Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his plan for a fiscally sustainable budget at the first event of his budget roadshow at the Cannery Lodge Monday, March 25, 2019 in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his plan for a fiscally sustainable budget at the first event of his budget roadshow at the Cannery Lodge Monday, March 25, 2019 in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Education advocacy group suing Dunleavy

Lawsuit asserts the governor violated constitution by impounding $20 million in education funds.

An education advocacy group, Coalition for Education Equity, is suing the governor and state education commissioner for failing to release $20 million appropriated for public schools during last year’s Legislature.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage, asserts Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Dr. Michael Johnson have violated the state constitution by impounding the $20 million in education funds.

The Coalition sent a letter to the Dunleavy administration on April 24, asking for the one-time funding to be distributed by April 30, or a lawsuit would follow.

In his supplemental budget released in January, Dunleavy canceled the $20 million in one-time funding. His office argues the fate of the one-time spending is now in the Legislature’s hands — whether they choose to delete it or allow it to be released, Matt Shuckerow, Dunleavy spokesman said in a statement. The governor’s office is not commenting on the lawsuit. According to the law, the money must be distributed by the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The coalition’s complaint argues the governor has no veto power over statute enacted by a former governor.

The one-time education funding was enacted by the Legislature through Senate Bill 142 and signed into law by former Gov. Bill Walker in June 2018. The money has not been distributed to schools, but many districts have already budgeted the funds.

The repeal of the one-time funding would mean a $1.4 million funding loss for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Those funds have already been allocated within the school district, and cover the costs of paying 11 teachers.

“On the Kenai, we budgeted this as $1.4 Million of General Fund Revenue and we reinstated 11.5 FTE teaching positions as well as three days for many of our support personnel that had previously been reduced from our budget,” Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones wrote in a Jan. 28 letter to local lawmakers. “We have been employing and paying those folks since the start of the school year in August!”

The Legislature has been working toward releasing those education funds. The Senate released its operating budget Thursday evening, with an amendment pushing the Department of Education and Early Development to “immediately distribute the full amount to school districts.”

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