Last Updated: October 27, 2011
This article appeared in the October 2011 Rural Policy Matters.
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A settlement has been reached in the Kasayulie school facilities lawsuit that was brought in 1997 by rural school districts that were unable to build needed schools or maintain aging facilities under the state’s funding system. Legal claims pointed out that the districts lacked enough taxable local property to raise funding and that rural areas lack local governmental systems that provide mechanisms for imposing local taxes. By contrast, the state’s urban municipalities were able to levy taxes for facilities and receive reimbursement for part of the building costs from the state. The lawsuit also charged that the system was unconstitutional and discriminatory because many of the students in plaintiff districts are Alaska Natives. Kasayulie districts received favorable decisions in 1999 and 2001.
After those Superior Court decisions, additional capital funding was allocated to rural school construction needs. But the case remained open because the Alaska Legislature had not implemented a permanent legislative fix for the districts and because the parties were waiting for the valuation of land held in trust for the benefit of Alaska schools. (See additional background from RSFN here: www.ruraledu.org/articles.php?id=2418)
Last year, legislators implemented a new formula that provides rural districts with facility funding support that is equitable to what urban districts receive.
The settlement agreement also includes a commitment from Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to introduce legislation to fund five priority school construction projects in rural districts.
Representatives from Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children, the organization that represented the rural districts in the legal action, commended the commitment of new state executive leadership to resolving the case. Named plaintiff Willie Kasayulie, father of five, called the settlement “a long time coming.” Another lawsuit in the state, Moore v. Alaska, brought to resolve funding adequacy problems for rural districts, continues separately.
Read more from the October 2011 Rural Policy Matters.