The Donnybrook ahead: Education funding for coming school year


Are pink slips ahead for teachers this summer? Maybe.

Gov. Michael Dunleavy has put the House and Senate on notice about education funding: He said the current budgets being worked on by the two bodies are missing education money for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. If there’s no money appropriated for education, he won’t be able to release funds to school districts without violating the Alaska Constitution (Article 9, Sec. 7, 13).

The attorney general on April 9 gave the Legislature notice too: His letter said that it’s unconstitutional for one Legislature to bind the hands of the next Legislature.

Therefore, according to Clarkson, what the 2018 Legislature did by saying it would forward fund education for 2020, was an exercise in imaginary budgeting: The money was never appropriated because the revenue had not yet even come into the state coffers.

Yes, in 2018, the Legislature theoretically committed future funds, but they still need to appropriate those funds this year, Clarkson said.

AG Clarkson letter on education

But the Legislature’s Budget Director is advising the House and Senate to ignore the warning. David Teal said that an appropriation has indeed been made in 2018 for the 2020 fiscal year, and so lawmakers can ignore the attorney general and proceed to only appropriate for the 2021 fiscal year, to keep the forward funding going.

Not so fast, say other budget experts. If it was appropriated last year, it would have been counted last year, and it was not. Back to the constitutional question of one Legislature binding the hands of the next.

Will the governor veto the education budget? He cannot, because in his opinion there is no budget to veto. He can’t veto a decision made last year that had no line item with it. And in any case, that budget has flown the coop — Walker signed it last year.

What Dunleavy can do, however, is not release funds to school districts. The more likely scenario is that he calls the Legislature back into special session to deal with the education budget. By that time, the rest of the budget will be on his desk for his potential veto consideration.

Or, they can all end up in court this summer, while pink slips go out across the school districts of Alaska.

One thing seems sure: If this governor believes something is unconstitutional, he’s shown that he’s not the kind of governor to just let it ride.

It’s a $1.2 billion question that is hanging out there unresolved as the House and Senate get close to negotiating final passage of the 2020 budget.

Why are legislators not putting the education money into the budget this year?

Teal has told them they don’t have to. And if they do, it becomes subject to the red pen — which is another thing this governor has also signaled he is ready to wield. Dunleavy has proposed in his budget cutting $300 million from the $1.6 billion education budget of this year.

Either the education money missing from the 2020 budget is a constitutional condition, like Teal is claiming, or it’s not, like the Attorney General is claiming.

But the matter is far from resolved as the Legislature heads into its 105th day, with the drop-dead date — May 15 — fast approaching. And the other date to consider is this one: In Anchorage and much of the state, the first day back for teachers is Aug. 15. In the Mat-Su, teachers return on Aug. 12.


  1. Forward funding?? That sounds like creating a giant “unfunded liability” for any future “politicians” who are unlucky enough to follow the bunch there now. Typical left leaning/bent political maneuvering by the last ‘bunch’. If one follows that reasoning, why not “Forward Fund” the PFD? Makes sense to me, if any of it does, I guess.

    • Ben Colder, a little research will show you this bill passed out of the house with a 32 to 5 vote and out of the senate with a 15 to 4 vote. This stuff is real simple to look up and will allow you to hold all who voted yea responsible, instead of just blaming “the left”.

        • Boys,
          It doesn’t make a difference what the “vote” was. It was an illegal vote. Period. What “party/bunch” was in control? (notice I said ‘bunch’) The left, is who. Put your own name on it if it fits. Facts are exactly how I determine my opinions and posts. Any dispute on my “thinking” is welcome. I can hold my own. Can you?? Insults are fine. Make sure you back them up with “facts”. You’re absolutely right, Bill. I won’t agree to having my “thinking on lefties” disrupted by inane comments. I think what I think. So should you.

          • OK Ben, if you think the Senate was controlled by the left, then you must be from another planet. Pete Kelly would even weigh in here IMO.
            Pretty clear that you don’t deal in facts if they don’t agree with your ideology. And that bit about the vote being illegal-I’ll bet you didn’t have a thing to say about it at the time either. Good chance our courts will get involved and we’ll all see how legal that strategy was/is.

          • Well Ben, some folks will change their thinking when the facts change.
            Not you, of course. Heheh!

  2. Following their logic they could forward fund to 2030 or 2050 or 2100! Just put in 10% growth each year and the Teachers Union will be happy!

    • Totally irrelevant argument given we’re talking about forward funding ONE year. Some teacher’s unions are and have been agreeing to no or small increases in recent years, including this year. Very irresponsible of you to make such a statement given that the end result is the quality of education for our children.

  3. Why stop there? Just put the teachers union directly in charge. We are ignoring the constitution anyway.

  4. Alaska has the highest median expenditures in the country — $26,476 per student
    fiscal year 2013 from ADN.
    Ok it,s time to bring back the one room schoolhouse.
    Ten kids is 1/4 million dollars.
    Sign me up. I will take 20 to start.

    • I’m sure some folks still remember Fox Elementary. When talk turns to opulent palaces of education, I love to point out that I once went to school in an ATCO trailer set on a tailings pile, with pieces of earthmoving equipment placed in front for the playground.

  5. And, DESPITE all the money thrown at education, Alaska ranked 46the out of 50 in the country, in Education K-12 (50 being the lowest score), according to US News 2018. Breakdown includes College readiness – 42nd, High School graduation rate – 47th, Math scores – 32nd, Reading scores – 41st. Pretty dismal scores for the highest amount of funding in the country – so where is all the education funding $$ going? Not to the students!

  6. A simple way to bring down education costs —–teach reading, arithmetic, geography, science, English (and not every dialect on the face of the Earth), civics, and bookeeping. If you want your child in sports, music, art, and basket weaving, send him to private clubs, or lessons. Just think how much this would save, in terms of cost for things that should be extra-curricular. Numbers, please, on how many students take part in these programs, as opposed to those who do not.

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