David Boyle: Federal government uses 4,000-mile screwdriver to dictate to Alaska on Covid relief funds

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By DAVID BOYLE

The U.S. Department of Education is accusing the State of Alaska of mismanaging its Covid-19 relief funds by not allocating enough to our urban school districts.

Instantly, the leftist media jumped on the bandwagon to charge Commissioner Deena Bishop with misuse of these federal taxpayer dollars. The federal government wants the State to provide more and more funding to the urban school districts, and less to the rural districts.

This is micromanagement at its worst.

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development was told by the federal agency that Alaska was not providing “equity” in its distribution of Covid relief funds, the American Rescue Plan.  The Feds referred to this as “maintenance of equity.”

The American Rescue Plan for the first time ever required a “Maintenance of Equity” clause that said states could not reduce their per-pupil funding to low-income and high-needs school districts.  

It seems as if “equity” has permeated the entire federal government, and it wants to now dictate how Alaska spends its money.

But the federal government approved all the states’ plans on distribution of these same funds.

Per the DEED’s web page, “The ARP Act provides funding to help meet a wide range of needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, including reopening schools safely, sustaining their safe operation, and addressing students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs resulting from the pandemic”.  

Alaska responded to this concern on March 8, 2024, but the federal government was not satisfied with the answer.  It stated that, “the State remains non-compliant for high-need and highest-poverty local educational agencies…”. (A local education agency is a local school district).

In its March 22, 2024 letter to the USDOE, Alaska said, “State funding was not cut during fiscal years 2019-2023. Instead, Alaska continued to apply and fund its base student allocation in accordance with existing state law…”.

In its response, DEED also stated that to solve the federal goernment’s concerns, it could ask for a supplemental appropriation from the legislature.

But the federal government was still not satisfied and wanted even to interfere with the legislative process of additional funding.  It demanded that Alaska ask for a “supplemental appropriation to resolve the maintenance of equity compliance issues.”

And it demanded the governor ask for this appropriation now.

Then the DOE designated the State as a “high-risk grantee” for its Covid grants.

The DOE says that the State did not maintain providing the same level of funding equity during FY 2022 for one high need school district and one highest poverty school district.

Here are the school districts and the so-called fund shortages from the DOE letter:

Note that the MatSu School District, one of the five largest, is not mentioned in the federal listing.  That may be because that district kept its schools open during the pandemic and gained many students.

This $29 million does not seem very significant when it comes to a statewide K-12 budget exceeding $2.7 billion.

Here are the American Rescue Plan funds that were doled out to the above school districts: Anchorage School District received more than $116.4 million; Kenai School District received more than $20.1 million; Juneau got more than $5.3 million; and the Fairbanks School District received more than $22.8 million.

The entire State of Alaska received $265,383,276 in ARP funds.  Of these,$68.9 million — some 21% have still not been spent.

The DEED Commissioner Deena Bishop responded strongly to the DOE: “This is an incredibly surprising conclusion considering we funded our schools as we always have according to the equitable distribution formula as established in Alaska Statutes and also distributed any COVID funds based on the Title 1 Part A formula per federal guidance.”

Bishop continued, “Alaska has been applauded by several outside entities for the equity of our school funding formulas, including Rutgers University. To now come back and suggest that we need to give additional funding to some of our largest school districts, which takes the equitable distribution and upends it at the expense of our smaller, rural school districts, makes no rational sense. In short, the way ED is demanding Alaska distribute funds to comply with maintenance of equity requirements is inequitable for Alaska’s rural schools,” she said.

 Does the federal government want to challenge Alaska’s education funding formula and dictate that as well?

This is just another indication of the control the federal government wants over a state’s K12 education.

In its final attack on Alaska, the Department of Education singles out the State saying, “Alaska is the only State that has not met, or presented a sufficient plan for meeting, these requirements.”  

That would seem to be highly doubtful due to the many school districts’ budgets.  

This adds nothing to the conversation and seems to attack our governor and the DEED.

What’s next? Will the federal government use its 4,000-mile screwdriver to take away school lunches from low-income kids?

