Disagreements over budget distribution have led to a possible delay in funds for Alaskan school districts. The funds were to arrive this summer, but may be postponed, leaving many schools working on a string budget.
Should the funds not arrive in time, schools across Alaska will have to rely on their own savings, which often prove insufficient for paying bills and already ordered supplies.
The uncertainty around funding has led to volatile working conditions in Alaskan schools. Hiring new staff becomes out of the question, and many teachers fear to lose their jobs because the schools simply cannot afford to give them their salaries.
Interviews with superintendents reveal that delayed funding is nothing new for the education sector. This year, however, has seen new levels of instability in this regard.
Normally, schools receive their funds in several installments, the first arriving before July 15. However, a dispute emerged in Juneau over the legality of the process of determining the education budget.
Funding for school districts is usually determined one year in advance. The problem is that it could be argued that it is illegal to determine the budget in such a manner without a guarantee that the funds will even be there by then.
In 2018, it was voted that in 2019 schools will not suffer any budget cuts and that they will be given an added payment of $30 million. With Gov. Bill Walker in office, the legislature wished to alleviate the shaky funding afforded to schools and reduce the number of redundancies and dismissals.
In 2019 lawmakers neglected to add this budget plan to the fiscal year of 2019-20 because they had already given it the go-ahead a year prior.
According to the state Department of Law, such a decision goes against the Canadian constitution in more ways than one. For one, it violates the constitution’s directives concerning annual budgeting. Furthermore, it denied the governor of their right to place a veto on the proposal. Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s memo directed to Governor Michael J. Dunleavy confirms this. The document also notes that the constitution does not allow for dedicated funding.
Despite the evidence for the complaints, most legislators agreed that the decision about funding did not violate any laws. Concerns exist that, should the funding be revoked, the precedent may become a tool for overturning other laws.
Sen. Gary Stevens, the Legislative Council chairman, was asked why didn’t comply with the budget to avoid legal action. He replied that he disapproves of what the current governor has and haven’t approved for funding. He adds that the entire problems also revolves about disrupting the balance of powers.
The governor potentially faces a lawsuit filed by the Legislature, should the funds not reach schools by July 15.
Being unsure whether any funds will be coming their way, many schools resorted to suspending all spending they can function without. The school district in Nenana sent out temporary leave notices to over twenty full-time employees. These schools have also ceased drawing up tenured contracts in fear that they can’t support tenured teachers.
While Nenana suffered noticeable losses under these circumstances, the lack of funds has had a varied effect on other districts. Factors like support from the public and the amount of money saved largely impact how these districts will fare in the coming days.
Anchorage’s schools will be able to manage for about three months in their savings. Beyond that, they might have to be funded locally. This district has not given any leave notices or made preparations for the prospect that funds will not arrive.
Jillian Morrissey, spokesperson for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, stated that the district refrained from giving out contracts to non-tenured teachers. The Kenai Peninsula has made plans in anticipation of funding being reduced or not coming its way altogether.
The Lower Kuskokwim School District had already ordered 25 million dollars’ worth of fuel supplies for the year. In lieu of the possible funding cut, the district could be forced to pay for the fuel from their own savings.
The state of the budget may negatively affect the hiring rate for teachers. Schools will likely have to further cut salaries, which have already gone down in recent years in the rural parts of Alaska. The Alaska Council of School Administrators executive director Lisa Parady remarks that such an unstable working environment will have a hard time keeping employees content.