is the son of Dunleavy’s administration commissioner and assistant education commissioner.

Instead of revealing these family ties to the public, Dunleavy acted as if the boy was a random member of the public who had contacted the governor’s office with questions about the Dunleavy administration and was rewarded with an audience.

“A lot of questions are being asked and you contacted the office and I said, ‘sure, let’s have a conversation,’” Dunleavy says on the video, which has had more than 40,000 views since it was posted on the state website July 29.

It is a bizarre approach to state-funded communications. Had the governor invited someone whose parents are not executives on his staff, it would have been appropriate.

What I find the most disturbing about the video, however, is not that the boy was placed in this position by adults, but that when the boy asked Dunleavy about school funding, the governor did not tell the truth.

“I’ve also heard that you wanted to cut money for school districts,” the boy says at about the half-way point of the video. “Is that true?”

Dunleavy replied: “Again, we have a $1.6 billion deficit. We proposed some reductions, but then we pulled back on those reductions after listening to Alaskans, lawmakers, folks that are in education. We decided not to make those reductions that we had first put forward, so school districts are being funded right now, they’ll continue to be funded. There is a court case that involves the idea that the Legislature can forward fund education without necessarily naming a funding source, and so we have what they refer to as a friendly lawsuit going on to determine if in fact the Legislature can do that. We in the governor’s office believe that that can’t happen in that manner, but we’ll get this resolved by the courts so that we know going forward how we can actually fund education going forward.”

“Alright, that makes sense,” the young man replied.

Actually it doesn’t make sense because that is not what happened.

Dunleavy did not “pull back” the $330 million in schools cuts he proposed—which would have led to thousands of layoffs statewide—and more students in every classroom. It would have been a devastating attack on public education.

Dunleavy, who promised as a candidate not to cut schools, did not listen to Alaskans, lawmakers and folks that are in education when his $330-million cut stalled. He was stopped by a law approved in 2018 that the Legislature refused to amend.

The Legislature approved and Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill on May 3, 2018 on that included school funding for the fiscal year that began eight weeks ago. The measure had strong bipartisan support, including from the likes of Rep. Lance Pruitt, whose wife is the Dunleavy communications expert.

The point of the law was to avoid the dilemma created by the state whenever Juneau budget talks drag on and school districts have to make their budgets and prepare for layoffs that may or may not be necessary.

After the election, Dunleavy began to talk about cutting public education by hundreds of millions, sticking to a few simplistic and inaccurate talking points about scores on one national test given to a small sample of students in two grades.

When the Legislature refused to amend the school appropriation for this fiscal year, Attorney
General Kevin Clarkson invented a legal excuse that said the number on the books was unconstitutional.

Clarkson said that if the Legislature refused to budge, there would be no money for schools this year.

“If education is not funded this year, it’s on the Legislature, not the governor,” Clarkson claimed in one of his series of political columns sent to Alaska newspapers.

Dunleavy tried another approach. He asked the Legislature to agree to not forward fund education any more, put the money back in this year’s budget, and he would not veto it.

“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 in April.

That contradicted the claim that Dunleavy made in February—that it was essential to cut education by $330 million so he could begin a conversation about how to improve it.

The Legislature refused to give him the procedural victory he sought and the fiscal year began in July with school funding following the rules set out in 2018. The Legislature and the governor are in court over whether the 2018 law is valid. Legislative lawyers believe it is fine. Clarkson disagrees.

The most important thing about school funding now is what Dunleavy plans to do when he announces his budget in December for the fiscal year that starts next July.

If what he and temporary budget director Donna Arduin are to be believed, the next budget will be cut by hundreds of millions, a major attack on public education and cutbacks across the state.

The only political tool that I see to counter the Dunleavy/Arduin attack is the only one that has had an impact on state policy, the effort to recall Dunleavy.


Dermot Cole4 Comments