Budget and Policy Debate in Alaska Influenced by Finance Litigation

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Only a few days remain in Alaska’s 2012 legislative session, and members are trying to reach agreement on how to increase funding to schools while maintaining compliance with the rulings and settlement agreement in the Moore lawsuit that require resources for specific purposes.

Earlier this year, plaintiffs in that suit agreed to an $18 million settlement that would provide funding for targeted projects to help the state’s lowest performing districts. Earlier rulings by the judge in the case found the state was not providing adequate intervention in districts with struggling schools, and also that the state should provide pre-K in those districts. (See previous RSFN coverage here.)

A major point of disagreement among Alaska House members, Alaska Senate members, and Governor Sean Parnell is whether schools need a one-time boost in funding based on estimates of inflation-driven increases for next year, or whether the state’s Base Student Allocation (BSA) should be increased. Governor Parnell and the House made proposals which would provide $30 million for districts’ energy and transportation costs, which are based on estimates of inflationary increases for next year. Meanwhile, the Senate has passed legislation that boosts funding by $30.6 million this year through Alaska’s Base Student Allocation, which would be the first of three years of automatic increases. A separate Senate bill would increase transportation funding another $8 million.

Public school leaders and supporters of the Senate plan prefer the BSA increase to a single appropriation. This debate highlights the difference for rural schools in one-time infusions of money as a substitute for funding schools through a strong foundation formula that is sensitive to the needs of individual school districts. BSA is Alaska’s foundation formula. (Editor’s Note: You can read more about components of a strong rural school funding system, including foundation formulas, in our earlier RPM series beginning here.)

The Moore adequacy lawsuit did not find a constitutional violation in Alaska’s school funding decision, but in the lack of support remote and rural districts were receiving to improve student’s academic success. Better intervention services, mentoring and remediation programs, teacher supports, and pre-K were all part of various orders made by the judge in the case. Ultimately, the plaintiff coalition settled the case with the understanding that the legislature would fund $18 million toward the defined programs, and legislators have stopped cuts to pre-K and mentoring programs in pre-kindergarten and teacher mentoring programs to avoid violating the settlement.

Also at issue in the 2012 Legislature is the method for state intervention in struggling districts. Judge Sharon Gleason had ruled that the state was not doing enough to make sure that districts had the resources they needed to help students pass high school exit exams and graduate. Legislators wanted to repeal the intervention system, saying that there was a disconnect between state-appointed staff with decision making authority and local district officials, parents, and community. The current legislation now includes mandated community involvement.

The Alaska House is holding hearings that will include consideration not only of current bills and the Governor’s budget proposal, but also general discussion about Alaska’s education funding future. One additional late-breaking bill in the Senate that may make a difference for Alaska schools is a budget request from University of Alaska researchers to conduct a school finance study in the state.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn April 15.

Read more:

Description of the Moore settlement terms by the director of the plaintiff coalition:

Coverage of the budget and legislative action on education funding:

Discussion about the programs mandated in the Moore ruling and settlement:

Details about the school funding study proposal:


Read more from the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.