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Alaska governor proposes cutting school funding boost

January 29, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed cutting $20 million approved last session as an additional boost to public schools, drawing criticism from some lawmakers Monday.

Documents released by Dunleavy’s budget office Monday said the money created a situation where education was funded beyond what is legally required while other programs were underfunded.

The reduction is needed to meet other state obligations, the documents state.

Budget office director Donna Arduin said agencies were asked where money might be available to help offset costs of supplemental spending.

The $20 million was on top of the $1.3 billion lawmakers budgeted as part of the state’s per-student funding formula and student transportation costs. Arduin said that extra $20 million, which was approved for the current fiscal year, had not been paid.

Supplemental budgets typically address emergency costs or those not otherwise covered by the budgets passed during the prior session. Dunleavy proposed two supplemental bills.

One, which proposes repealing the extra school money, deals with state operating and capital issues, such as rural trooper housing and Medicaid. Nearly $38 million from the current fiscal year’s budget was used to pay Medicaid claims from the prior year, but the budget office said only $15 million is needed because of offsets elsewhere in that budget.

The other supplemental bill deals with recovery from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit south-central Alaska, including Anchorage, in November.

The disaster bill seeks $37.3 million in state funds, including $7.9 million for spring firefighting and $21.9 million for the state disaster relief fund. Estimates related to earthquake recovery are preliminary and expected to be accompanied by federal dollars.

Education funding was a big issue last session, with lawmakers agreeing to one-time bumps of $20 million for the current fiscal year and $30 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Dunleavy, a Republican who was elected in November, campaigned on reducing spending. His administration has projected a $1.6-billion deficit for the coming fiscal year.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich said schools were counting on the $20 million the administration has proposed cutting.

Begich said he is “stunned by the attack on the public trust that that seems to represent for a man who said that public trust mattered.”

Lisa Parady, executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators, said she was hopeful that legislators would not pursue the reduction.

The $30 million wasn’t addressed in the legislation released Monday. But Rep. Harriet Drummond, an Anchorage Democrat, said she worried it, too, could be on the chopping block.

Given Dunleavy’s background as a teacher and school administrator, “I’m very unhappy with the way he’s treating education right from the get-go,” Drummond said.

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