Link to the State’s Covid-19 relief funds and all you ever wanted to know.

Link to the USDOE letter: Link to Alaska’s March 22, 2024 detailed response to USDOE.

David Boyle is the education writer at Must Read Alaska.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Case in point for no longer accepting federal funds with strings to engineer social outcomes. Except in the case of disasters etc. And even then, Alaska should stand on it’s own. Alaska needs to ween itself off all this Federal money. Sure state, borough & muni budgets will suffer and we’ll have less to spend. Maybe more gravel roads, but at least they will be our gravel roads! But we will be free. How much is that worth to you?

  2. “Note that the MatSu School District, one of the five largest, is not mentioned in the federal listing. That may be because that district kept its schools open during the pandemic and gained many students.”

    That was the first thing I noticed, and yes, we were open again in the fall of 2020.

    “What’s next? Will the federal government use its 4,000-mile screwdriver to take away school lunches from low-income kids?”

    Biden already threatened to withdraw some of the federal funds for school lunches a year or so ago if our school district didn’t fall in line w/the gender policies the far-left prefers.

    • We have $80 billion in an investment account being mismanaged and it needs to come home, every last cent. That $ could be used for infrastructure, schools etc. instead we get morons that are apparently on the tit of the investment company insisting you peon residents get a pittance of OUR $$ so we don’t run the account out of $$. Meanwhile our roads are shit our ferries are shit and our energy supply is shit. Let’s invest $80 billion in Alaska and tell David the lib rubenstein to pound sand. He has his claws in our money.

  3. Thanks again MRA for sorting out the dysfunctional media hatred that is being blasted all over.

    NEA must be working overtime this weekend calling on people to bring kids to go to Juneau to sit and harangue the lawmakers with the half witted news.

    Thanks again Suzanne!

  4. The feds can’t get it together in their work group to account for missing Covid money so the easiest thing to do is put every group on edge and keep them angry till the money is located, or proof that it was spent, to come up with the answers for them. Their working group can’t find a lot of Covid money in the USA.

    We know that the COVID money was a Ponzi Scheme from the Trump Administration and the Biden Administration saw easy pickings. So, which state has the most missing money? The US House oversight committee is still looking for many billions. Some of the Feds got rich during the distribution and some state employees in the USA did too. Ask Dunleavy if he would show us his bank accounts and his investment accounts or maybe the State Attorney General, Trey.. Maybe lying, mealy mouth Adam Crumb.

    • There are conditions on the bribes derived from your great grand children’s taxes? I’m shocked!
      ” we call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution”.

  5. The obvious answer is to abolish the Department of Education to stop the federal government from violating state’s rights. Education is a state issue, not a federal issue, and the central government effort to force conformity across the entire country by bribing us with our own money needs to be ended. Rather than fighting over how states allocate their education dollars we should be demanding that the federal government distribute public education funds on a strict per pupil basis with no strings attached. After all, it’s not the federal government’s money…it’s our money that they took from us. Our Constitution didn’t establish a system with a strong central government lording it over a collection of weak states. We’re supposed to be a federation of strong states and a relatively weak central government. The advent of a federal income tax where the central authority takes our money under threat of punishment and then returns some of it with conditions imposed changed all that.

  6. Senate candidate Joe Miller, who soundly defeated Lisa in a primary (when we had primaries) was universally criticized for insisting that the best thing that Alaska could do would be to get off all federal funding. Federal funding means federal control. In the end, Alaska is always better without it.

  7. Good news, David, is the Feds’ control fetish can be leveraged into a scenario wherein Alaska’s education industry pervert-parasites are forced to eat their own to cover their corruption.
    .
    What comes to mind is Anchorage School Board bailing out the Teamsters Union, ruling that contracts over $1M can be awarded only to union-run shops, and to what extent ASD contracts may have been padded, or bidding rigged, to exceed the $1M threshold.
    .
    The idea is not to reward education industry pervert-parasites with even more money, but to introduce, to cultivate, a regulatory virus which might be just what it takes to topple the house of cards propping up Alaska’s education industry.
    .
    That’s what should be “next”, no?

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