Alaska constitutional expert says administration wrong about education funding

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - An Alaska constitutional expert says the Dunleavy administration is wrong in its opinion that a K-12 appropriation item needs to be included in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

Howard Trickey is an Anchorage attorney who twice successfully sued the State of Alaska over education funding issues while working as co-counsel for the influential Kasayulie Case and the Moore Settlement.

Both cases deal with inequities in funding education in rural Alaska and both are regularly cited by lawmakers as examples of the constitutional need to fund schools.

Trickey, who does legal work for the Coalition for Education Equity of Alaska, has reviewed the formal opinion from Kevin Clarkson, the Alaska Attorney General, and says the Legislature is right in relying on forward-funding measure passed in 2018 to fund schools.

According to Trickey, the State vs. the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, a 2016 Alaska Supreme Court case, found that K-12 education was exempt from the dedicated funds clause in the Alaska Constitution, which prevents one legislature from binding a future legislature.

Education is a continuing program that predates statehood and there is an exemption in the dedicated funds clause for continuing programs for special purposes, said Trickey, who continued to explain that in his opinion, the case had controlling authority.

Cori Mills, a deputy attorney general with the Department of Law, disagrees, and says the 2016 case is not controlling over this dispute between the administration and the Legislature.

“If you read the Ketchikan Gateway Borough case, it is specifically about the local contribution for education and whether it enters the state treasury and is then subject to the constitutional budgeting process,” she said. “That case is very much around the partnership pre-statehood, post-statehood between local municipalities and the state.”

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough case, according to Mills, revolved specifically around the question: “Can the state require a specific amount for a local contribution? And the state said yes, that’s not a violation of the dedicated funds clause.”

Trickey is now working to draft a legal opinion for the Coalition for Education Equity of Alaska over the current education dispute, likely to be released later in the week. He is also part of a lawsuit against the administration over $20 million in forward-funding withheld by the administration.

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