Dunleavy administration sued for withholding $20M in education funding

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with a constituent ahead of a presentation at a policy forum in Anchorage. Dunleavy has proposed canceling a $20 million appropriation for public schools made by the Alaska Legislature last year. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

An education advocacy group has sued Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration Wednesday over his refusal to release $20 million that the Alaska Legislature budgeted for public schools last year.

The complaint from the Coalition for Education Equity, a nonprofit, argues that Dunleavy has to follow the law and release the money appropriated by lawmakers, rather than “impounding” it. It was filed against Dunleavy and state Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Michael Johnson.

School districts expected to get the money several months ago, according to Andy DeGraw, chief operations officer at the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

The governor proposed cancelling the $20 million appropriation through legislation. But lawmakers haven’t taken it up. Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said Tuesday that if the session ends without action on it, the administration will then release cash.

“Rather than disperse the funds that are appropriated by the Legislature and are the law of this land, the governor is sitting on the funds and refusing to disperse them,” said Matthew Singer, an attorney representing CEE.

Singer said even though the governor is ultimately leaving the fate of the funds in the hands of the Legislature, he’s setting a bad precedent.

“Imagine what would happen in our state if the governor engaged in this sort of practice all the time,” Singer said. “What if the annual budget for the (Alaska) State Troopers was appropriated by the Legislature, and then the governor said, ‘I don’t wanna spend that money. I’m just going to sit on these funds and see if next year, the Legislature changes its mind and repeals this appropriation.’”

The Legislature must finish its regular session by mid-May, according to a 121-day limit set in the Alaska Constitution.

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