Alaska Supreme Court upholds local school contribution

JUNEAU — The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld as constitutional a state requirement that local school districts help pay for education, reversing a lower court decision.

The ruling came in a case filed against the state by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

In 2014, a state court judge ruled in the borough’s favor, finding that a required local contribution for schools is a dedicated fund that violates a constitutional provision that no state tax or license will be earmarked for any special purpose.

But the high court, in a decision released Friday, said the required local contribution is not a state tax or license within the meaning of the dedicated funds clause.

The opinion, written by Justice Joel Bolger, states that the minutes of the constitutional convention and historical context of those proceedings suggest delegates intended for local communities and the state to share responsibility for local schools.

Chief Justice Craig Stowers and Justice Daniel Winfree concurred in the decision but expressed concerns.

Winfree wrote that he does not rule out an ultimate conclusion that the required local contribution is unconstitutional, as a dedicated tax or otherwise, and does not join the court’s analysis or decision on that point. “In my view the question cannot be answered definitively without a full interpretation and understanding of the Alaska Constitution’s public schools clause, which, apparently for strategic reasons, the parties did not confront,” he wrote.

Winfree wrote that he agreed with the court’s analysis in affirming the lower court’s secondary decision that the required contribution does not violate the appropriations clause or the governor’s veto clause of the Alaska Constitution.

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